Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental note on Daniel 3:25

Overview and Interpretation

Daniel 3:25 is noteworthy as the only occurrence in the Old Testament of the expression “son of God”; the plural appears numerous times (in several forms) in the Hebrew, in reference to divine/heavenly beings, and, less frequently, to human beings (cf. the first section of Part 12). However, the singular occurs only here in Daniel, at the climactic moment of chapter 3, as the three young Israelite/Jewish men (Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah) are inside the blazing furnace, and the king (Nebuchadnezzar) declares in amazement:

“See! I behold four young men loosed (from their bonds and) walking in the middle of the fire, and there is no damage to them! and the appearance of the fourth is like that of a son of God!”

While it is not specified in this verse, the clear implication is that this fourth “young man” (rb^G+) is a divine/heavenly being. The expression in Aramaic is /yh!l*a$ rB^ (bar-°§l¹hîn), the equivalent of Hebrew <yh!ýa$ /B# (ben-°§lœhîm), which is typically used in the plural for heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The text states this explicitly in verse 28, in the subsequent public declaration by Nebuchadnezzar:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his Messenger and brought release/deliverance for his servants…”

The Hebrew/Aramaic ialm, like the Greek word a&ggelo$, can refer to either a human or heavenly “messenger”, depending on the context; here, it certainly means a heavenly Messenger. At the historical level, a (pagan, polytheistic) king such as Nebuchadnezzar, in using an expression like /yh!l*a$ rB^, would have meant simply a divine being, “son of (the) gods” (cf. Hebrew <yl!a@ yn}B=), according to the conventional understanding of the time. The text does not indicate just what it was about the appearance of this fourth person that led Nebuchadnezzar to believe it was a divine being of some sort. From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, the “gods” (<yl!a@) or “sons of God” of course were understood to be created heavenly beings or “Angels”.

The earliest interpretation of this heavenly/angelic being in Dan 3:25 is found in the Additions to the Greek version of Daniel, LXX Dan 3:49 (verse 26 of the addition), where it is stated that “the Messenger of the Lord stepped down into the furnace with the ones around Azariah and shook the flame of the fire out of the furnace”. This is a reference to the Messenger (Angel) of YHWH in ancient Israelite and Old Testament tradition. Originally, this was not so much a particular Angelic person or being, but rather a concrete expression and embodiment of God’s power and protection on behalf of his people, which may acted out by His Messenger(s), but can also be taken to represent the presence or manifestation (theophany) of God Himself. The Messenger of YHWH is especially depicted as one who protects Israel (Gen 16:7-11; Exod 14:19; 23:20, 23; 32:34; 33:2; Num 20:16; 22:22-35; Judg 2:1-4; 2 Kings 19:35; Ps 34:7; 35:5-6; Zech 3:1-6; 12:8, etc). Later Rabbinic tradition identified the Angel of Dan 3:25 as Gabriel (b. Pesach. 118ab). For the Christian interpretation of the passage as a Christophany, or as prefiguring Jesus in some way, cf. below.

Daniel 3:25 and 7:13-14

There are some interesting parallels between these two passages. To begin with, the references, taken on their own, are similar, though the expressions use different vocabulary:

“See! [ah*] … (he) is like [hm@D*] a son of God
“See! [Wra&] … one like [K=] a son of man

Probably both are referring to a heavenly being, a Messenger (Angel) of God, and both seemingly in the context of the protection and deliverance of God’s people (the righteous ones) on earth. If we step back and look at the overall setting of chapters 2-3 and 7, in relation to the thematic development and structure of the book, the parallelism is enhanced:

First, we have the visions of chapters 2 and 7, which are related in the following ways:

    • Each involves a succession of four kingdoms, the last of which is the most savage and violent, with ten toes/horns representing ten kings. Following these is the everlasting kingdom of God, which will be established following the defeat/judgment of the other kingdoms.
    • Each has the general structure of: (1) occurrence of the vision, (2) hymn/vision of God’s glory, (3) interpretation of the vision.
    • Each is set at the beginning of one half of the book—(1) the vision in chapter 2 introduces the stories of chs. 3-6, set during the Babylonian, Median, and Persian (i.e. the first three) kingdoms; (2) that in chapter 7 introduces the visions of chs. 8-11, involving the rise and history of the Greek empire (the fourth kingdom).

Note also the following parallels between chaps. 3 and 7:

    • The episode in chapter 3 is, in some ways, a narrative dramatization of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—now it is a real statue, representing the glory and power of earthly kingdoms on a grandiose scale (everyone in the kingdom is to bow down before it and worship). This, then, is a story narrating the beginning of the four-kingdom vision—i.e. the first kingdom, of Babylon. The fourth beast of chapter 7 (and the following visions of chs. 8-11), is part of a vision depicting the end of the four-kingdom scenario (cf. vv. 11, 26, where the final beast is judged and slain).
    • In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar persecutes the people of God (arrest and execution of the three young men), just as the fourth beast (and his last horn) in the vision will make war against the (people of the) holy ones (7:21, 25).
    • At the central point of the ch. 3 story, the one like a “son of God” appears in the middle of the fiery furnace; in the central scene of the ch. 7 vision, the one like a “son of man” comes into the fiery presence of God (the “Ancient of Days”) in Heaven.
    • In chapter 3, the one like a “son of God”, it may be said, comes to rescue/deliver his people (the three young men); in the chapter 7 vision, it is said that the “Ancient of Days” comes to bring judgment (v. 22). It is not said how the “(people of) the holy ones” are delivered, but based on Dan 12:1ff (cf. also 10:13-21), this takes place by way of a heavenly Messenger (Michael), whom many commentators identify as the one “like a son of man” in 7:13-14.
    • Following the appearance of the one like a “son of God” in chap. 3, the Babylonians realize they have no power over God’s people (vv. 27-28), who are given special privilege and promoted within the kingdom (vv. 29-30). In the chapter 7 vision, the scene involving the one like a “son of man” coincides with the judgment of the beasts and the removal of their kingdoms; instead, an everlasting Kingdom is given to “the people of the holy ones of the Most High” (vv. 22, 27).

If a heavenly Messenger (Angel) is being described in both passages, then we are seeing this from two perspectives:

    • On earth, among humans, he is marked (in some way) as a divine being (“son of God”)
    • In heaven, among the divine/celestial entities, he resembles a human being (“son of man”)

However, the parallelism in chapter 3 & 7 could also be interpreted differently:

    • In chapter 3, a divine being (“son of God”) appears among humans
    • In chapter 7, a human being (“son of man”) appears among the divine/heavenly beings

In this case, the human being could either (a) be symbolic of the righteous (people of God) on earth, or (b) indicate the elevation of a human being (or humankind) to a heavenly status and position before God. Of these options, the first is more plausible, given the references in 7:22, 27; however, already at the end of Daniel (12:2-3) we find the righteous being exalted to a heavenly, celestial position. We have also seen the idea of a human being specifically elevated to divine/heavenly status in the Enoch traditions (1 En 70-71, etc), and, of course, with the person of Jesus in early Christian belief; several of the texts from Qumran (4Q427, 4Q491, etc) suggest something similar.

