December 31: John 1:16 (continued)

John 1:16, continued

kai\ xa/rin a)nti\ xa/rito$
“and favor in place of favor”

This is the last of the three phrases in verse 16:

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor

It modifies and supplements the first two lines, and is thus epexegetical. The explanatory force of the line rather depends on how the initial conjunction kai/ is to be understood. There are two possibilities:

    • In addition to receiving from the fullness of the Son, believers receive the “favor a)nti/ favor” expressed in the third line
    • The expression “favor a)nti/ favor” further defines what it is that we we receive from the fullness of the Son

The second option is to be preferred; in this light, the conjunction kai/ could also be translated as “even”:

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
even favor in place of favor”

There are two other components to the line: (1) the noun xa/ri$, and (2) the preposition a)nti/. We will examine each of these, and then see how they function in their combination.


The noun xa/ri$ essentially means “favor” —that is, the favor that one person shows to another. Frequently in the New Testament, it refers to the favor that God shows to His people—particularly, to believers, in saving them from sin and Judgment. It is a common early Christian term, but, rather surprisingly, hardly occurs at all in the Johannine writings. Apart from the occurrences here in the Prologue (4 times in vv. 14, 16, 17), the only other instance is in 2 John 3, where it is used as part of a greeting. Thus, unlike many of the featured words in the Prologue, xa/ri$ is not a distinctly Johannine term.

It is thus necessary to consider carefully how the word is used here in the Prologue. The word describes the do/ca (“honor, splendor, glory”) of the pre-existent Logos (and Son) of God, and refers to the filling of the Son by the Father. Both this aspect of “filling” (adj. plh/rh$, noun plh/rwma), and the pairing of xa/ri$ with “truth” (a)lh/qeia), suggests strongly that it is the Spirit of God that is primarily in view. A careful examination of the Johannine theology and the context in the Prologue would seem to confirm this point (cf. also the discussion in the previous notes, on vv. 14, 16). God the Father shows favor to the Son by giving to him His own Spirit. An identification with the Spirit also fits the idea in the first two lines of v. 16—namely, that we, as believers, share this same fullness. We are united, through the Spirit, with both the Father and Son (cf. below).

The other occurrence of xa/ri$ is in the following verse 17, which will be discussed in turn; however, it is worth at least giving some consideration to it here, in terms of the meaning of the term xa/ri$. The point being made is a contrast between the Torah of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant realized (for believers) through the person of Jesus Christ. It thus represents a special kind of favor, whereby the Covenant relationship, between God and His people, is no longer established through sacrificial offerings, nor governed through the regulations of the Torah. Instead, it was established through the sacrificial death of Jesus, and is now governed through the presence and power of the Spirit.

Paul expresses this point in more traditional religious and theological terminology, in his letters, compared with the Johannine writings. However, the idea is certainly present in the Johannine Gospel (the Discourses). At a number of points, Jesus identifies himself with a particular aspect of the religious ritual and tradition. From an Israelite and Jewish standpoint, such tradition had largely been defined within the parameters of the Old Testament Torah. For more on this subject, cf. my earlier articles in the series “Jesus and the Law”.


The fundamental meaning of this preposition is “against”. While this meaning may be understood in the negative sense of opposition, there are many other instances where we have the more general idea of two people (or objects) facing each other. A face-to-face position may indicate antagonism or opposition, but can just as well signify a friendly encounter or exchange. The idea of an exchange is frequent with a)nti/, either in the sense of replacement, or as indicating a mutual relationship.

Let us now consider the meaning of the expression “favor a)nti/ favor”. Two questions must be asked. First, what are the two favors? and, second, how are they related (through the preposition a)nti/)? These questions are interconnected, and cannot be addressed separately. In the analysis that follows here, they will be discussed together.

To begin with, the identity of the two “favors” depends on the force of the preposition a)nti/ (“against”); and there are three options (cf. Brown, p. 16): (a) replacement, (b) exchange, or (c) accumulation. Unfortunately, the preposition only rarely occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings, and never in its independent, unprefixed form, so there is little opportunity for comparison.

Some commentators (e.g., Brown, pp. 16, 33-35) take their cue from the verse that follows (17), understanding in this line a similar contrast between the Old and New Covenants. In which case, the preposition a)nti/ would have the sense of replacement—i.e., the New Covenant in Christ (and the Spirit) taking the place of the Old Covenant and the Torah. Two factors lead me to consider this interpretation to be incorrect. First, there seems little basis for applying the word xa/ri$ (“favor”) to the Old Covenant. That would tend to contradict the regular use of xa/ri$ among early Christians, as seen throughout the New Testament. But, more importantly, it is invalidated by the very contrast made in verse 17; there, the word xa/ri$ is decidedly not used in reference to the Old Covenant, but only to the New.

The idea of accumulation—i.e., a)nti/ in the sense of one thing stacked up against another—also seems to require an identification of the first xa/ri$ with the Old Covenant (i.e., in addition to the first covenant, we now have the greater New Covenant). If so, I would have to consider that line of interpretation to be incorrect as well. However, it may be that what is being expressed is the idea that, for believers, life in Christ, in the Spirit, is defined as the experience of one blessing after another. That would be more tenable as an explanation, though, in my view, still off the mark.

I would maintain that only the sense of an exchange properly captures the meaning of a)nti/ in context. The only question is whether it is a mutual exchange, or signifies a chain of transmission. Both are possible, but the latter option seems better to fit the Johannine context. There is a strong hierarchical emphasis in the Gospel: the Father gives to the Son, who, in turn, gives to believers (3:34-35; 5:20-21ff, 26ff; 6:27ff, 57; 12:49-50; 14:6-10ff, 21ff; 15:9, 15, 26; 16:15; 17:2, 7ff, 12, 14, 18, 22-23ff; 20:21).

According to this pattern, the favor the Father gives to the Son, the Son, in turn, gives to believers. It is the same favor, essentially identified with the Spirit of God (cf. above), and the exchange proceeds from Father to Son to believers. However, there is also an aspect of mutuality that is tied with the idea of union through the presence of the Spirit. Through the Spirit, we, as believers, are united with both the Father and the Son. I like to illustrate this with the following simple diagram:

Nowhere in the Gospel of John are the two aspects of hierarchy and mutuality more beautifully combined than in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, especially the closing section (vv. 20-26):

“That they all should be one, even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you—that they also should be in us… And the honor/splendor [do/ca] that you have given to me, I have given to them, so that they should be one, even as we (are) one—I in them and you in me, (so) that they should be (one)s having been made complete(ly) into one…” (vv. 21-23a)

References above marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 29 (1966).

December 30: John 1:16 (continued)

John 1:16, continued

h(mei=$ pa/nte$ e)la/bomen
“we all (have) received”

This is the second of the three phrases in verse 16 (on the first phrase, cf. the previous note):

“and out of his fullness
we all (have) received

The preposition e)k in the first line indicates the source, since it literally means “out of”. What we, as believers, receive comes out of the fullness of the Son.

There are three words to the phrase here in the second line, and it is worth examining each of them in some detail.

h(mei=$ (“we”)—the pronoun is specified and emphatic, occurring in the first position: i.e., “we have received”. This is significant, as it makes a crucial theological point of emphasis: that we, created human beings, are able to share in all that God possesses (and which He has given to the Son). This is the fullness (plh/rwma) of the Son, referring to everything that God has given to His Son. In particular, He has filled the Son with His favor and truth, but these descriptive attributes, in the Gospel of John, function as an allusion to the Spirit of God.

The first person plural “we” is a collective reference to believers in Christ. It encompasses both the first generation of believers—those who trusted in Jesus during his ministry on earth—and all who have come to believe since (cf. 17:20ff). Compare the references here in vv. 14, 16 with the opening of 1 John 1:1-4ff.

pa/nte$ (“all”)—this is the same adjective (pa=$, “all”) that was used earlier in the Prologue (vv. 3, 7, 9). The first reference was cosmological, i.e., “all things” (pa/nta) in the universe. The next two references have been narrowed to all human beings—and, in particular, all those elect/chosen ones who respond to the Light of God (i.e., His Word and Wisdom) and who come to trust in Jesus. Thus the cosmic scope of the adjective properly refers, as a comprehensive term, to all believers, everywhere in the world.

The comprehensive, universal aspect of the adjective also carries with it a great promise in the Gospel: everyone who trusts in Jesus will be united with him (and God the Father) through the Spirit, and will come to possess the eternal Life of God. Tied to this point is a strong sense of election/predestination in the Johannine Gospel—believers come to trust in Jesus because they/we already belong to God. On the key references, where the adjective pa=$ occurs, cf. 3:8, 15-16; 4:13; 6:37-40; 10:29; 11:26; 12:46; 15:2; 17:2; 18:37. There are also important references in 1 John, where the sonship of believers (i.e., as the “offspring” of God [cp. vv. 12-13 in the Prologue]) is emphasized—2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18.

la/bomen (“we received”)—this verb occurred earlier in the Prologue (vv. 12-13), under the traditional motif of the righteous receiving the Wisdom of God, i.e., giving it a welcome and a place to dwell. In the Johannine context, of course, this applies to trust in Jesus, who is the incarnate Wisdom (Logos). Now the situation is reversed, and believers receive from Jesus in turn. This aspect of an exchange is emphasized in the final line of verse 16, and will be discussed in the next note.