Christophany and Christological Interpretation

It has been popular among Christians to view this heavenly Messenger of Daniel 3:25 as an Old Testament appearance or manifestation of Jesus—that is, a “Christophany” of the pre-existant Christ (Son of God). There are a number of writings of the early Church Fathers which indicate such a belief, though it is not attested before the end of the 2nd century A.D. Here the most notable passages which survive:

  • Irenaeus [late 2nd century], Against Heresies I.5.2—identifies the one resembling a “son of God” with “the Son of God”, though he does not specifically say that this was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form.
  • Tertullian [early 3rd century], Against Marcion 4:10—conflates Dan 3:25 and 7:13, reading “Son of Man” in both passages, but clearly with the idea that “Son of Man” indicates Jesus’ deity. In chapter 21 of the same book, he states that it was Jesus (as Son of Man) who saved the lives of the three young men.
  • Hippolytus [early-mid 3rd century], Commentary (Scholia) on Daniel, understands the “son of God” to be Christ, but wonders how Nebuchadnezzar could have recognized this—it prefigures the acceptance of Christ by the Gentiles.
  • Jerome, Commentary on Daniel (commenting on the text with the Additions [cf. above], vv. 49, 92 [25], 95 [28])—accepts the plain meaning of the text as referring to an Angel, and interprets this typologically as relating to Christ: “this angel or son of God foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who descended into the furnace of hell… in order that he might without suffering any scorching by fire or injury to his person deliver those who were held imprisoned by chains of death” [English translation by Gleason Archer]. Cf. also Letter 130.10.
  • Athanasius, in his Fourth Discourse Against the Arians §24, accepts Dan 3:25 as a Christophany without comment; Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.13.80, offers a brief interpretation similar to that of Hippolytus.

Along similar lines, a fair number of commentators throughout the centuries have identified Jesus with the “Messenger of YHWH” in the Old Testament, and that Dan 3:25, 28 (vv. 49, 92, 95 in the Greek version) indicates one such appearance of the pre-existent Christ as the Angel of the Lord. It must be said that there is really nothing in the Old Testament to warrant this interpretation. Nor is there much in the New Testament to support it. While Jesus was identified with the “one like a son of man” in Mark 13:26; 14:61 par; Rev 1:7, 13; 14:14ff, there is no comparable identification with the one “resembling a son of God”. I find only two passages which could conceivably be cited in support of Old Testament Christophany and/or recognizing Jesus as the Angel of YHWH:

  • In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul draws upon Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding the rock of Kadesh and well of Beer (Numbers 20-21), giving it a spiritual and Christological interpretation, declaring that the life-giving rock which followed the Israelites “was the Anointed (One) {Christ}”. While we cannot be absolutely certain, this seems to indicate a belief that the pre-existent Christ appeared in a miraculous form among the ancient Israelites. If so, Paul likely would have recognized a similar presence of Jesus in other episodes from Israelite history; however, he makes no mention of this elsewhere in his letters.
  • The identification of Jesus with the Messenger of God in Malachi 3:1. I have discussed this passage in an earlier note. While early Christian tradition, based on the explanation provided in Mal 4:5-6, settled on the interpretation of this Messenger as a human being—John the Baptist, fulfilling the end-time role of “Elijah”—elsewhere in Gospel tradition, it is Jesus himself who appears to be the “Messenger of the Covenant” and the “Lord” who comes to the Temple (in the original context of Mal 3:1ff). The basic Synoptic narrative, with the centrality and climactic setting of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (and into the Temple), supports such an interpretation.

Once early Christians came to understand the earthly (historical) Jesus as the incarnation of pre-existent Deity (Son of God, Word/Wisdom of God), it was easy enough to identify him with the Messenger of YHWH, since this figure often represents the presence and power of God Himself made manifest to humankind. However, this Christological application has not yet been made explicit in the New Testament.

Yeshua the Anointed: Supplemental Note (“The One Coming”)

In examining the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus in Gospel tradition, special attention needs to be given to the expression o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the Coming [One]”, or “the [One who is] Coming”). This is a verbal noun from e&rxomai, a middle/deponent verb with the basic meaning “come, go”. It is used frequently in the New Testament, especially throughout the narratives of the Gospels and Acts. It plays a most important role in the message of John the Baptist, as recorded in the Gospels. The core declaration by John is firmly placed in the very earliest strands of (historical) Gospel tradition, being attested in at least five different places within the Gospels and Acts.

The Declaration by John the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16-17; Matt 3:11; John 1:27)

In the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1:7-8) it is as follows:

“The (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai] in back of [i.e. behind/after] me… I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”

Luke’s version (Lk 3:16) corresponds closely and reads:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water, but (on the other hand) the (one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire”

In Matthew 3:11 we have:

“(On the one hand) I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance], but (on the other hand) the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] is stronger than me… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and fire.”

Interestingly, Luke and Matthew agree with each other (against) Mark on several details: (1) both omit “in back of me” [o)pi/sw mou], (2) both use a me\nde/ construction [i.e. “on the one hand…on the other”], and (3) both add “and fire” [kai\ puri/]. Matthew differs from Mark/Luke, however, in the key phrase: “the one coming is stronger” vs. “the one stronger…comes”.

The truncated version in Acts 13:25, which may well be independent of Lk 3:16, is: “See! (one) comes [e&rxetai] after [met’] me…”

Finally we have the saying as recorded in Johannine tradition (John 1:26-27):

“I dunk you in water, (but one) has been stand(ing) in the midst of you whom you have not seen [i.e. known], the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$] in back of me [o)pi/sw mou]…”

John’s version (independently) agrees with Mark in the inclusion of o)pi/sw mou (“in back of [i.e. behind/after] me”), and with Matthew in the verbal substantive (participle) o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”). It also contains detail not found in the Synoptic tradition, such as the idea that “the one coming” had been standing in the midst of the crowd (among those coming to be baptized by John), undetected by them. Keep in mind that the Johannine Gospel does not narrate Jesus’ baptism as such, but has John the Baptist describe it after it had occurred (Jn 1:29-34). It would seem that a common (historical) tradition has been preserved in various forms.

Malachi 3:1

In the context of the Baptist’s message, this use of the verb e&rxomai almost certainly has eschatological significance, and is probably derived from Malachi 3:1, the last clause—”the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1. Now, both the Hebrew Ea*l=m^ and Greek a&ggelo$ can mean either a human or divine/heavenly messenger—i.e. a prophet/herald or an Angel—depending on the context. Based on a comparison with Exodus 23:20, it seems most probable that the original reference in Mal 3:1 was to a heavenly Messenger (Angel), perhaps the “Messenger of YHWH” (virtually a personification of God Himself); note (the parallel elements being italicized)—

Exod 23:20: “See! I am sending a Messenger before you to guard you in the way, and to make you come [i.e. bring you] to the place which I have established”

Malachi 3:1: “See! I am sending my Messenger and he will (turn and) face [i.e. look at, examine] the way before me; and straightly [i.e. suddenly] he will come to his temple…”

Admittedly, the syntax of Mal 3:1 makes interpretation difficult, since there are two references to a Messenger. It is, I believe, best to view the structure of this verse chiastically, as follows:

    • See! I am sending my Messenger…and suddenly he will come (to his temple)
      —the Lord whom you are seeking
      —the Messenger of the covenant (in) whom you have pleasure
    • See! he is coming

We seem to be dealing with a single figure, a single Messenger (of the covenant), who is to be identified as “the Lord” [/doa*h*]. Now in the Old Testament and Israelite religious belief, God (YHWH) himself was represented by the Angel/Messenger of YHWH, and the appearance or manifestation of this “Messenger” signified the very appearance of YHWH. Here the appearance of the Messenger in Jerusalem, in the Temple, ushers in the great and terrible “Day of YHWH” (verse 2), whereby the people will be judged with fire. The righteous will be purified and refined (vv. 2-4), while the wicked will be consumed (vv. 5-6). This very clearly fits what John the Baptist describes of “the one coming” in Matt 3:11-12 / Lk 3:16-17.

However, by the time the book of Malachi was completed, an ‘appendix’ was added, which seems to identify the Messenger of Mal 3:1 with “Elijah” who will appear before the Day of YHWH (Mal 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24]). From this interpretation developed the Messianic/eschatological Elijah-tradition—at the end-time, just prior to the Last Judgment, Elijah (himself or a Prophet like him) will appear in order to bring people to repentance. For more on this tradition, cf. the current article. In drawing, it would seem, upon Mal 3:1ff, did John have in mind a heavenly/divine Messenger (representing God himself) or an end-time Prophet-like-Elijah? There is perhaps a clue to be found in Luke’s account (Lk 3:15), where it is narrated that John’s declaration in vv. 16-17 is in response to speculation that he might be “the Anointed” (i.e. the ‘Messiah’), as we see also in Jn 1:20ff. Based on what we know of the Baptist’s appearance and his ministry, it is unlikely that anyone would have imagined him to be a Messiah of the Davidic-King type, whereas he easily could have been thought to be a Messianic Prophet according to the Elijah-tradition. As in Jn 1:20ff, he eschews such an identification, reserving it for another (Jesus).

Development in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:15, 30 etc)

In the Fourth Gospel, we find that the declaration of the Baptist has undergone an important theological/Christological development, which is expressed in the parallel statement in Jn 1:15, 30 (see my earlier note and study for a detailed exposition of these verses). This is part of an intentional effort by the author (and/or the tradition[s] he inherited) to subordinate John the Baptist to Jesus more completely and profoundly than we see in the Synoptic Gospels. We may note: (1) the references to John in the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18, vv. 6ff, 15), (2) his explicit testimony in three consecutive episodes (Jn 1:19-28, 29-34, 35ff), and (3) the juxtaposition of John and Jesus in Jn 3:22-30. Throughout the Gospel of John, the verb e&rxomai (“come, go”) often carries a special significance, related to the idea of Jesus (the Son) coming from God (the Father), and going back (returning) to Him. Particularly, in this respect, e&rxomai relates to what we would call the incarnation of the pre-existent Son. Many examples could be cited, but I will limit them here to instances where the participle [o(] e)rxo/meno$ (“[the one] coming”) is used—Jn 1:9, 15, 27; 3:31 (twice); 6:14; 11:27, also 12:13. The occurrences in Jn 3:31 are especially noteworthy since they follow right after the Baptist’s (final) statement, and are thought by some scholars to be a continuation of his words. It is also interesting that the parallel formulations of Jn 1:15, 30 vary between the participle (o( e)rxo/meno$ “the one coming”) and indicative (e&rxetai, “[he] comes”), just as we see the Baptist’s declaration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. above).

Psalm 118:26

There is an entirely different strand of Gospel tradition associating Jesus with “the one coming in the name of YHWH” of Psalm 118:26 (cf. Mark 11:9 [par Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38]; Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35). Jesus is also connected with the king who comes in Zech 9:9ff—with both Zech 9:9 and Ps 118:26 being combined in the triumphal entry scene, most clearly in John 12:13, 15:

“…the (one) coming [o( erxo/meno$] in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel”
“…see! your king comes [e&rxetai]…”

In early Christian belief, and the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God himself to his people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44). This brings us back to the language and symbolism of Malachi 3:1, as I understand its meaning and significance in the context of the original oracle.

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: The Temple (Part 2)

In an earlier article, I discussed the Temple in relation to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 (in commemoration of the 2nd day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day). The references to the Temple, and use of the Temple theme in that sermon-speech, reflect, in various ways, early Christian views of the Jerusalem Temple and how it relates to the new religious identity of believers in Christ. This second article will look at the Temple as it appears in the Infancy narratives, more directly related to the birth of Jesus. The Temple is mentioned only in the Lukan narrative(s), as the setting/locale for three different episodes:

    1. The Angelic Appearance to Zechariah (1:8-23)
    2. The Encounter with Simeon (2:25-38)
    3. The Boy Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51)

Each of these episodes is discussed in considerable detail in other Christmas season notes and articles. Here I will focus specifically on the role and significance of the Temple in the Lukan narrative.

1. The Angelic Appearance to Zechariah (Lk 1:8-23)

To begin with, it is importance to notice the close connection between the Temple setting and John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were of priestly lineage. In particular, Zechariah was an active priest assigned to periodic service in the Temple (vv. 5, 8-9, 23). The events which occur in the Temple in this episode take place during Zechariah’s time of service. Thus, here the Temple ritual itself plays an important role in the narrative. This leads to an important thematic (and theological) observation, which is essential to the message of Luke-Acts as a whole. The Gospel records divine revelation manifest in the midst of the Temple ritual. From an early Christian standpoint, this theme can be stated more generally:

The New Covenant is manifest in the midst of the Old, the New being the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Let us see how the details of the narrative relate to this thematic principle.

a. The ritual setting. As mentioned above, Zechariah was a priest, and a member of a long-established priestly tradition and lineage whose duties included service in the Temple; on this, cf. 1 Chron 23:6; 24:1ff; Neh 12:1-7; 13:30; Josephus Antiquities 7.365-6; Against Apion 2.108. The particular service Zechariah performs here in the narrative involves the daily sacrifice, and, in particular, the burning of incense at the altar in the sanctuary and tending to the related matters within the sanctuary (vv. 8-9). This duty goes back to the Torah regulations and the tradition of the Tabernacle (Exod 30:7-8; cf. also Mishnah tractate Tamid 5:2-6:3). This detail relates not only to Zechariah’s priestly service, but also to the more important motif that John’s parents were among the faithful ones in Israel, being di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”)—which means, primarily, being faithful in observing/performing the regulations of the Torah (v. 6). In addition to the offering of incense, as an officiating priest, Zechariah would also have delivered the priestly blessing to the people as part of his duty (Num 6:24-26; m. Tamid 7:2). This would have taken place upon his leaving the sanctuary and entering into the outer precincts of the Temple, as the setting of vv. 10, 21-22 indicates. Note, then, how this all is expressed clearly in the outline of the narrative:

    • Ritual Duty: Offering incense at the altar within the Sanctuary (vv. 8-10)
      • The Divine Revelation (vv. 11-20)
    • Ritual Duty: The Blessing to the people outside the Sanctuary (vv. 21-22)

b. The offering of incense. The particular sacrificial offering performed by Zechariah in the sanctuary also has a special significance in the Lukan narrative, and for early Christians as a whole. The burning of incense takes on a symbolic meaning for Christians which is twofold: (i) an association with prayer, and (ii) as a form of sacrifice entirely separate from that of animal offerings (with the shedding of blood, etc). The first point—the association of incense with prayer—goes back to Old Testament and Jewish tradition, most notably the statement in Psalm 141:2. Moreover, the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice, was traditionally regarded as a time/hour for prayer—cf. Dan 9:21; Josephus Antiquities 13.282; Acts 3:1, etc. That is certainly the setting indicated in verse 10; and there is likely a conscious allusion to Daniel 9:20-21ff (cf. below). The identification of burning incense with prayer is perhaps strongest in the visions of the book of Revelation (5:8; 8:3-4).