The verb lamba/nw occurs frequently in the Gospel of John, and often with this same specialized theological meaning. We may say that all of the references expressing a promise for believers were essentially fulfilled at the end of the Gospel, when the resurrected Jesus gives to his disciples the Spirit, with the words “receive [la/bete] (the) holy Spirit” (20:22). I have noted on several occasions in the prior notes how the “fullness” (plh/rwma) of the Son, the favor and truth of God, with which he is filled, essentially refers to the Spirit of God. And it is through the Spirit that believers are united with God and have access to his life-giving Power and Presence—the same Divine Presence that fills the Son.

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 1:39-45

Luke 1:39-45, 56

This is the third episode in the Lukan Infancy narrative. Following the two annunciation scenes—for the births of John and Jesus, respectively (vv. 5-25, 26-38)—the two parallel strands of the narrative (John/Jesus) come together, uniting briefly in a single episode.

The scene in verses 39-45 is referred to in the parlance of Biblical studies as the Visitation—that is, the visit of Mary to the home of her older relative Elizabeth. The historical-critical aspect is prominent in this passage, centered as it is on this particular historical detail: that Mary and Elizabeth are apparently related, which means that John and Jesus are also relatives. Such a relation between John the Baptist and Jesus is not hinted at anywhere else in the Gospel Tradition, which leads many critical commentators to treat the detail with suspicion.

The entire historical question hinges on a single word in verse 36. As part of the Angelic message (see the previous study), Elizabeth is referred to as Mary’s syngen¢¡s. This noun is difficult to translate literally in English. It means something like “(one who has) come to be (born) together with (another)” —that is, it refers to people who were born and live together in a particular place. However, it can also refer specifically to a blood relative, where the idea of “coming to be (born) together” has a tighter meaning. In the narrative here the term does seem to indicate that Mary and Elizabeth are biologically related (perhaps at the family level of cousin); it is otherwise difficult to explain why Mary would take the trouble of making such a visit to see Elizabeth.

Which leads us to the question of the historicity of this detail. Nowhere else in the Gospel Tradition is there any suggestion that John and Jesus are related, which is almost impossible to explain if the fact were widely known among early believers. In terms of an objective critical study of the New Testament (and the Gospels in particular), scholars give greater weight to the historical veracity and plausibility of a tradition if it is (independently) attested by more than one source. This is called the principle of multiple attestation, and it would lead commentators especially to question a detail, which may seem unlikely on other grounds, and is only mentioned in a single New Testament passage.

Apart from historical considerations, there is a strong literary purpose for emphasizing the relationship (between Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and John). It allows the author to weave together both birth narratives, and to have the parents of each child come together and meet in a unifying scene. In terms of the structure of the narrative, some commentators have suggested that, originally, the episode in vv. 39-45 (+ v. 56) functioned as a supplement, or appendix, to the Mary scene in vv. 26-38. The inclusion of the Magnificat hymn (vv. 46-55), however, results in a more substantial episode. In the complete narrative as it now stands, the episode clearly has a prominent (and central) place. Consider the following visual outline:

There are good reasons to think that the hymn in vv. 46-55 was inserted into the basic narrative of vv. 39-45, 56.

As noted above, it is perhaps best to view the narrative episode as a Lukan composition, based upon a rudimentary historical tradition. This tradition is rather slight and simple: it is essentially comprised of the opening and closing verses (39f and 56). The action in the episode, as such, is about as simple as one can imagine: Mary visits Elizabeth in her home, and the two exchange greetings. However, the Lukan narrative has developed this underlying tradition in a number of important ways, as a literary-critical study reveals. I would highlight three key themes that are either introduced or developed in this episode:

    • The role of the Holy Spirit
    • The relationship between John and Jesus—in terms of their Messianic identity, and the superiority of Jesus
    • The figure of Mary as representing a point of continuity between the Old and New Covenant
The Role of the Spirit

The central event of the Visitation episode is the inspired proclamation by Elizabeth in vv. 42-45. This is introduced by a narrative statement, written fully in the style of Luke-Acts:

“And it came to be, as Elîsheba’ heard the greeting of Maryam, the infant in her belly jumped, and Elîsheba’ was filled (with the) holy Spirit” (v. 41)

The detail of the baby “jumping” (vb skirtáœ) may be an allusion to Gen 25:22 (LXX). However, in the context of the narrative here, this movement must be understood as inspired, and related to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Of all the Gospels, Luke contains the most references to the Spirit, a fact which relates to the role of the Spirit in the book of Acts. In many ways, the Gospel references foreshadow the experiences of believers in the book of Acts, and are emphasized to bring out the correspondence. Similar wording is used, describing the relation of the Gospel characters to the Spirit with three primary kinds of expression (for more on these, see my earlier 3-part article “The Spirit in Luke-Acts”):

    1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism.
    2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech
    3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit”

The Gospel contains all three kinds of references, and, indeed, they are all attested in the Infancy narrative. The Spirit was mentioned already in each of the first two episodes. The Angel announces that John will be “filled with the holy Spirit” even while he is in his mother’s womb, and that the Spirit will “come upon” Mary, leading to the conception of Jesus (vv. 15, 35). Now here, too, Elizabeth is “filled” with the Spirit, which results in an inspired utterance, much as the Apostles and other believers would be inspired to speak. Later in the narrative, Simeon, another aged figure representing the faithful ones of Israel, is led by the Spirit and gives an inspired utterance regarding Jesus’ messianic identity and destiny (2:25-27ff).

The Relationship of John to Jesus

This theme is central to the entire Infancy narrative, as the diagram above illustrates. As previous noted, both children—John and Jesus—are Messianic figures, specially chosen (‘anointed’) by God to play key roles in the end-time salvation of His people. However, the Gospel writer makes clear that Jesus is the superior figure. John is the “Elijah” of Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6 who will ‘prepare the way’ for the coming of the Lord, the Davidic Messiah (Jesus). It is Jesus who fills the role as King of Israel in the New Age (the New Covenant), while “Elijah” is his servant.

In emphasizing this relationship, Luke is simply following established early Christian tradition, reflected at many points throughout the Gospels. However, the nature of the Infancy narrative allows the author to express this in a number of unique ways, such as we see here in the Visitation episode. In a colorful and dramatic scene, the unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb “jumps” in response to Jesus’ presence, giving implicit acknowledgement to his status. The inspired declaration by Elizabeth makes the point explicit:

    • The child in Mary’s womb is especially worthy of being blessed and honored by the people, and Mary herself is to be blessed by way of association (v. 42)
    • She refers to the child as “my Lord” (v. 43), a reference to Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah (see below)
    • She reports the response (‘leaping for joy’) of her own child, affirming that it is right and proper (v. 44)
    • She indicates that Mary’s child is a fulfillment of what God has promised, alluding to the child’s miraculous (and Spirit-touched) conception (cf. the Angel’s message in vv. 28-35)

A bit more needs to be said about the honorific question asked by Elizabeth in verse 43:

“And (from) where [i.e. how] (does) this (happen) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me?”

It has been suggested that this may be an allusion to 2 Sam 24:21 (LXX): “(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that my Lord the king comes toward his servant?” If so, then the expression “my Lord”, which in the Samuel episode refers to David (as the king of Israel), would essentially identify Jesus as a Davidic ruler (i.e., the Messiah). Less plausible (but still possible) is an allusion to 2 Sam 6:9 (LXX): “How (is it that) the box [i.e. Ark] of the Lord shall come toward me?”. This would emphasize Mary as the vessel or container for the presence of God Himself (manifest in the person of Jesus).

The Figure of Mary

I previously noted how the three pairs of figures in the Infancy narratives—Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna—all represent the righteous and faithful ones of Israel (under the old Covenant), and thus serve to foreshadow (and prefigure) believers in Christ under the new Covenant. But of these figures, Mary holds a special place—for her role in giving birth to Jesus, but also as embodying a point of continuity between the old and new Covenants. I mentioned how the Temple serves a similar purpose in Luke-Acts, and as a symbol is introduced here in the Infancy narrative. The same may be said of Mary.

Her faithfulness and obedience to God is defined primarily in terms of the Old Covenant, through fulfillment of the Torah regulations (2:22ff, 39, 41ff), but also by her trust in the prophetic (and theophanic) message given to her by the Angel (1:38). This same faith and devotion is expressed by the hymn in vv. 46-55 (to be discussed in the next study), representing a manner and style of poetic expression by faithful Israelites and Jews in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

But Mary also anticipates the New Covenant. She herself inaugurates the New Age by bringing Jesus into the world, and it is she, in the Lukan narrative, who first begins to grapple with his true identity. Beginning with the Angel’s message to her (1:28-35), we see this growing awareness depicted at several points in the narrative—2:19, 33-35, 48-51.