In Jewish and early Christian thought, prayer begins to take the place of the ritual offering, taking on the characteristics of sacrifice. We see that they occur simultaneously at the hour of sacrifice/prayer (v. 10). God is also said to respond favorably to the prayer of the righteous, in a manner similar to the divine response to the ritual offering; this is reflected in the idea of a person’s prayer ascending (like smoke) up to God (Psalm 141:2; Lk 1:13; Acts 10:4 etc). This first level of separation—i.e. prayer from the concrete ritual of sacrifice—takes on greater meaning for early Christians, who themselves began to view the entire role of the Temple in a new light. This rethinking of the Temple goes back to Gospel tradition and the sayings of Jesus (see esp. Matt 12:6-7; Mk 11:17 par [Isa 56:7]). With the exception of the episode in Acts 21, neither Jesus, the disciples, nor other early Christians are depicted in the New Testament participating in the sacrificial ritual of the Temple. Rather, the Temple serves primarily as a place for teaching and prayer, or for worship generally—cf. Lk 2:46-47; 18:10-11ff; 19:46 par; 24:53; Acts 2:46; 5:20ff, 42; 22:17; Rev 11:1. The spiritualization of the Temple and the sacrificial offerings can be seen vividly in Paul’s letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; also Eph 2:21), for example, and definitely precedes the destruction of the Temple building itself.

At times, the Christian view of the Temple turned toward actual opposition of the cultus and the ritual apparatus, as we examined in the case of Stephen’s sermon-speech (Part 1). Again, this can be seen as going back to Jesus and the Gospel tradition—i.e., the Temple action and saying of Jesus (Mk 11:12-17; 13:1-2; 14:58 pars; Jn 2:18-21). At the very least, we see a contrast between the ritual purpose of the Temple and the new purpose revealed in the person and work of Christ. With the destruction of the Temple building in 70 A.D., its role for Christians became increasingly spiritualized, existing as a symbol of God’s presence, holiness (i.e. the Holy Spirit) and the religious devotion of believers.

c. The Temple as a place of vision and revelation. The Angelic appearance to Zechariah is in accordance with Old Testament and Jewish tradition, in which the Temple, representing the presence of God and meeting-place for God and His people, is a suitable location for the experience of visions and divine revelation. This idea goes back to the early traditions related to the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting, where Moses (and others) had a direct experience of the Divine Presence. Perhaps the most famous visionary scene set in the Temple is that of Isaiah in 6:1-4ff. For other references to visionary/revelatory experiences in the Temple, see e.g., Acts 22:17ff; Josephus Antiquities 13.282-3. Even more relevant to the Lukan narrative here is the occurrence of Divine (Angelic) revelation at the afternoon time of sacrifice/prayer—Dan 9:20-21; Acts 10:3ff. For the possible influence of Daniel on the Lukan narrative, cf. my earlier article in this series.

d. The specific location of the revelation. In verse 11, we read that

“…the Messenger of the Lord was seen by him [i.e. Zechariah] standing out of the giving (side) [i.e. on the right side] of the place of (ritual) sacrifice [i.e. altar] of smoking (incense)”

The right hand side is the “good” and favored side (lit. the giving [decio/$] side), i.e. a propitious sign of God’s favor. Moreover, the sanctuary and the altar mark the presence of God—the place where human beings encounter the Divine Presence. These images and associations reflect a parallel to the Throne/Temple of God in heaven, surrounded by heavenly beings (Isa 6; Rev 4-5; 7:9ff; 11:1ff, 19, etc). In the New Testament and early Christian tradition, the exalted Jesus is seen as standing at the right hand of God on His throne (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34, et al). In early Old Testament tradition, the “Messenger of the Lord” was essentially a way of referring to the presence of God (YHWH) himself, as manifest to his people in history. By the time of the New Testament, the expression “Messenger of the Lord” typically referred to a distinct heavenly/angelic being, here identified as Gabriel.

The location of the altar is especially important in light of the theme discussed above, suggesting the idea of ritual sacrifice being replaced by vision/revelation for believers in the New Covenant of Christ.

e. The Old Testament Context of the Revelation. The revelation given to Zechariah by the Messenger Gabriel is Messianic and eschatological. It refers primarily to the role that the child John will play in the end-time redemption God has prepared for his people. As discussed in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”, the name Yôµanan ( )Iwa/nnh$, “John” v. 13) literally means “God (Yahweh) has shown favor”, alluding to the favor God will show to his people in bring salvation for them, an idea also implied in v. 14. The delight people will have at John’s birth is a foreshadowing of the role he will play (vv. 15-17) in the coming redemption.

The key phrase is found in verse 17:

“and he [i.e. John] will travel before in His [i.e. God’s] sight, in the spirit and power of °Eliyyah {Elijah}…”

It is an allusion to Malachi 3:1ff, a passage of profound eschatological/Messianic significance for Jews of the time. Already in the book of Malachi itself, the “Messenger” is identified as “Elijah” (4:5-6), an association which was highly influential in development of the belief that Elijah would appear at the end-time, before the coming Judgment, to lead God’s people to repentance, as stated here in v. 17b (cf. also Sirach 48:10, for an earlier occurrence of the tradition). I discuss the Messianic figure-type of Elijah at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (soon to be posted here).

Early Christian tradition came to identify John the Baptist with “Elijah” who will appear at the end time, and this identification is expressed several times in the Infancy narrative—both here and in 1:76-77—and, of course is essential to the early Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2, 6-7 par [but note Jn 1:21]; 9:12-13 par; Matt 11:14). Early Christians gave to Mal 3:1ff a distinct interpretation: John (the Messenger/Elijah) prepares the way for the coming of Jesus (the Lord). According to this line of interpretation, the words in Mal 3:1 (“the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple“) would similarly refer to Jesus coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. This idea would, of course, be fulfilled in Mk 11:15-18 par, but it may also be in the Gospel writer’s mind in Luke 2:22-27ff. I will discuss this episode, along with that of Lk 2:41-51, in the concluding portion (Part 3) of this article.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Matthew 1:21

Matthew 1:21

Having examined the Lukan Infancy narrative in considerable in the articles of this series so far, here on Christmas day I will now turn to the narrative in Matthew. Following the genealogy of Jesus (through Joseph), in Matt 1:1-17, the Infancy narrative proper begins with verse 18 (“Jesus’ coming to be [born] was [i.e. happened] this [way]”) . By comparison with Luke’s account, that in Matthew has a much simpler structure. In place of the inter-cutting John and Jesus narrative, with their rich language and imagery drawn from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, we have a more concise sequence of short dramatic episodes with a single narrative arc. Each episode is inspired by the Old Testament, drawing upon the Scriptures in two ways:

  • The Matthean scene is patterned after one or more passages, by which it acts out and fulfills Scripture dramatically in the narrative
  • Specific verses are quoted, by the author, using a citation formula found throughout the Gospel, stating that the episode (or elements of it) are a fulfillment of prophecy

We can see both of these aspects at work in the first episode in 1:18-25. The relatively simple structure of Matthew’s narrative 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

In verse 19, Joseph is described as “just, right(eous)” (di/kaio$), the same adjective applied to Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6. There is a definite similarity in the portrait painted by both authors. In this context, di/kaio$ should be understood in traditional religious terms—relating to observance of the commands and regulations of the Torah, such as we see depicted by Luke (1:6ff, 59; 2:21-24, 39, 41ff). Here in Matthew, Joseph’s righteousness is illustrated in his observance of the regulations involving marital infidelity (v. 19, cf. Deut 24:1-4). He sought to be merciful to Mary in his observance of the Law, and to divorce her ‘quietly’ with as little attention as possible (cp. Num 5:11-31; Deut 22:20-21). Quite understandably, he was thinking heavily upon the matter (note the verb e)nqume/omai, meaning to be in deep/passionate thought, etc, about something), and this sets the scene for the Angel’s appearance:

“…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 [lit. woman]—for the (child) coming to be (born) in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit!'” (v. 20)

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. the 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:

“for the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to\ gennhqe/n] in her is out of the holy Spirit

Compare with Luke 1:35 (for more detail, cf. the earlier note):

“the holy Spirit will come upon you…the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to\ gennw/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; 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…”

In contrast to the Lukan narrative, in which the names Yohanan (John) and Yeshua (Jesus) are explained indirectly in the announcement scenes, or through the language and imagery of the hymns, etc, here in Matthew, the significance of the name is stated explicitly by the Angel. In the Introduction to this series, I discussed the importance of names in the Ancient Near East, and how they were understood, especially when utilizing divine names and titles. Many ancient names were phrase- or sentence-names which incorporate a hypocoristic (shortened) form of a divine name. Most commonly in ancient Israel, these involved the names °E~l (cf. the article) and Yahweh (article). The name given by the Angel here is a Yaweh (Yah) name—Hebrew/Aramaic Y¢šûa± (u^Wvy@), a shortened form of Y§hôšûa± (u^Wvohy+), best known in connection with the early Israelite commander and successor to Moses (i.e. Joshua). This name is best translated as the divine name Y¹h(û) and an imperative of the verb šw± (uwv), “(seek, cry for) help”, and would mean something like “Yah(weh) give help!” The context of the cry of a mother during childbirth may be intended (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 347), and, indeed, salvation was often described in terms of the suffering of the human condition as like the pains of a woman in labor. Deliverance and new life comes at the end of a short time of intense pain and trouble.

The explanation by the Angel involves a play on words—the name Y¢šûa± sounds like the word y§šû±¹h (hu*Wvy+), derived from a different root yš± (uvy), “save, deliver, (make) free”, and thus essentially meaning “salvation”. The theme of salvation was prominent in the hymns of the Lukan narrative (1:46-47ff, 68-69ff) and Jesus was called by the title “Savior” (swth/r) in 2:11 (cf. 1:47). Here, however, the association is made more explicit and precise, tied to Jesus’ very name—and, thus, according to the ancient sense of names, to his essential character and identity, i.e. as one who saves:

“…and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21)

A similar (popular) interpretation of the name Yeshua (Jesus/Joshua) is known from the time of the New Testament, in Philo, On the Change of Names §121. Note also the important declaration in Acts 4:12: “there is not salvation in any other (name); for indeed there is no different name under heaven, given among men, in which it is necessary (for) us to be saved”. For early Christians, salvation and protection—including healing from disease and infirmity—were connected closely with the name Jesus/Yeshua. And this is another way of saying that salvation is found and experienced through the person of Jesus, rather than simply by a magical recitation of his name. As in Luke 1:77 (cf. verse 69), here salvation is understood in terms of deliverance/release from sin (and the power of sin). The plural “sins” refers to individual personal misdeeds and failings, but from the standpoint of the people (“his people”) taken collectively. In the Matthean narrative at this point, “people” still refers exclusively, or primarily, to the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews), while in Luke the author is already extending the word to include others (believers) from among the nations. The presence of the Magoi in Matthew 2 may represent a similar widening of God’s revelation into the Gentile world; this is not certain, though it is likely, if one accepts an allusion to Psalm 72:10-11; Isa 60:6 in the passage.

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, 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 the upcoming note on Matt 2:2, 4.

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). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:10-14

Luke 2:10-14

Today’s Christmas Eve note focuses on the famous announcement by the heavenly Messengers (Angels) to the shepherds. This is the third such angelic appearance in the Lukan narrative, and they all follow a basic pattern (cf. the earlier note on Lk 1:26ff). They are also birth announcements, such as we find in Old Testament tradition (Gen 15-18; Judg 13, etc). The birth of Jesus itself is narrated in verses 6-7, parallel to that of John (in 1:57), and using similar wording:

“And it came to be…the days of her producing (a child) were (ful)filled, and she produced [i.e. gave birth to] her son, the first (she) produced…”

It is preceded, of course, by a relatively lengthy introduction in vv. 1-5, which establishes the setting of the scene, and has three main purposes for the author (trad. Luke):

  • It explains why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem
  • It emphasizes the Messianic association with David (and Bethlehem)
  • The mention of the Roman census/enrollment establishes a parallel (and contrast) between Jesus and the Emperor (Augustus), whose birth was celebrated as marking a time of peace and “salvation” for the world. For more on this connection, cf. the upcoming Christmas Day note.

To this may be added another (secondary) purpose:

  • The reference to the caravan resting-place and the feeding-trough (‘manger’) for animals (v. 7), as well as to the shepherds in vv. 8ff, emphasizes the association of Jesus with the poor and lowly in society—a theme given special attention in the Gospel of Luke.

Following the birth of Jesus, the Angelic announcement begins in verse 8, which sets the narrative scene—the outdoor, night setting of shepherds watching their herds (or flocks) in the fields around Bethlehem. Apart from historical concerns, the mention of shepherds almost certainly is meant to reinforce the connection with David and Bethlehem (cf. 1 Sam 16:11; 17:14-15ff). This important motif was introduced in the earlier annunciation to Mary (cf. the note on 1:32-35). Both in 1:26, and here again in 2:4ff, Joseph is said to be from David’s line (the “house of David” [oi@ko$ Daui/d]), the latter reference further emphasizing this fact—”out of the house and father’s line [patri/a] of David”. This Davidic descent of Joseph is confirmed by both of the genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke, respectively (despite their apparent discrepancies). Moreover, in the ancient Near East, kings and rulers were often described with the name and/or symbols of a shepherd—i.e. as one who leads and protects the people, as a shepherd does his flock (cf. 2 Sam 5:2; Isa 44:28, etc). It was altogether natural, therefore, that the royal Messianic figure-type—the expected future king and deliverer from the line of David—would take on similar shepherd-imagery, such as we see in Micah 5:2-4 (cf. Matt 2:5-6); Ezek 34:23; 37:24; and Zech 10-12.

The annunciation itself begins in verse 9 with the appearance of the “Angel (lit. Messenger) of the Lord”:

“And the Messenger of the Lord stood upon [i.e. near to] them, and the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord put out beams (of light) around them, and they were afraid (with) a great fear [i.e. were truly afraid].”

After the traditional exhortation by the heavenly Messenger (“Do not be afraid [mh\ fobei=sqe]!”), the birth of Jesus is declared:

“For see!—I give you a good message (of) great delight which will be for all the people…” (v. 10)

The verb is eu)aggeli/zomai, which is related to the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. “gospel”). Similarly, the noun xa/ra (from the verb xai/rw, “have/find joy, delight, etc”) is related to xa/ri$ (“favor”, i.e. “grace”)—that is to say, delight comes specifically from the favor shown by God to his people in the birth of Jesus (cf. the note on 1:32-35). The remainder of the announcement in verse 11 utilizes language and terminology which needs to be considered closely:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] there was produced [i.e. has been born] for you today a Savior—which is (the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord—in the city of David!”