Beyond this, there are two key references in Luke-Acts which reflect the special place of Mary among the early believers in Christ. First, there is the Gospel tradition in Mk 3:31-35 par, which has a much different emphasis in the Lukan version (8:19-21). The negative, exclusionary context of the Synoptic episode at this point is all but eliminated in Luke; instead, the climactic saying of Jesus has an inclusive meaning—i.e., Mary and his brothers are included as being among his followers (“those who hear the Word of God and do it”). They are simply unable to come into the room and reach him at this point in the Lukan narrative; however, after the resurrection, Mary is finally there among the disciples of Jesus (i.e. the first believers) in the same room (1:14).

Here in the Visitation episode, Mary’s identity as a believer in Christ is alluded to in Elizabeth’s closing words (v. 44): “and happy [i.e. blessed] (is) the (one hav)ing trusted [vb pisteúœ] that there will be a completion to the (thing)s having been spoken to her (from) alongside (the) Lord”.

December 29: John 1:16

John 1:16

I tend to agree with commentators who view verse 15 as a secondary addition to the Prologue hymn. It interrupts the flow of verses 14, 16 (cf. below), and is rather awkward in context. For this reason, and because of the difficulties in explaining why it was inserted at this particular location in the hymn, I am holding off on a discussion of verse 15 until our study of the hymn, properly speaking, has been completed.

As a confirmation of the point made above, regarding the intrusiveness of v. 15, note how vv. 14 and 16 flow together (as a poetic unit, or strophe) when 15 is removed:

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth—
and out of his fullness
we all (have) received,
and favor in place of favor.”

We will examine each of the phrases in verse 16, beginning with the first phrase:

o%ti e)k tou= plhrw/mato$ au)tou=
“(and it is) that out of his fullness”

There are four elements to this phrase that need to be examined in turn.

The conjunctive particle o%ti is problematic. This is evidenced by the manuscript tradition, which is divided between o%ti and the conjunction kai/ (“and”). The particle o%ti is the reading in many of the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë66 Ë75 B a C* D L 33 579), but kai/ has more widespread support. Admittedly, o%ti is the more difficult reading, and is perhaps to be preferred on that basis.

The presence of the intervening verse 15 complicates the situation, since o%ti may have been introduced, whether by the author/editor or a copyist, to facilitate the return to the hymn after v. 15. If we accept the theory that an existing hymn was adapted in the Prologue, then we have to ask whether o%ti was the reading in the original hymn. If so, then we must consider further the force of this particle in context.

One possibility is that it indicates purpose or result—that is, the Son was filled (by the Father) so that we (believers) would come to share in the same fullness. Another option is that the clause in verse 16 is epexegetical, introducing a new thought that supplements or explains the prior line(s). The sense would then be: the Son was filled (by the Father), and now it is that we (as believers) also receive from this fullness. I have generally adopted the latter option, translating o%ti with the sense of “(and it is) that”. From the standpoint of the poetry of the hymn, however, I have shortened this to “and”, which is equivalent to the simple conjunction kai/. Copyists may have made a similar substitution, to clarify the line.

The preposition e)k (lit. “out of”) is an important element of the Johannine vocabulary, in two respects: (a) it refers to the source or origin of the Son (Jesus), and reflects the true origin of believers as well—being from God; and (b) it draws upon the birth language and imagery that runs through the Johannine writings, referring to Jesus as the Son and believers as the children (“offspring”) of God. The connection between believers and God the Father is established through Jesus the Son. He is the intermediary, and the divine/eternal Life we experience comes through (or “out of”) him. Ultimately, this is realized through the Spirit that proceeds out of Jesus and into us (7:37-39; 20:22, etc). There is a concrete illustration of this in the Johannine Passion narrative, when the “blood and water” comes out of Jesus’ side (19:34); on the association of the Spirit with this “blood and water”, cf. the allusion in 19:30, and especially the discussion in 1 John 5:6-8.

The noun plh/rwma (“fullness”) occurs only here in the Johannine writings. It is relatively rare in the New Testament as a whole (17 times), occurring most frequently in the Pauline letters—cf. Gal 4:4; Rom 11:12, 25; 13:10; 15:29; and 1 Cor 10:26 (citing Ps 24:1). However, the only real theological use of the word, comparable to the context here in the Prologue-hymn, is found in Colossians and Ephesians. Most notably, it is used in the Colossians Christ-hymn, at 1:19 (with an expository parallel in 2:9):

“…He [i.e. God] considered (it) good (for) all the fullness [plh/rwma] to put down house [i.e. dwell] in him” (1:19)
“…all the fullness [plh/rwma] of the Deity put down house [i.e. dwelt] in him” (2:9)

Clearly, in the context of this Christ-hymn, plh/rwma refers to the fullness of God. Everything that characterizes God, and that distinguishes him from created beings, is present in the Son. Ephesians 1:23 makes much the same point regarding the person of Jesus, but with greater emphasis on believers as the body of Christ. The implication is that, much like in v. 16 of the Prologue-hymn, believers share in the fullness of Christ (cp. Eph 3:19; 4:13).

In v. 16, the “fullness” (plh/rwma) is defined in terms of God the Father filling the Son (adj. plh/rh$). Specifically, he is filled with the “favor” (xa/ri$) and “truth” (a)lh/qeia) of God (v. 14). As I noted, from the standpoint of Johannine theology, that pair of terms essentially refers to the Spirit of God. The Son is filled with the Spirit (cf. 3:34-35), even as Jesus, during his earthly ministry, is said to be “full of the Spirit” (Lk 4:1, see also vv. 14, 18, and the context of the Baptism [3:22]). And we, as believers united with Jesus, share in the fullness of his Spirit.

The final word in the phrase is the genitive pronoun au)tou= (“of him, his”). This emphasizes that the fullness belongs to the Son—it is his, and he truly possesses it. That which is of God (the Father) belongs to Jesus (the Son). At several points in the Gospel, the point is made that the Father gives “all things” to the Son, so that, as the Son, he possesses everything that belongs to the Father (3:35; 5:20, 22; 6:37-39; 16:15; 17:7, 10).



SS Christmas Studies: Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38

This is the second episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative. It presents the Angelic announcement of the miraculous conception (and birth) of Jesus, parallel with the announcement of John’s conception/birth in verses 5-25 (discussed in the previous study). In certain respects, it is similar to the announcement scene in the Matthean narrative (1:18-25, see the prior study). Both Gospel writers appear to have fashioned their episode, basing it on an annunciation tradition—an historical tradition, but one that has also been patterned after Old Testament narratives. Though fundamentally different in detail, each author’s annunciation scene shares a common set of features.

Before proceeding to a more detailed study from the standpoint of historical and literary criticism, we should mention briefly the textual situation. There is a small but substantial variant reading at verse 35 (discussed briefly below); otherwise, the Greek text is relatively secure.

The source-critical question in vv. 26-38 is similar to that in vv. 5-25: did the author (trad. Luke) derive the episode from an earlier source (written or oral)? One might posit a source document that provided a rudimentary narrative of Jesus’ birth, even as scholars have supposed the existence a “Baptist source” for the birth of John the Baptist. In my view, a Lukan composition throughout is more likely.

In both episodes, the Gospel writer is working from an established historical tradition, and has developed the narrative, giving shape and texture to it largely through the application of certain Old Testament (and traditional Jewish) narrative patterns. The main difference in vv. 26-38 is that there likely was an established tradition regarding an Angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth, since we find the same in the Matthean narrative. However, since the two scenes (in Luke and Matthew) have such fundamental points of difference, it is unlikely there were many fixed details to the annunciation-tradition that each share.

With regard to the form of the annunciation-tradition, it appears to be patterned after familiar Scriptural examples: angelic announcements in Old Testament narrative—for birth annunciations, see Genesis 16:7-13; chapters 17-18 (esp. 17:15-21; 18:10-15) and Judges 13. This narrative pattern, which applies here in vv. 26-38, may be outlined as follows:

    • Appearance of the angel, who addresses the person by name (v. 28)
    • The person is startled (v. 29)
    • Assurance of the angel— “do not fear” (v. 30)
    • Announcement of the coming/impending birth (v. 31)
    • The name which is to be given to the child (v. 31b)
    • Prophecy/announcement of the child’s future (v. 32-33)
    • Question by the person receiving the vision— “how will this be?” (v. 34)
    • The angel’s response, along with a sign (vv. 35-37)
    • Acceptance of the vision (v. 38)

For more detail, cf. R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1993, pp. 155-9, 292-8.

As we turn here to a literary-critical examination, we shall consider the structure of the announcement scene. There are three parts to the angel’s message, each followed by Mary’s response:

    • Verse 28—Mary is addressed by name
      • V. 29—Mary is startled by what she sees
    • Verses 30-33—The Message to Mary
      • V. 34—Mary asks “how will this be?”
    • Verses 35-37—Answer to Mary’s question, with a sign
      • V. 38—Mary responds “…may it come to be for me according to your word”

Each part has a theological/christological element, which is an indication of how the traditional pattern has been developed within the Gospel narrative:

    • v. 28b—”the Lord is with you”
    • vv. 31ff—”this one will be great and will be called Son of the Highest…”
    • v. 35a—”The Holy Spirit… power of the Highest…
      v. 35b—…(the child) will be called Holy, the Son of God”

Let us briefly examine each of these in turn, from an exegetical standpoint.

Luke 1:28b “the Lord is with you”

According to the Old Testament/Jewish background of this episode, the “Lord” (ho kýrios) is YHWH, God the Father; but note the use of kýrios to refer to Jesus in Lk 1:43; 2:11, and the more ambiguous reference in Lk 1:76. There can be little doubt that, by the time the Gospel of Luke had been written (around 70 A.D. or a bit later), kýrios was being regularly applied to Jesus in terms of his divine nature or status, connected especially with his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:36, etc).

The expression corresponding to ho kýrios metá sou (“the Lord is with you” or “the Lord be with you”) appears as a pious, but ordinary, greeting in Ruth 2:4. A closer parallel to our passage is found in the angelic annunciation to Gideon in Judg 6:12, as an assurance of God’s support and care. In Lk 1:28, 30, this divine care is described in terms of God’s favor (cháris)—Mary is one who has been favored (kecharitœmén¢) by God (chárin pará tœ Theœ¡).

There is a similar instance in the famous prophecy of Isa 7:14, with the name Immanuel (±imm¹nû °E~l)— “God with us”. The context of Isa 8:8-10 indicates that this name reflects God’s support and protection of the (righteous) king, connected with peace, prosperity, and the salvation of the land/people from enemies. In terms of the original historical context, the most reasonable identification is with Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). Later on, of course, the passage (along with Isa 9:1-6) came to be interpreted in a (future) Messianic sense, and was applied by Christians to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22-23).

There may also be an allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 here in Lk 1:28. Apart from the formal similarity of the opening (chaíre, “be glad / rejoice!” as a greeting) and a possible parallel between Mary and “daughter of Zion” (Jerusalem/Judah personified), note the similar assurance that is offered (compare v. 28a with Zeph 3:15b, 17a). In Zephaniah, it is also a promise of protection and salvation.

Luke 1:31-33 “this one will be… will be called…”

Here, in the angelic message proper, the emphasis is on the Messianic character and status of the child. This aspect was discussed briefly in the previous study, in relation to John the Baptist’s Messianic identity. The Lukan parallelism, effectively comparing John’s birth with Jesus’ birth, emphasizes the superiority of Jesus. This applies also to his Messianic identity.

To begin with, there is the announcement of the conception (“you will receive together in the womb”) and birth (“you will produce”) a son (v. 31a)—this is connected with the favor (cháris) Mary receives from God (vv. 28, 30). In terms of the naming of the child (v. 31b), there may here be an echo of Isa 7:14 LXX (cf. above)—note the similar sequence “will produce” followed by “will call his name” —as is made explicit in Matthew (“you will call his name Yeshua” / “they will call his name Immanuel”, Matt 1:21, 23).

Almost certainly, in this passage there also are allusions to 2 Sam 7:8-16—a prophetic announcement regarding the Davidic line, which had come to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by the time the Gospels were written, as can be seen, for example, in the Qumran text 4QFlor (174) lines 10-13. Note the following points of correspondence:

    • v. 32a—Jesus’ greatness and his name (2 Sam 7:9)
    • v. 32b—Jesus as God’s son (2 Sam 7:14)
    • v. 33—The throne of David and his kingdom, which will last forever (2 Sam 7:13, 16)

Cf. also Isa 9:5-6 (6-7) and Dan 7:14. In this regard, there are two main theological/christological phrases in Lk 1:32 which need to be examined, since they both relate to Jesus’ Messianic identity (and his superiority to John).

“he will be great” (éstai mégas)—The absolute use of mégas (“great”) in the LXX typically refers to YHWH (Psalm 48:2 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5); it tends to be qualified when used of human beings, such as when it is used of John the Baptist in Lk 1:15 (“he will be great in the eyes of the Lord”)—see also 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22 (Fitzmyer, p. 325). The fact that the Lukan infancy narratives present the births of John and Jesus side by side—with Jesus having the more exalted status—indicates that mégas here means something decidedly greater than when applied to John.

“he will be called Son of the Highest” (huiós hypsístou kl¢th¢¡setai)—Here, in context, kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called“) is parallel and generally synonymous with éstai (“he will be“); see, for example, the parallel saying of Jesus in Matt 5:9 / Lk 6:35. In ancient (Near Eastern) thought, the name represented the essential identity and character of the person, often in a dynamic, quasi-magical sense. The giving of a name—especially when given by God—confers (and confirms) just who the child is, and what he/she will become. In this respect, it is worth noting the ‘prophetic’ nature of many naming scenes in the Old Testament (Gen 5:29 et al), and in the New Testament as well (Matt 1:21; 16:17-18, etc).

Here the specific name is “son of the Highest” —hypsístos, which is attested in (pagan) Greek usage (of Zeus, etc), is used in the LXX of YHWH, as a translation of Hebrew ±Elyôn (Gen 14:18; Dan 4:14; cf. also Jubilees 16:18, and note 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22). It is used relatively often in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17)—in Lk 1:76, it is said of John, “you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest”. Cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 347-8.

Luke 1:35 “…will be called Holy, the Son of God”

In this verse, the prophetic announcement and naming of the child by the angel (Gabriel) comes to a climax with the title “Son of God” (huiós Theoú). Actually, the syntax of this phrase is somewhat ambiguous, and there are at least two other ways it could be translated: (a) “…(will be) holy (and) will be called Son of God”, or (b) “the holy (child)…will be called Son of God”. It does seem better to read hágion (as a substantive adjective) and huiós Theoú as parallel predicates which are generally apposite. As a whole, verse 35 refers to both the conception and birth of the child:

Conception (v. 35a)—with two phrases:

There is a strong poetic quality to the angel’s words and the phrases clearly are in synonymous parallelism: “Holy Spirit / Power of the Highest”, “come upon you / cast shade upon you”). The two-fold image or metaphor reflects both the presence and power of God.

Birth (v. 35b)—here there are likewise two phrases, which follow the general pattern of the announcement in v. 31:

“you will produce a son | and you will call his name Yeshua” (v. 31)
“the (child) coming to be born | will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

    • “the (child) coming to be (born)” (to gennœ¡menon)—in a few manuscripts (C* Q f1 33), versional witnesses, and in several Church Fathers, the reading is “the (child) coming to be (born) out of you [ek sou]”; if the addition was intentional, the purpose may have been to emphasize the full reality of Jesus’ human birth, i.e. that he genuinely partook from Mary’s flesh (contrary to the view of certain “Gnostics”). The fundamental meaning of gennáœ, like the related verb gínomai, is “come to be, become”, though often with the specific denotation of coming to be born.
    • “will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” —assuming that this is the correct way to render the syntax of this verse (see above), there are two names or titles given to Jesus:
      hágion (“Holy [One]”), a neuter substantive; Jesus is not often referred to specifically as “holy” (hágios) in the New Testament, but there are several key passages where it is used as a substantive appellation (Luke 4:34 par; Jn 6:69; Acts 3:14 [cf. also 4:27, 30]; Rev 3:7). In Luke 1:49, it is used specifically as a name/title of God the Father (YHWH); cf. also Rev 4:8; 6:10.
      huiós Theoú (“Son of God”), used frequently of Jesus, in various forms, sometimes in the unqualified/absolute form “(the) Son”. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often identifies himself as “the Son”, though, throughout the Gospels, the specific title “Son of God” is almost never spoken by Jesus (cf. Jn 5:25 and note Lk 22:70 par), the title “Son of Man” being far more common.

At this point, we shall turn the lens of historical criticism back on this passage. As part of our study on the historical background of the announcement scene, one ought to mention the extraordinary correspondence of several key elements from the annunciation which are found, together, in a text from Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)—4Q246, sometimes referred to as the Aramaic “Son of God” text. The four key phrases in 1:32, 35 are indicated and compared side by side with 4Q246:

[]rb lhwh ±l °r±° “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
blh dy °l yt°mar “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
wbr ±lywn yqrwnh “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
mlkwth mlkwt ±lm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
hoútos éstai mégas “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
kl¢th¢¡setai huiós Theoú “he will be called | Son of God”
kai huiós hypsístou kl¢th¢¡setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai t¢s basileías autoú ouk éstai télos “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

It is doubtful that the Gospel writer was influenced directly by this text. Much more likely, the Lukan Infancy narrative and 4Q246 each are drawing upon established Messianic traditions, involving both specific titles and phrasing, and also a number of shared Scriptural allusions, which had become rooted in Jewish Messianic thought by the first century A.D.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Volume 28 [1981].

December 28: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

Today’s note will focus specifically on the use of the adjective monogenh/$ in the second couplet of verse 14 (cf. the previous note):

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$

Since this adjective describes the nature of the do/ca (honor/splendor/glory) possessed by the Logos, and its relation to the do/ca of God Himself, it is important to define its meaning here as precisely as possible. I have left the word untranslated above, pending the study that follows below.

The adjective monogenh/$ is a compound, of the adjective mo/no$ (“one, single, alone, only”) and the noun ge/no$. The latter word is derived from the verb of becoming (gi/nomai, “come to be”), used a number of times in the Prologue, including here in verse 14: “the Word came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh”. As previously noted, the verb gi/nomai can connote a birth (i.e., coming to be born), though often the intended meaning is more general; the related verb genna/w is more precise in meaning “come to be born”.