The conjunctive particle o%ti gives the reason for the good message of delight which the Angel brings. This clearly is a birth announcement, marking the moment (the day) of the child’s birth—”was produced/born…today [sh/meron]”—and the purpose of the birth is declared as being “for you”, i.e. for those the Angel is addressing (the shepherds, and through them, to all people [v. 10]). Note the chain of names and terms which follow, all of them having Messianic significance:

  • a Savior (sw/thr)
    —the Anointed One (xristo/$)
    —the Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David (e)n po/lei Daui/d)

The noun sw/thr, derived from the verb sw/zw (“save, protect, preserve [life]”), and related to the noun swthri/a (“salvation”, 1:69, 71, 77), occurs 24 times in the New Testament where it is applied equally to God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus, most frequently in the (later) writings (the Pastoral letters, 2 Peter, etc). It is surprisingly rare in the Gospels and early Christian tradition—apart from the references in Luke-Acts, cf. Jn 4:42 and Phil 3:20 (where the eschatological context is clear). It was used earlier in the Magnificat (1:47) as a title for the Lord God (Yahweh); the other occurrences are in Acts 5:31; 13:23, and reflect early Christian Gospel preaching (kerygma)—note especially how Jesus’ role as Savior is connected with his resurrection and exaltation in Acts 5:31.

The title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”) specifically relates to Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) expected by Israelites and Jews of the time—in particular, the figure-type of the future Davidic ruler who would usher in the end-time Judgment and deliver the faithful among God’s people. I discuss this title at considerable length the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. especially Parts 6-8). The Messianic context is clear—the title is set within the phrase “Savior…in the city of David [e)n po/lei Daui/d]” (cf. the outer pairing, above). The expression “city of David” could apply either to Jerusalem or Bethlehem; here it is certainly the latter.

Paired with xristo/$ is the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), a noun already used 19 times in the Lukan Infancy narrative, mainly as a title for God the Father (Yahweh, cf. the earlier article). It was first applied to Jesus in 1:43, while v. 76 plays on the dual-meaning and reference among early Christians (cf. the prior note). There are several ways to read the two titles taken together here:

  • As a pair in apposition—”(the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord”, or, perhaps “(the) Anointed (One and) Lord”
  • With xristo/$ essentially functioning as an adjective—”(the) anointed Lord”
  • The variant reading with the genitive kuri/ou—”(the) Anointed of the Lord”, “(the) Lord’s Anointed (One)” (cf. Lk 2:26, etc)

The first option is to be preferred. For an important occurrence of the two titles together, cf. Peter’s Pentecost speech in Acts 2:36 (2:14-40).

The Angelic announcement, like the others previous, concludes with a sign, given by the Messenger, confirming the truthfulness of the message (v. 12). After this we read:

“And (suddenly) without (any) apparent (warning), there came to be, (together) with the Messenger, a multitude of the heavenly Army praising God and declaring…” (v. 13)

This motif of the Angel of the Lord along with the heavenly army goes back to ancient cosmic military imagery, associated with Yahweh/El (cf. the article on Yahweh). Here it serves to emphasize the divine splendor (do/ca) and power of the moment. The short declaration which follows in verse 14 is usually counted as one of the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative, and like the others, is known by the first words in Latin (Gloria in Excelsis). It is almost certainly the single most famous verse in the narrative, best known from the King James Version; I translate the Greek here literally:

“Honor in the highest (place)s to God
and upon earth peace among men of eu)doki/a!”

As a hymn it is indeed short—just two parallel lines—but it turns out to be quite difficult to translate and interpret with precision. The main difficulty lies in the first and last words, which are actually related, though this is almost impossible to preserve in English:

  • do/ca (dóxa)—typically rendered as “glory”, but the Greek word itself is better translated “esteem, honor”; as applied to God, in particular, there are two distinct aspects which need to be recognized:
    • the primary sense is the esteem/honor which is due to God from created beings (humans and Angels both)—literally, how we think of Him, considering and recognizing His nature, attributes, and actions (as Creator and on behalf of His people); this is essentially the meaning here in v. 14
    • when referring to God Himself, his greatness, etc, is often depicted visually with light-imagery, and likewise when it is narrated that God appears or manifests Himself to human beings; in such a context, the translation “splendor” is more appropriate, as in verse 9 (cf. above)
  • eu)doki/a (eudokía)—this noun, derived from the verb doke/w and the particle eu), essentially refers to a person considering (something) as good, thinking well of (someone/something), etc. The noun eu)doki/a is found most commonly in the Greek version of the Old Testament, especially in relation to the word /oxr*, indicating something which is acceptable or pleasing to a person. As such, it is frequently used in the religious sense of God showing favor to human beings, and his willingness to do so. Of the eight other occurrences of this word in the New Testament, five refer to God’s purpose and concern with regard to believers, and, in particular, the salvation, etc, he brings to them in the person (and Gospel) of Jesus Christ (Matt 11:26 / Lk 10:21; Phil 2:13; Eph 1:5, 9). On the text-critical question regarding the form of this word, cf. the article “What the Angelic Chorus said…“.

There is thus a definite parallel between the two words and the two lines of verse 14—human begins give praise and honor to God (in heaven) and God shows favor and has good regard for his people (on earth). This is described in spatial terms:

  • e)n u(yi/stoi$ (“in [the] highest [place]s”, i.e. the [highest] heavens)—in 1:78, the light of God’s mercy and salvation comes from “out of (the) height [e)c u%you$]”. God is referred to by the title “Highest” (u%yisto$) in 1:32, 35, 76, reflecting the ancient Semitic title ±Elyôn, and the idea of God as the “Mightiest/Greatest” and “(most) Exalted”.
  • e)pi\ gh=$ (“upon earth”), which qualifies the expression e)n a)nqrw/poi$ (“in/among men”) as parallel to e)n u(yi/stoi$—i.e. “in the places (where) men (dwell) on earth”

The genitive expression in v. 14b (e)n a)qrw/poi$ eu)doki/a$) is most difficult to translate, but a fair approximation would be something like “among men of (His) good will”. Based on similar Hebrew/Aramaic expressions known from the Qumran texts (1QH 4:32-33; 11:9; 4Q545 frag. 3), it would refer to people who are pleasing to God, or who have been favored by him. In traditional, ethnic-religious terms, this would mean the chosen people of Israel—specifically, the faithful ones among them. For the use of eu)doki/a in this context, cf. Psalms of Solomon 8:39 (mid-1st century B.C.). This means that v. 14b is not a promise or blessing of peace for all of humankind (strictly speaking), but rather for those who have been favored by God and are faithful to him. This helps us to understand the Angel’s words in verse 10: “I give to you a good message of great delight which is for all the people“. From an early Christian standpoint, and within the overall context of Luke-Acts, there are two important aspects to observe, whereby the favor of God is extended to “all people”:

  • Salvation through Christ is for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike—that is, for all the “people” (cf. 2:30-32), the people of God (believers in Christ). The book of Acts emphasizes the early mission to the Gentiles (the “Nations”).
  • The Gospel and the early Christian mission is for all demographics, all segments of society—i.e. all the people—with special attention given to the poor and oppressed, etc, those otherwise neglected and marginalized within society (cf. Acts 2:17ff, “all flesh”).