A literal translation of monogenh/$ would be somthing like “(the) only (one who) comes to be”. It is often used to refer to an “only child“, emphasizing the birth aspect (cf. above). That is the meaning, for example, in the other New Testament occurrences (outside of the Gospel and Letters of John)—Lk 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb 11:17; cf. also Judg 11:34 in the LXX (where it occurs 14 times). However, it can also carry the more general meaning of “only (one of its) kind”, “one of a kind”, i.e., unique.

Since, in the other Johannine occurrences (1:18 [v.l.]; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9), monogenh/$ always modifies the noun “son” (ui(o/$), we can be fairly certain of the same point of reference here—that is, the adjective serves as a shorthand for “only Son” (monogenh\$ ui(o/$). With this context in mind, we may thus translate accordingly:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)

The idea of Sonship is still only implied, since the specific word ui(o/$ (“son”) does not occur until verse 18 (and even there the text is disputed). However, it is clear that the emphasis in the Prologue is shifting from the concept of the Logos (the Word/Wisdom) of God to that of the Son.

Let us now add to this portrait the remainder of verse 14:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son)
(from) alongside the Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”

In terms of the rhythm of the Greek, it may be better to include the words para\ patro/$ (“alongside [the] Father”) with the prior line:

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of an only (Son) alongside (the) Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”
kai\ e)qeasa/meqa th\n doca/n au)tou=
do/can w($ monogenh\$ para\ patro/$
plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$

The Logos is thus depicted as the “only Son” of God, who is present “alongside” (para/) the Father. In verse 1, this sense of closeness to God (and the Divine Presence) was expressed by the preposition pro/$ (“toward”); however, elsewhere in the Gospel of John, para/ is used (by Jesus) for this purpose (6:46; 7:29; 8:26, 38, 40; 10:18; 15:15). In those references, para/ also carries the specific meaning of coming from God (15:26; 16:27-28, etc).

Most notably, we have the majestic statement of Jesus in 17:5, where his exaltation (following his death and resurrection) is anticipated, an exaltation (vb doca/zw, “give honor”) that involves the Son’s return to the exalted place he held at God’s side in the beginning. This honor/splendor (do/ca) is specifically said to be “alongside” (para/) God. We find comparable wording in 5:44.

Thus the pre-existent Son of God has an exalted place alongside God the Father, and shares in the do/ca of God. This is the same place held by the pre-existent Logos (vv. 1-2), the Son and Logos essentially referring to the same Divine figure. Ultimately, the dual designation is identified with the person of Jesus—as the incarnate Son and Logos. The participation of the Son in the splendor of God is further explained by the concluding line of verse 14:

plh/rh$ xa/rito$ kai\ a)lhqei/a$
“full of (His) favor and truth”

The Greek reads simply “full of favor and truth”; however, the clear implication is that it is God’s favor, and the Divine truth (the truth of God) that is in view. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, we may safely interpret the line as a reference to the Spirit of God—that is, His own life-giving Spirit that the Father gives to the Son (3:34-35), thus showing favor (xa/ri$) to him. On the identification of the Spirit with the truth (a)lh/qeia) of God, cf. 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6, and (especially) 5:6: “the Spirit is the Truth”. Because the Son is filled with the Spirit, he is able to communicate and give it to others (1:33; 6:63; 7:37-39; 15:26, etc; 19:30; 20:22).

December 27: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

“and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$

At the close of the previous note, the point was made that the do/ca (“honor, splendor, glory”) of the incarnate Logos, which believers behold (“look at,” vb qea/omai), is the very do/ca of God Himself. Yet it is clearly something which the Logos possesses, and thus may also be referred to as the “glory of the Logos” or the “glory of Christ”. To gain a better sense of this dynamic, from the standpoint of the Johannine theology (and Christology), it is worth surveying the usage of the noun do/ca elsewhere in the Johannine writings.

As it happens, the noun occurs 18 times in the Gospel, but not at all in the Letters, which is curious. There are also 17 occurrences in the book of Revelation, but even when including these, it becomes clear that do/ca is not an especially distinctive Johannine term, in comparison with the overall usage in the New Testament (165 occurrences). However, the occurrences in the Johannine Discourses (of Jesus) are significant. They are nearly all found in the first half of the Gospel, the so-called ‘Book of Signs’, and the first instance in 2:11 establishes the point of reference, in terms of the meaning and theological significance of do/ca:

“This Yeshua did in Kânâ of the Galîl (as the) beginning of the signs, and made his splendor [do/ca] shine forth, and his learners [i.e. disciples] trusted in him.”

Through the miracles, and other signs, performed by Jesus (of which the miracle at Cana was the first), he made the Divine do/ca “shine forth”. It was the first clear indication that God was manifest in the person of Jesus, and his followers began to trust in him. In the final, climactic miracle of his ministry (the raising of Lazarus), the do/ca of God again shines forth, and the people behold it (11:4, 40).

In 5:44, we see the opposite illustrated—a lack of trust by people who had witnessed a sign (the healing miracle in chapter 5). This lack of trust is revealed in terms of active opposition, for which Jesus has harsh words of rebuke:

“I have come in the name of my Father, and (yet) you do not receive me [cf. 1:10ff], but if another (person) should come in his own name, that (one) you will receive. How can you (ever) be able to trust, receiving (the) honor [do/ca] (that comes from) alongside others, and (yet) you do not seek (the) honor [do/ca] (that comes from) alongside God?” (vv. 43-44)

Much the same point is made by Jesus in 7:18. By way of contrast with the unbelieving populace, Jesus stresses how he does seek the honor/splendor of God; as the faithful Son, Jesus honors the Father. Note how he states this in 8:50ff:

“I do not seek my own honor [do/ca]…
if I honor [vb doca/zw] myself, my honor is nothing; my Father is the (One) honoring me, of whom you say that ‘He is our God,’ and (yet) you have not known Him—but I have known Him” (vv. 51, 54-55a)

At the close of the ‘Book of Signs’, the Gospel writer summarizes the lack of faith among the populace in wording similar to 5:44 (cf. above): “they loved the honor of men much over [i.e. more than] the honor of God” (12:43). And it is clear from the reference in 12:41 (the allusion to Isa 6:1ff) that the do/ca manifest in the person of Jesus is the do/ca of God Himself.

The noun do/ca occurs again three times in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17. The first instance is in the opening section of the prayer, v. 5, expressed with a Christological emphasis that could almost have come from the Prologue-hymn:

“And, now, may you honor [vb doca/zw] me, Father, with the honor [do/ca] (from) alongside your (own) self, which I held, before the being [i.e. creation] of the world, alongside you.”

This statement reflects the pre-existence theme of the Christ hymns (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:2b-4), whereby the exaltation of Jesus, following his death and resurrection, effectively mirrors the exalted state he had (as the pre-existent Son of God) at the beginning. Here, however, within the more developed Johannine Christology, this aspect is even more pronounced. The pre-existent Deity of Jesus, as the Son and the Word/Wisdom (Logos) of God, is given special emphasis.

The final two occurrences of the noun do/ca are distinctively Johannine. At the close of the Prayer-Discourse, Jesus returns to the do/ca-theme of verse 5, only now believers are included in the promise of exaltation and glorification (cf. verses 12-13 of the Prologue):

“And I have given to the them the honor/splendor [do/ca] which you have given to me, (so) that they should be one, even as we (are) one. ….
Father, (for) that which you have given to me, I wish that, where(ever) I am, they also would be with me, (so) that they might look at my splendor [do/ca] which you have given to me, (in) that you loved me before the casting down [i.e. foundation/creation] of the world.” (vv. 22, 24)

This brief survey should, I think, give us some added insight regarding the meaning and significance of the word do/ca as it occurs in verse 14 of the Prologue. It is the do/ca (honor/splendor/glory) of God the Father, manifest in the person of Jesus, the incarnate Logos. The next line in v. 14, however, provides a clearer picture as to the nature of this relationship, and how it is that Jesus and God the Father share the same do/ca. It hinges on an accurate interpretation of the adjective monogenh/$. Because of the difficulty and sensitivity involved in explaining (and translating) this term, it is best to devote a separate note (the next daily note) for this task.

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 1:5-25

Luke 1:5-25

Having looked at the first episode of the Matthean Infancy narrative in the previous study, we now turn to the Lukan narrative. The Infancy narrative in the Gospel of Luke is more developed and possesses a more complex literary structure. It shares with Matthew a basic set of information, derived from historical tradition, regarding the names of Jesus’ parents, the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, the role of the Holy Spirit, an Angelic announcement of the conception and birth, the Davidic ancestry of Joseph, and so forth. Beyond this, the detail of the narrative is unique to each author—with none of the special information in Luke found in Matthew, and vice versa.

We will proceed with our study of the first Lukan episode (1:5-25) in much same manner that we approached the Matthean episode.

From a text-critical standpoint, there is little to say, since the text is generally secure, and variant readings are slight and minor. In terms of source-criticism and historical-criticism, there are more significant issues to address.

We begin with a fundamental aspect of the Lukan Infancy narrative—namely, the parallel treatments of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. This is sometimes referred to as a diptych format, with episodes presented side-by-side on facing panels. The parallelism of this format is clear enough when we consider the first two episodes (1:5-25, 26-38), which each involve the appearance of an Angel (Gabriel) announcing the miraculous conception and birth of the child. The announcement includes a presentation of the child’s name, and a prophecy of chosen rule and future destiny.

The scene involving John the Baptist comes first, with the narrative introduction in verses 5-7. Some information regarding John’s parents is presented, set within a wider historical context. This leads to the question of how or where the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) came by this information, and what kinds of sources may have been involved. Some commentators have posited the existence of a “Baptist-source”, a narrative of John’s life, similar in its biographical and hagiographical aspects to the Gospels. According to this theory, the episodes in 1:5-25 and 57-66 would have been based on this source material. Other scholars would view these passages as essentially Lukan compositions, built up around a few traditional details, and patterned after selected Old Testament narratives. The latter interpretation seems to be more in keeping with the available evidence.

The historical information presented by the Gospel writer in verses 5ff includes several key details: (a) the names of John’s parents, (b) their Levitical/Aaronid ancestry, (c) their age and childlessness, (d) their righteous character, and (e) Zechariah’s active role as a Priest who serves his turn in the Jerusalem Temple. Some of these details have been viewed with suspicion, as they serve a definite literary purpose. For example, mentioning the age and childlessness of Zechariah/Elizabeth allows the author to bring out both the Old Testament parallel of Abraham/Sarah, and helps establish the parallel setting for the Angelic announcements for the miraculous births of John and Jesus, respectively. Moreover, the announcement to Zechariah could not take place in the Temple sanctuary if he did not have a reason for being there (i.e., his priestly service).

However, literary convenience and historical veracity are not mutually exclusive; the narrative may flow naturally on the basis of certain historical details or circumstances. There can be no doubt that the Gospel writer has developed the historical tradition(s) he received so as to bring out and emphasize a number of important themes. At this point, we must admit that historical criticism and literary criticism become inexorably intertwined. I would like to discuss, in particular, the following themes, which are fundamental to both the style and structure of the narrative:

    • A male-female pair (Zechariah/Elizabeth) who embody the devotion and piety of Israel under the Old Covenant
    • Allusions to Old Testament narratives where God works on behalf of, or manifests Himself to, His chosen servants
    • The Messianic character of the child, reflecting established early Christian tradition
    • The Temple setting, as a point of contact (and continuity) between the Old and New Covenant
The Faithful Ones of Israel: Zechariah-Elizabeth

There are three different male-female pairs featured in the Lukan Infancy narrative, each of whom embodies the righteousness and devotion of the faithful ones of Israel under the old Covenant. Along with the parents of John the Baptist (Zechariah/Elizabeth) and Jesus (Joseph/Mary), there is the pair of Simeon/Anna whom Jesus’ parents encounter in the Temple precincts. Here in 1:5ff, this aspect of John’s parents (Zechariah and Elizabeth) is established, which is done several ways in the narrative:

    • Their names and lineage—the names being venerable Yah- and El-names, reflecting devotion to the God of Israel (cf. my earlier article on this subject); the lineage is the tribe of Levi, the tribe chosen to give special service to YHWH, and the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah faithfully fulfills his priestly duty in this episode (verses 8ff).
    • The declaration in verse 6
      “And they both were right/just [díkaios] in front of God, traveling without blame in all the duties (placed) on (them) and the right (decree)s of the Lord.”
      The same adjective (díkaios) was used to describe Simeon (2:25), Joseph of Arimathea (23:50), and Jesus himself (23:47).
    • The prophecy of John’s ministry—their child, in fulfilling his Messianic role (as the “Elijah” of Mal 4:5-6), will bring about a revival of righteousness and devotion among the people (vv. 16-17); note the same adjective (díkaios, “right, just”) occurs in verse 17.
Old Testament Narrative Patterns

The use of the Old Testament Scriptures has influenced and affected the Lukan narrative in a number of ways. Scholars have noticed a higher incidence of Semitic coloring and detail in the language and style of chapters 1-2, than in the rest of the Gospel. Some have suggested that this is the result of specific sources (written or oral) used by the author (see above). However, it seems more likely that it is a product of the influence of the Old Testament (particularly that of the LXX) on the author. One can see the influence of the Scriptures here in a variety of ways:

(a) quotation of verses,
(b) use of similar words and phrases,
(c) use of 1st-cent. B.C/A.D. Jewish phrases (influenced themselves by the OT),
(d) application of OT narrative forms and motifs,  and
(e) parallels drawn between similar characters and scenes.

(a) is relative rare in Luke, being far more common in the Matthean Infancy narratives; it is hard to judge the extent of (c), but (b, d-e) abound in Luke. Here in Luke 1:5-25, one can recognize echoes and allusions to several passages:

  1. The Birth of Samuel narrative(s) (1 Sam 1-2). The Gospel writer has made extensive use of this section of Scripture; it has shaped the Infancy narratives in a number of ways: sometimes the parallel is made with John the Baptist, other times with Jesus.

Similarities in wording and setting: Compare for example the wording of Luke 1:5 and 1 Sam 1:1-2 (LXX). Both Elisheba [Elizabeth] and Hannah are without child, though for different reasons: “and there was no offspring for them” (Luke 1:7); “and for Hannah there was no child”(1 Sam 1:2).  Note also the parallel between Luke 1:23-24 and 1 Sam 1:19-20:

    • “and Elkanah went into his house… and Hannah received together (in the womb) [i.e. became pregnant]… and she brought forth a son, and she called his name…
    • “and he [i.e. Zechariah] went from (there) into his house… and Elizabeth received together (in the womb) [i.e. became pregnant…” (the naming is not related until v. 60: “he will be called John”)

Similarities in location: Zechariah is officiating in the Temple (Luke 1:8ff); Elkanah sacrifices (1 Sam 1:4ff), and Hannah prays to God (1 Sam 1:9ff) at the Temple.

Similarities in narrative detail: (a) message regarding God’s granting of their request/petition, in the Temple location (Luke 1:13; 1 Sam 1:17); (b) context of the Nazirite, with emphasis on drink, for both the child Samuel and John (Luke 1:15; 1 Sam 1:11, 13-15)

  1. Abraham and Sarah (regarding the Birth of Isaac):
    • Abraham/Sarah and Zechariah/Elizabeth are both too old for children (“having advanced forward in days”, Luke 1:7; Gen 18:11). Sarah and Elizabeth were both “barren” (steíra); for Sarah a different idiom is used.
    • The (angelic) birth announcement (Luke 1:13f) is formally similar to many Old Testament passages, including those involving Abraham (Gen 16:11; 17:16).
    • At the heavenly announcement that he will receive a son, Zechariah responds in a manner similar to Abraham (Gen 17:16-17; Luke 1:18)—note also the identical wording, in a similar but different context (1:18; Gen 15:8) katá ti gnœ¡somai “by what shall I know [this]?”
  1. Angelic announcements (often involving the birth of a child). These follow a general pattern in the Old Testament narratives (e.g., Gen 16-18; Ex 3; Judg 6; 13, etc), which is reflected in the Infancy narratives (not only Luke 1:8-20ff and 1:26-38; 2:8-14, but also Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-15). Luke 1:8-23 follows this pattern relatively closely:
    • The setting for the episode (vv. 8-10), here especially dramatic as: (a) Zechariah is a priest serving in the Temple, (b) he enters the Sanctuary (‘Holy Place’) to offer incense, (c) it is the time of prayer (afternoon/evening offering) and many are praying outside.
    • The appearance of the heavenly Messenger (v. 11)
    • Fear comes upon Zechariah at the sight (v. 12)
    • The Messenger tells him “Do not fear” (v. 13)
    • The Message, addressed to Zechariah by name, with an explanation and promise (including, for birth announcements, the name the child shall be called) (v. 13-17)
    • The fearful response (question) of Zechariah “by what will I know this? for I am old…” (v. 18) (implied is a request for some sign to know that the message will be true)
    • A sign given by the Messenger (often with a rebuke implied)—here the sign can be viewed as a kind of punishment for Zechariah (v. 18-20)
    • The response/effect of the angelic appearance (v. 21-23)

Similarities to other passages:

    • The appearances of Gabriel to Daniel (Dan 8:17ff; 9:20ff; 10:7ff); the appearance in 9:20ff occurs during a time of prayer (Luke 1:10-11)
    • Malachi 3:1, 23-24 [EV 4:5-6]: wording related to Elijah, applied by the heavenly Messenger to the child John in Luke 1:17 (see below). This association between John and Elijah occurs at numerous points in the Synoptic Gospels, and will reoccur in the song of Zechariah (‘Benedictus’) in Luke 1:76-79. Cf. also Sirach 48:10.
    • Gen 30:23: Rachel’s response to the ‘miracle’ of becoming pregnant: apheílen ho Theós mou to óneidos (“God has taken away my disgrace”, i.e. barrenness as “reproach/disgrace/insult”); compare the response of Elizabeth in Luke 1:25: epeíden apheleín óneidós mou en anthrœ¡pois (“He looked upon to take away my disgrace among men [i.e. among people]”).
The Messianic Character of the Child

This is central to the Angelic announcement (vv. 13-17), and the prophecy establishes John as a Messianic prophet-figure, according to the type of “Elijah”, drawing directly on Malachi 3:1ff (as interpreted by 4:5-6). This identification of John with “Elijah”, while rooted in historical tradition, came to be the way that Christians explained the relationship between John and Jesus: i.e., John is the “Elijah” (Messianic prophet-figure) who ‘prepares the way’ for the coming of the Lord (Jesus, the Davidic Messiah). The situation in the earlier strands of the Gospel tradition is more complicated, as I discuss in detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 23) and “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (articles on the Baptism of Jesus).