How then should we understand the emphasis on peace (ei)rh/nh) in verse 14? From a traditional religious standpoint, it refers to the blessing, security and protection which comes from God—e.g., Num 6:24-26; Psalm 29:11; 85:8-10; Isa 48:18; 54:10; Jer 16:5; Ezek 34:25-29; 1 Enoch 1:8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 224-5). Peace is an important characteristic of the coming Messianic age, which God’s anointed representative (the Messiah) ushers in—cf. Isa 9:6-7 [Heb vv. 5-6]; 52:7; 55:12; Ezek 37:26; Zech 9:10, etc. According to the traditional portrait, this peace is connected with the judgment and defeat of the (wicked) nations (Ps Sol 17-18; 4Q246 col 2, etc). While early Christians expected Jesus to fulfill something of this aspect of the Messiah’s role upon his (future) return, which coincides with the end-time Judgment, the peace he brings in the Gospels is of a different sort. A blessing of peace comes with acts of healing/saving by Jesus (Lk 7:50; 8:48); similarly, the customary peace-greeting takes on new significance when Jesus (or his representative) appears in the house (Lk 10:5-6; 24:36 par, etc). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an opportunity for the people to accept and realize the peace he brings (19:38, 42), but they ultimately rejected him and he was put to death as a criminal rather than accepted as the true Anointed One of God. There is an obvious parallel in language and terminology between the Angelic song in 2:14 and the cry of the crowd in 19:38. The kind of peace expected to be the result of the Messiah’s coming, in socio-political and military terms, was, in fact, realized, to some extent, at the time of Jesus during the reign of the emperor Augustus, commemorated by the famous altar to the Augustan peace (Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-9 B.C.). There can be little doubt that the author of the Gospel is drawing an intentional point of contrast between the birth of Jesus and that of Augustus, whose birthday was also celebrated as a time of “salvation” for the world (cf. above).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:19-20, 26

Luke 1:19-20, 26ff

Today’s note continues the previous study on the Angelic birth-announcement to Zechariah (vv. 13-17). It is worth pointing out again the close similarities between the Angelic appearances to Zechariah and Mary, both of which follow a similar pattern from the Old Testament narratives (on this, cf. the discussion in Brown, Birth, pp. 155-8, 292-8). Apart from the basic parallel between Zechariah/Elizabeth and Joseph/Mary (related to the wider John/Jesus parallel), which includes the element of childlessness—in each case the woman is incapable of conceiving at the time of the announcement—note the common elements in the two accounts:

  • Appearance of the Angel to the person (vv. 11, 26-28a)
  • The person is troubled/afraid (vv. 12, 29)
  • The Angel responds “Do not be afraid [mh\ fobou=]” and addresses the person by name (vv. 13a, 30a)
  • There is a declaration that God has heard/chosen (i.e. shown favor to) the person (vv. 13a, 30b)
  • An announcement of the child’s conception and coming birth, using a similar formula, and including a declaration of the child’s name (vv. 13b, 31)
  • Statement regarding the future destiny and (divine) role for the child (vv. 15-17, 32-33)
  • Question from the person as to how this can be, in light of the current condition of childlessness (barrenness/virginity) (vv. 18, 34)
  • Response by the Angel involving a sign confirming the message (vv. 19-20, 35-37)
  • A faithful response by the person to the announcement (vv. 21-25, 38)

The heavenly/angelic appearance to Zechariah draws upon, or echoes, three appearances in the Old Testament narratives:

The appearance to Mary brings in elements of the Samuel narrative (1 Sam 1-2), with Hannah serving as a type/pattern for Mary. There is an interesting sort of progression in the narratives cited above:

  • Gen 17 (also chap. 15)—it is God Himself (YHWH) who appears to Abraham
  • Gen 18—God Himself appears to Abraham (v. 1), it would seem, in the form of three Messengers (“three men”, v. 2)
  • Judg 13 (cf. also Gen 16:7-13)—it is the “Messenger of YHWH” (hwhy Ea^l=m^), i.e. the “Messenger/Angel of the Lord” (Greek a&ggelo$ kuri/ou)
  • Dan 9:21-24—the Angel who appears is Gabriel

The chronology of these traditions matches the (historical) development of Israelite/Jewish thought and theology regarding the relationship between God and the other heavenly beings (i.e. Angels). The Lukan narrative most clearly follows that of Judg 13:2ff and Dan 9:21-24—the being who appears to Zechariah (and then to Mary) is first called “the Messenger of the Lord” (v. 11), and then identified as Gabriel (v. 19):

“…the Messenger said to him, ‘I am Gabrîel, the (one) having stood alongside in the sight of God, and I was se(n)t forth to speak toward you and to give you the good message (regarding) these (thing)s’.”

The name Gabriel is a simplified transliteration of the Hebrew Ga»rî°¢l (la@yr!b=G~), a name which otherwise occurs in the Scriptures only in the book of Daniel (8:16; 9:21). In the post-exilic period, and subsequently in Jewish tradition, names were assigned (or recognized) for various heavenly beings (Angels) which had always been nameless in earlier tradition. Two other Angels are named in the (later) Scriptures—Michael (Dan 10:13; 12:1) and Raphael (deutero-canonical Tobit 3:17). Four others were added to these three, resulting in the traditional number of seven chief Angels, or beings, who stand in the presence of God (Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20; Rev 8:2). For more on the basic idea of Angels standing in God’s presence, cf. Job 1:6; Dan 7:16; Ezek 9:2; and the Testament of Levi 8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 327-8). All of these Angels bear °E~l-names, which ultimately derive from old Israelite (and Semitic) tradition (cf. the earlier article on °E~l).

The name Ga»rî°¢l is a phrase- or sentence-name made up of two elements: (a) the noun ge»er (rb#G#), essentially referring to a strong (mighty, vigorous, successful) young man, i.e. a warrior or hero, and (b) the divine name °E~l (la@), “Mighty (One)”, i.e. “God”. It should probably be translated something like “My Strong One [i.e. Warrior] is God [°E~l]”. As an old °E~l-name, it reflects ancient warrior imagery associated with Yahweh/El, especially in relation to ritual warfare and the “holy war” tradition. The heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars, etc) were seen as moving together (‘marching’) as an army (the “hosts” of heaven). God himself would come with the clouds, controlling the wind and rain, thunder and lightning, etc. According to the religious (and mythic) traditions of the ancient Near East, all of these natural and meteorological phenomena could be utilized by God fighting on behalf of his people. So it was, in truth, for Israel in their understanding of Yahweh/El, and this is expressed various ways in Scripture, especially in older poetry (Exod 15:1ff; Judg 5:4-5, 20, etc); for other references, cf. the article on the names ‘Adôn/Baal. Eventually this warrior-imagery was reinterpreted and cast in a different theological light (in the Prophets, etc), but would resurface in later Jewish eschatology and Messianic tradition, such as in the writings from Qumran (the War Scroll, etc). The military role tended to be associated more with Michael, rather than Gabriel (cf. Dan 10:21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev 12:7); yet Gabriel continued to have a prominent place in Jewish writings of the period, such as in the book of Enoch (9:1, 9-10; 20:7; 40:2, 9; 54:6; cf. Brown, Birth, p. 262).

Returning to the scene of Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah, adding the details from verses 19-20ff, we may construct the following dramatic (chiastic) outline:

  • Zechariah serving as priest in the Temple sanctuary (vv. 8-10ff)
    • Gabriel is sent to speak “these things” (tau=ta) to him (v. 19)
      • He gives the good news (eu)aggeli/sasqai)
    • Zechariah will be unable to speak until “these things” (tau=ta) happen (v. 20)
  • Zechariah comes out of the sanctuary (to give the priestly blessing) (vv. 21-22)

It is possible that this scene, with its Temple setting, reflects a traditional motif of receiving a revelation in the Temple, as, for example, in Isaiah 6:1-5ff (cf. also Josephus, Antiquities 18.282f, etc). In the case of Isaiah, his vision also involves a transformative touching of the mouth (the lips). Isaiah, like John the Baptist, is divinely appointed and gifted to speak the word of God (cf. the use of Isa 40:1-5 in Lk 1:76-77; 3:4-6 par, etc). By contrast, Zechariah is rendered mute and unable to speak (1:20), until after the birth of John and the declaration of his name (vv. 57-64). As a result, he is unable to deliver (speak) the priestly blessing to the people waiting outside in the Temple court (vv. 21-22, cf. Num 6:24-26; Mishnah Tamid 7:2). In the overall context of Luke-Acts, this blessing is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus at the end of the Gospel (Lk 24:50-51). There is thus, perhaps, a greater symbolic importance to verse 23 than the simple narrative statement would suggest:

“And it came to be, as the days of his working in service (to God) were (ful)filled, he went (away) from (there) [i.e. from the Temple] into his own house [i.e. back home].”