The Messianic identity of the child Jesus, and the relationship between John and Jesus in this regard, will be discussed further in the next two studies.

The Temple Setting

The Jerusalem Temple clearly plays an important role in this episode, the Temple sanctuary being the location of the Angel’s appearance and announcement to Zechariah (verses 9-17ff). It also serves as the setting for the final episode of the Lukan narrative (2:22-38), as well as the supplemental episode in 2:41-50. That latter episode, climaxing as it does with the famous declaration by the boy Jesus (v. 49), underscores the importance of the Temple-setting in the Gospel of Luke.

Apart from the traditional associations in Old Testament narrative (see above), the Temple serves a very distinctive purpose for the author in the narrative of Luke-Acts: it functions as a point of contact, and continuity, between the Old and New Covenant. All of the key figures in the Infancy narrative who represent the faithful ones of Israel (under the old Covenant)—Zechariah/(Elizabeth), Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna (see above)—are depicted as spending time within the Temple precincts. So also was Jesus there, with his parents, prior to the start of his public ministry.

Even after the death and resurrection of Jesus, which marks the end of the old Covenant (23:45 par; Rom 10:4, etc), Jesus’ disciples continue to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20-21ff, 42). This is an important thematic point of emphasis for the work of Luke-Acts as a whole: the continuity between Judaism and Christianity, the old and new Covenants.

December 26: John 1:14 (continued)

John 1:14, continued

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us,
and we looked at his splendor,
splendor as of a monogenh/$
alongside the Father,
full of (His) favor and truth.”

In the previous note, we examined the first two lines of verse 14 (and the final unit of the hymn). The Old Testament and Wisdom tradition, depicting God (and His Wisdom) dwelling among His people, i.e., abiding in a tent-dwelling, is applied to the person of Jesus. In his earthly life, Jesus fulfills the type pattern of the Divine Wisdom (and Word) of God, but in a new way: the Logos of God “comes to be flesh”, and so lives and dwells among the people as a flesh-and-blood human being. In theological terms, this is referred to as the Incarnation, and it relates specifically to the birth of Jesus (his “coming to be”, vb. gi/nomai, cf. the related noun ge/nesi$ in Matt 1:18, etc).

kai\ qeasa/meqa th/n do/ca au)tou=
“and we looked at his splendor”

The next two lines describe the people’s response to Jesus, as they “look at” him (vb qea/omai). This verb is one of a several keywords denoting “sight, vision, perception”; it occurs 6 times in the Gospel of John, and another 3 in the Letters (9 out of 22 NT occurrences). It can mean, specifically, looking closely at something, observing it carefully and intently, sometimes implying that one looks with discernment, or gazes with a sense of wonderment (cf. the related noun qau=ma, “wonder”). All of these aspects of meaning apply to the Johannine usage—especially as it relates to how believers view Jesus.

Several of these references are particularly significant. In Jn 1:32, we have the Baptist’s testimony (cf. verses 6-9, 15 of the Prologue): “I looked at [teqe/amai] the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and remaining upon him”. John observes closely the Divine Presence that is upon Jesus, and his seeing is combined with his hearing the voice of God from heaven (verse 33). John the Baptist is the first person who recognizes the truth of who Jesus is (v. 34): “and I have seen and have given witness that this is the Son of God”. This makes John the first of the believers in Christ, part of the “we” subject in verse 14.

In the previous note, I mentioned how the “us” of v. 14 (“…put down his tent among us”) has several different layers of meaning; however, the primary (and ultimate) point of reference, in the Johannine context, is to believers. And that is certainly the primary significance in these couplets as well: “and we looked at…”. The opening words of 1 John (1:1) identify the collective “we” even more precisely with the first generation of believers in Christ:

“Th(at) which was from the beginning–th(at) which we have heard, th(at) which we have seen with our eyes, th(at) which have looked upon [e)qeasa/meqa], and (which) our hands have felt–about the Word [lo/go$] of Life…”

The parallels in thought and wording with the Gospel Prologue are obvious. The uniqueness of the manifestation of God in the incarnate, flesh-and-blood person of Jesus is also emphasized in 1 Jn 4:12-14:

“No one has looked at [teqe/atai] God at any (time); (but) if we love each other, (then) God remains [i.e. dwells/abides in us…
In this we know that we remain in Him, and he in us…
And we have looked at [teqea/meqa] (him) and give witness that the Father has se(n)t forth His Son, (as the) Savior of the world.”

We see the God the Father through the person of Jesus  the Son, when we trust in him.

In the statement here in verse 14, it is made clear that what we “see” as believers is the do/ca of God. The noun do/ca (dóxa) can be rather difficult to translate in English. It essentially refers to what we think about something (or someone), how we consider or regard it. When applied to persons, it often denotes the esteem we have for them—i.e., the “(high) regard”, such as the case may be. When dealing with superiors or important persons, in particular, the meaning of the word is heightened, carrying the sense of “honor, respect,” etc.

In a religious context, this sense is taken even further when applied to God, being extended specifically to cover that which makes Him worthy of our honor and esteem—His divine nature and character, His holiness, power, majesty, etc. When speaking of God, the word do/ca can serve as a shorthand, summary term for everything that distinguishes God from created (human) beings. In such a context, do/ca is typically translated as “glory”, though I have rendered it as “splendor” above. It is often conceived visually through light imagery (cf. verses 4-9).

The main point is that the Logos—specifically, the incarnate Word/Wisdom of God—possesses the do/ca (the honor, splendor, glory) of God Himself (cf. on 1 Jn 4:12-14 above). When believers “look at” the incarnate Logos (Jesus) with the eyes of faith, we see and recognize that he is the very Son, the pre-existent Word/Wisdom of God. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

SS Christmas Studies: Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18-25

This first study in our series on the Infancy narratives focuses on the narrative in the Gospel of Matthew. The opening statement in verse 18 is a fitting point to begin our critical study:

“And the coming to be [i.e. birth] of Yeshua (the) Anointed was this (way): his mother Maryam (hav)ing been committed to Yoseph, even before their coming together, she was found (to be) holding in (the) womb (a child), out of (the) holy Spirit.”

This statement both provides the setting for the episode and establishes the essential (traditional) information regarding the birth of Jesus.

We begin with the text, which is reasonably secure, since there are only minor variant readings in the manuscripts. For example, the name “Yeshua” (Jesus) is absent from a number of manuscripts and versions, or occurs at different positions in the text; both factors can be seen as evidence that the name may have been added by copyists. The presence of the name enhances the verse, but really does not alter the meaning. Also, instead of the noun génesis (“coming to be [born]”), some witness read the related noun génn¢sis, very close in meaning, but which more properly denotes a birth. In light of the tendency toward a docetic Christology among certain believers, it is conceivable that scribes may have wished to emphasize (or make clear) that Jesus had a real human birth. The noun génn¢sis would be preferable for that purpose.

When we consider the Matthean narrative from a source-critical standpoint, it is clear that the author is presenting some very specific information regarding the birth of Jesus. A comparison with the Lukan narratives reveals a common set of basic narrative details. Since there is no real indication that either author was familiar with the other’s work, it is fair to assume that each writer received the information independently, through different lines of early tradition. That there are certain details in common suggests that they formed part of a basic historical tradition. This common tradition may be summarized as follows:

    • The names of Jesus’ parents (Joseph & Mary)
    • They were engaged to be married (the betrothal stage), but had not yet been formally united when Mary’s pregnancy became known
    • This implies that Mary and Joseph were not yet living together (and having sexual relations) when she became pregnant (a detail specified in v. 25)
    • It is further stated that this was a supernatural (miraculous) conception, brought about through the agency of the Holy Spirit

There are several other traditional details shared by Matthew and Luke (Angelic announcement, the birth in Bethlehem, the home in Nazareth, etc), but those listed above are all present, more or less, here in verse 18. Indeed, the Gospel writer offers little more than a summary of this basic information.

Which brings us to the historical-critical point—a consideration of the historical background, and the historicity, of vv. 18ff. Quite apart from any doctrinal presupposition (regarding the inspiration of Scripture, etc), there are strong reasons for affirming the historical veracity of the key detail in v. 18: namely, that Mary became pregnant prior to the finalization of her marriage to Joseph—that is, during the period of engagement (betrothal). The potential problems this detail created for early Christians, raising the possibility of an illegitimate birth for Jesus, are such that it would surely not have been invented, not even as pretext for introducing the idea of a supernatural birth.

The Matthean narrative fully acknowledges the difficulty surrounding the historical tradition, recording a further detail in v. 19, regarding Joseph’s initial response to Mary’s pregnancy:

“And Yoseph her husband, being just, and (yet) not wishing to make an example (of) her, was willing to loose her from (the agreement) privately.”

This statement is as simple as it is historically plausible. While the information is altogether lacking from the Lukan Infancy narrative, it is generally in accord with the Lukan portrait of Joseph as a just and upright (díkaios) person, faithful in observing the regulations and requirements of the Instruction (Torah) given by God to Israel. His moral character is further indicated by the detail that, though he knew he must follow the Torah regulations (see Deut 22:20-21, cp. Num 5:11-31), he was also willing to dissolve the marriage agreement as quietly as possible, to avoid exposing Mary to shame and disgrace. As an interesting point of coincidence, there is an Aramaic text from Wadi Muraba’at, dating from 111 A.D., involving the dissolution/repudiation of a marriage agreement between a certain Joseph and Mary (Brown, p. 128).

As mentioned, the devotion to the covenant, marked by faithful observance of the Torah, is an important aspect of the Lukan portrait of Jesus’ parents (2:22ff, 39, 41ff). This theme is not as prominent in the Matthean narrative, apart from here in the opening episode.

This brings us to the literary-critical aspect of the passage—that is, a study of the literary character of the episode in vv. 18-25, and how it fits into the structure of the Infancy narrative (and the Gospel) as a whole. There are several lines of interpretation that should be noted in this regard:

    • The context of vv. 18-25 following the genealogy in vv. 1-17
    • The importance of the annunciation scene in vv. 20-21, 24-25
    • The significance of the Scriptural citation (vv. 22-23)

Let us consider each of these points, commenting on the verses (20-25) along the way.

The relationship to the Genealogy

Verse 18 immediately follows the genealogy of vv. 1-17, which traces the lineage of Jesus, from Abraham through to his father Joseph. It is a legal genealogy, not biological, since the lineage clearly belongs to Joseph, not Mary. Even so, it establishes Jesus’ proper ancestry, the main point being to show that he is a descendant of David (vv. 1, 5-6ff), and thus qualifies for consideration as the Davidic Messiah. The title “Anointed One” (Messiah, Christ) was associated primarily with the royal Messiah, the Davidic Ruler figure type, an association that is brought out at a number of points in both Infancy narratives, but especially in the Lukan narrative. Joseph’s Davidic ancestry is confirmed by the Lukan narrative as well (2:4; 3:23ff).

Another subtle point of emphasis in the genealogy are the references to the Babylonian captivity that punctuate the list (vv. 11-12, 17). The episodes in chapter 2 draw upon the traditional imagery of Israel’s exile, and inform the idea of Jesus as the Savior (vv. 22-23) who will rescue his people from captivity.

As a reminder of the way that established historical tradition affects the literary presentation, compare the way that the details surrounding Jesus’ birth and parentage are described in verses 16 and 18, respectively. The wording and language used in an important aspect of literary style; and the phrasing in vv. 16 and 18 is clearly influenced by the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth.

The Annunciation Scene

The Angelic announcement of Jesus’ conception (and impending birth) is fundamental to the literary structure of the Matthean Infancy narrative. It was not simply the invention of the Gospel writer, but was included as part of the narrative based on two factors: (1) historical tradition, and (2) Old Testament narrative tradition. With regard to the first point, both Matthew and Luke record an Angelic announcement (cp. Lk 1:26-38); and, while they differ in nearly every detail, the two annunciation scenes share a basic pattern. The Matthean announcement scene follows the narrative introduction in vv. 18-19 (see above), which continues with the opening words of verse 20, to the effect that Joseph’s heart and mind (lit. his impulse) was focused on the issue of Mary’s pregnancy, when suddenly:

“…see!—(the) Messenger of the Lord shone forth to him according to [i.e. through] a dream, saying: ‘Yoseph, son of Dawid, you should not be afraid to take alongside (of you) Maryam your wife—for the (child) coming to be (born) in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit!'”

This Angelic (birth) announcement is similar to those in Luke—to Zechariah and to Mary (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)—and follows a basic pattern from episodes in the Old Testament (cf. my earlier note on 1:26ff, and Brown, Birth, pp. 155-9). Formally, the wording in 1:20-21 is closest to Lk 1:13, and to Gen 17:19 in the Old Testament. The distinct detail here in Matthew—that the Messenger of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream—may well be an allusion to the Joseph narratives in Genesis.

The scene here (involving Joseph) is very much parallel to the Annuciation to Mary in Luke. The Angel’s words in v. 20b are similar to those in Lk 1:35—as a response/sign to confirm the miraculous message, emphasizing that the conception of the child is due to the supernatural agency of the holy Spirit of God:

“for the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to genn¢thén] in her is out of the holy Spirit

Compare with Luke 1:35: “the holy Spirit will come upon you…the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to gennœ¡menon] will be called Holy”

Thus we have comparable statements by the Angel of the Lord to Joseph and Mary, respectively. The birth announcement proper occurs in verse 21:

“She will produce a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua: for he will save his people from their sins.”

There are three elements to the declaration, each of which has a different subject:

    • birth— “she {Mary} will produce [i.e. bring forth] a son”
    • name— “you {Joseph} shall call his name Yeshua”
    • explanation of the name—”he {Jesus} will save his people…”

On the meaning and significance of the name “Yeshua” (Jesus), see my earlier Christmas study on this passage in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. In the annunciation scenes from Matthew and Luke, the command to give the name Yeshua to the child is directed at Joseph and Mary, respectively. While this naturally would fit either or both of the parents, here in Matthew there is special significance to Joseph as the one giving the name. It establishes his legal paternity (see above), thus making Jesus legitimately a “son of David” (v. 20; cf. Lk 1:27; 2:4). The importance of this association is confirmed by the preceding genealogy (vv. 1-17). The Davidic aspect of Jesus’ identity will be discussed further in upcoming studies.

Apart from its historical, religious, and theological significance, the annunciation scene has special importance in terms of the literary structure of the Matthean narrative. Consider, first, its place in the episode of vv. 18-25; the relatively simple structure of the passage can be seen by the following outline:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 18-19)—establishes the character of Joseph (parallel to Zechariah/Elizabeth in Luke)
    • The Angelic appearance and announcement (vv. 20-21)
    • Scripture–Fulfillment of Prophecy (vv. 22-23)
    • Narrative conclusion/summary (vv. 24-25)—the character of Joseph in his response to the message

Beyond this, the angelic appearance pattern is repeated twice more in the narrative, following the episodes in 2:1-12 and 2:16-18 (vv. 13-14, vv. 19-21). Each of these appearance/announcement scenes is also tied to a Scripture (fulfillment-of-Prophecy theme, vv. 15, 23). Thus, the annunciation scene in vv. 20-21ff is part of a wider literary pattern which shapes the structure of the entire narrative.

The Scripture Citation (Fulfillment of Prophecy)

The Scripture citation (from Isaiah 7:14) in verses 22-23 is part of a Matthean literary pattern—both in the Infancy narrative and the Gospel as a whole—where key events in the life of Jesus (and the Synoptic narrative) are punctuated by Scriptural quotations (and/or allusions), to demonstrate how those events are to be regarded as the fulfillment of prophecy. Each of the episodes in the Infancy narrative features a Scripture citation. For a detailed discussion of the passage cited here, the famous prophecy in Isa 7:14, see my earlier article in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”, as well as the more extensive set of articles in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.

It is quite possible that the author of the Matthean Infancy narrative (trad. Matthew) is among the first Christians to make an explicit connection between Isa 7:14 and the birth of Jesus, though the passage may be reflected in Lk 1:28, 31 and the Messianic associations in the Lukan narrative as well. There can be no doubt that Matthew emphasizes the miraculous (virginal) nature of Jesus’ conception and birth, stating it even more directly than Luke. It is mentioned four times in this opening section (vv. 18, 20, 23, 25). It is also certain that the Angel’s announcement to Joseph (vv. 20b, 21a) follows specifically, and is patterned after, the wording of Isa 7:14 (as cited by Matthew):

    • “the (child)…in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit
      the virgin will have (a child) in the womb”
    • “and she will produce a son”
      “and she will produce a son”
    • “and you will call his name…”
      “and they will call his name…”

In the original context of the prophecy, the name ±Immanû °E~l is a fitting name for a ruler, indicating the divine protection and aid God brings to his reign and his kingdom (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). The Gospel writer, of course, recognizes something deeper than this, as he sets the name as a precise parallel with Y¢šûa±, a name explained as embodying the help and deliverance (salvation) God is bringing to his people (in the person of Jesus). Indeed, the meaning of the name Immanuel relates to two important aspects of (early) Christian belief:

    • Jesus as the Son of God—his deity manifesting the presence of God himself (“God with you”)
    • The power/work of the Holy Spirit—the abiding presence of God (and Christ) with believers is realized through the Spirit

This latter idea is more prominent in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, but note the closing words of Jesus in Matthew (28:20): “I am with you…”.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993).