It is the child Jesus who will, in a sense, take over in the Temple, serving in the house of God his Father (2:49).

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). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:13-17

Luke 1:13-17

Having discussed the introduction to John the Baptist’s parents (Zechariah and Elizabeth) in the previous note, today I will be looking at the appearance of the heavenly Messenger, announcing the coming birth of John, in Lk 1:8-17—in particular, the words of the Messenger in vv. 13-17.

The setting of the Temple, so important as a symbol in the narrative, is featured in the introduction to the scene (vv. 8-12). Zechariah, as one of the priests designated to perform periodic service in the Temple (v. 5, cf. the prior note), was fulfilling his duty, which, on this occasion, involved serving in the sanctuary at the altar of incense. This was a privilege which was granted to priests by the casting of lots (cf. the description in the Mishnah, Tamid 5-6). Verses 9-10 indicate that it is the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice (Exod 30:7-18; cf. also Dan 9:21), perhaps around 3:00 pm (Acts 3:1). As Zechariah performs his duties in the sanctuary (the Holy place, but not the innermost shrine), we read in verse 11:

“And (the) Messenger of the Lord [a&ggelo$ kuri/ou] was seen by [i.e. appeared to] him, having stood out of (the) giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the place of sacrifice [i.e. altar] of the (fragrant) smoke”

This is the second occurrence in the Lukan narrative of the word ku/rio$ (“Lord”), here referring specifically to the divine name Yahweh (cf. the earlier article on this name), through the corresponding Old Testament expression hwhy Ea^l=m^ (mal°a½ YHWH), “Messenger of Yahweh” (Gen 16:7-13; 21:17; 22:10-18; 31:11-13; Exod 3:2-6; 14:19-24; Judg 2:1-5, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 324-5). In the earliest strands of tradition, this figure was largely theophanous—that is, representing the manifestation of God (Yahweh/El) himself to his people, through a kind of intermediary. Subsequently, in Israelite and Jewish tradition, it referred more precisely to a distinct heavenly being (i.e. Angel). In the Lukan narrative, the figure is identified as the Angel Gabriel (vv. 19, 26), best known from the book of Daniel, to which the Infancy narrative alludes at several points. The word decio/$, meaning the right-hand (side), I translate above literally as the “giving” side—the right-hand being regarded as the propitious or favored side. The Angel’s appearance to the right of the altar indicates that God is showing favor to Zechariah. The Zechariah’s fear in response (v. 12) is typical of such Angelic appearances in the Old Testament, and is part of a definite (literary) annunciation pattern adopted in the Gospel (for more on this, cf. especially Brown, Birth, pp. 155-8, 292-8). The presence of the “Messenger of the Lord” recalls the Samson narrative (Judg 13:3ff); the wife of Manoah, like Elizabeth, was also barren.

The words of the Angel which follow (vv. 13-17) may be divided into four parts, beginning the primary birth announcement in v. 13:

“Do not be afraid, Zecharyah, through (the reason) that your need [i.e. request] has been heard [i.e. listened] into (by God), and your wife Elisheba will cause a son to be (born) for you—and you shall call his name Yohanan.”

It is not entirely clear what Zechariah’s need or request (de/hsi$, i.e. prayer/petition) was; certainly he would have prayed for a child, but, given the notice regarding Zechariah’s devotion and righteous character (vv. 5-6), it is also possible that he had been praying for the future blessing and fortune of Israel. The name which the Angel directs should be given to the child is Yôµ¹n¹n (/n`j*oy), transliterated in Greek as  )Iwa/nnh$, and simplified again into English typically as “John”. It is a sentence-name, incorporating the divine name Yahweh (the hypocoristic “Yah[û]”, cf. the earlier article), and meaning “Yah(weh) has shown favor”. This favor (or “grace”), indicated already by the Angel’s appearance on the right-hand side of the altar (cf. above), may be understood three ways:

  • God granting to Zechariah and Elizabeth a long-awaited child (a son)
  • That the son would have a special status and role to play in God’s plan, and
  • That the child would be the means by which God would show favor to His people Israel

John’s salvific role, with regard to the last two points, of course, is due to his close connection with Jesus, as indicated by the overall structure of the narrative, intercutting the birth accounts of John and Jesus, respectively. The next three parts of the Angel’s message follow the initial announcement, and may be outlined as follows:

  • The effect of the (good) news of the child’s birth (v. 14)—”And there will be delight for you and leaping (for joy), and many will take delight upon his coming to be (born)”
  • Declaration of the child’s role and destiny (vv. 15-16), which involves four components:
    (i) the statement “he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (compare with v. 32)
    (ii) his designation as a Nazirite (Num 6:3; Judg 13:4 [another connection with the Samson narrative, cf. above])
    (iii) that “he will be filled with the holy Spirit” from his moment of his conception
    (iv) his mission will be to “turn many of the sons of Israel (back) upon [i.e. to] (the) Lord their God”
  • The child’s role and destiny as a fulfillment of prophecy (v. 17)

The specific prophecy referenced by the Angel in verse 17 is that of Malachi 3:1ff, as interpreted by the ‘appendix’ of 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24], in which the Messenger who will go ahead and “prepare the way” for the coming of the Lord is identified with the figure of Elijah. John the Baptist, too, was certainly identified with this Messenger (and Elijah) in early Gospel tradition (Mark 1:2-3 par, etc). The Lukan Infancy narrative draws upon this same tradition; according to the account here, it was established by the Angel of the Lord in the very announcement of John’s coming birth. This will be discussed further in the note on Lk 1:76ff. I have discuss the original context, and interpretation, of Mal 3:1ff in an article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Particular mention should be made of the name Elijah, which, like Yôµ¹n¹n, was also a Yahweh-name. In Hebrew it is °E~lîy¹h[û] ([W]hY`l!a@), “Yah(weh) is (my) God [°E~l]”. This name would have had special significance at the time of great 9th-century B.C. Prophet, when the worship of Yahweh (identified with the Creator God °E~l [“Mighty One”]) was being challenged by Canaanite religious beliefs and practices centered on the deity Haddu (called Ba±al, “Lord, Master”). For more on this, cf. the earlier article on the name Yahweh, as well as the article on °Adôn/Ba±al. Though Baal-worship, as such, was no longer an issue for Israel by the time of the New Testament, the language and emphasis of the old Prophets (such as Elijah) is echoed here in the Angel’s words. Note especially the wording of verse 16:

“…and many of the sons of Israel he [i.e. John] will turn (back) upon the Lord their God”

This relates primarily to the prophecy in Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6 (note the similar wording in 4:6; cf. also Sirach 48:10), though there may be allusions to other passages such as 2 Sam 7:24 (cf. Exod 19:10-11). The expression “the Lord their God” (o( ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ au)tw=n), though obscured somewhat in translation, actually refers to the ancient religious point mentioned above—namely, that Yahweh (the Lord [ku/rio$]) is our God (°E~l/°E_lœhîm [qeo/$]). That is to say, Yahweh is the one true (Creator) God, and he is our God, i.e. the one we recognize and worship. It is this God who will ultimately show favor to His people through the person of Jesus Christ.

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). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).