Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Lk 4:16-30)

In the previous note I looked at the tradition of Jesus’ visit to his hometown (Nazareth) in Mark 6:1-6a. Matthew’s version (13:53-58) differs only slightly from that of Mark. Luke’s account, as I have already mentioned, has a number of details unique to his version, though it almost certainly is describing the same (historical) event and tradition. These differences I will be discussing today. Before proceeding, it is worth pointing out that neither Mark nor Matthew actually mentioned the name of the town, simply referring to it as Jesus’ patri/$ (patrís), “father(‘s) land”, i.e. the territory of his home town. We may assume that the Gospel writers both understood it to be Nazareth, based on earlier data they recorded (Mk 1:9; Matt 2:13; 4:13), but, in all likelihood, the original tradition as passed down did not include the name of the town. Luke specifically refers to it by name (4:16), and he has good reasons for doing so, as we shall see.

Luke 4:16-30

(See also my earlier study on this passage)

Let us first note the elements and details which are unique to Luke’s version of the episode, and which he most likely has added to the core Synoptic narrative. We may take these to be (authentic) historical traditions, and, if so, they would be considered part of the so-called “L” material (traditions found only in Luke). The significant additions are as follows:

    • A different narrative introduction (v. 16)
    • The detail of Jesus standing up to read a passage from the Prophets (v. 17)
    • The quotation of Isaiah 61:1, with Jesus’ explanation (vv. 18-21)
    • The proverb cited by Jesus in v. 23
    • The Scriptural examples involving the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (vv. 25-27)
    • The violent reaction by the people, with intent to do harm to Jesus (vv. 28-29f)

The core Synoptic tradition, as found in Mk 6:1-6a (cf. the previous note), can still be glimpsed by combining together vv. 14-15 (with 16), 22, 24, and (very loosely) 28, 30. Beyond the added details listed above, consider how the author has (apparently) modified the core tradition:

    • The details emphasized in verse 16 (cp. Mk 6:1-2a par):
      (a) The name of the town (Nazareth)
      (b) That it was the place where Jesus was nourished (i.e. raised, brought up)
      (c) That he was used to attending local Synagogues on the Sabbath (and teaching there)
    • A different formulation of the people’s reaction—that is, the summary of their words/thoughts (v. 22 / Mk 6:2-3 par)
    • A different version of Jesus’ saying (v. 24 / Mk 6:4)
    • The episode apparently ends with a rather different (more violent) result to Jesus’ visit (vv. 28-30)

Each of these will be examined briefly, going verse by verse.

Verse 16—The Lukan details mentioned above all relate to the distinctive purpose of the episode within the context of the Gospel narrative. Two major literary and thematic elements are clearly at work:

    • The reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus was brought up (as a child) points back to the Infancy Narrative of chapters 1-2, especially 2:40-52, which share certain motifs and language with 4:16ff. I have discussed these in an earlier note on this passage.
    • This episode illustrates the summary of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry in verses 14-15—in particular, that of his teaching in the synagogues. The Synoptic tradition introduces the ministry of Jesus with a different episode (cf. Mark 1:21-28 par [this follows in Lk 4:31-37]). Note the way that both the initial Markan and Lukan episodes illustrate the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry:
      (1) Teaching/preaching (with a synagogue setting)—Mk 1:21-22, 27; Lk 4:14-16, 22
      (2) Working miracles—Mk 1:23-27; Lk 4:14a, 23-27

Verses 17-21—The quotation of Isaiah 61:1 is a tradition unique to Luke’s account. In verse 21, Jesus states that this prophecy has been fulfilled at the moment of his reading it. In other words, Jesus identifies himself with the Anointed herald/prophet figure of Isa 61:1ff, just as he does elsewhere, in the traditional “Q” material (Lk 7:22 / Matt 11:5). Luke’s inclusion of this reference probably offers the best explanation for his location of the Nazareth episode, set at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This can be explained on three levels:

    • A connection with the Baptism scene, with the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (3:22). This is to be understood as the moment when the Spirit came upon him and he was anointed by God (Isa 61:1 / 4:18).
    • A connection with the preceding Temptation scene (4:1-13) which is framed by important references to the presence/activity of the Spirit (vv. 1, 14). In other words, this also shows how Jesus has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God.
    • Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah), which serves as a principal theme of the Lukan account of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (4:19:20). However, in this period he is not identified as the royal Messiah from the line of David, but as the Anointed herald/prophet of Isaiah 61. Matthew (4:12-17) introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry with a different Messianic prophecy (Isa 9:1-2), one more in keeping with the Davidic figure-type.

Verse 22—Here it is worth comparing Luke’s account of the crowds reaction with that of Mark. Consider first the initial description of their reaction:

“and many hearing (him) were laid out (flat) [i.e. amazed], saying ‘From where (did) these things (come) to this (man), and what (is) th(is) wisdom…’?” (Mk 6:2)

“and all witnessed (about) him and wondered upon [i.e. at] the words of favor traveling out of his mouth” (Lk 4:22a)

The idea is roughly the same, but with a different emphasis. In Mark, the people recognize the two aspects of Jesus’ ministry—the wisdom (of his teaching) and his powerful deeds (miracles). In Luke’s account, it seems that they are responding to his gifts as a speaker, fulfilling a traditional religious role—that of reading the Scripture and offering a (pleasant) word of exhortation. It would seem that, while they may have recognized the Messianic significance of Isa 61:1ff, they certainly did not understand the implication of Jesus’ declaration in v. 21—that he was the Anointed One of the prophecy. Mark’s version may contain something of this idea as well, in the statement that the people of Nazareth were “tripped up” (the vb. skandali/zw) by Jesus (v. 3, cf. Lk 7:23 par)

The second part of the people’s reaction is even more significant. In Mark (6:3) the people find it hard to explain Jesus’ words and deeds, since they know all of his family—his mother, brothers, and sisters—as ‘ordinary’ people in the area. Luke has simplified this statement greatly, highlighting just one family member of Jesus:

“Is this not the son of Yoseph {Joseph}?”

This is reasonably close to the words in Matt 13:55: “Is this not the son of the craftsman [i.e. carpenter]?”, as well as being virtually identical to those in Jn 6:42. However, for Luke the reference to Joseph (as Jesus’ human father) has special importance, as can be seen clearly from two earlier passages:

    • The episode of the child Jesus in the Temple, in which Joseph as Jesus’ (human/legal) father is contrasted with God as his (true) Father (2:48-49)
    • The genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38), which begins “the son, as it was thought, of Joseph…” (v. 23), and ends “…the (son) of God” (v. 38). The implication, again, is that God is Jesus’ true Father (1:32, 35; 3:22b).

With these allusions in mind, it becomes apparent what the author is emphasizing here in this scene. The people of Nazareth are still thinking of Jesus as the ordinary, human/legal son of Joseph, and do not at all recognize him as the Anointed One and Son of God.

Verses 23-24—In Luke’s version, the Synoptic saying is preceded by an additional proverb (in v. 23). It functions as a provocative challenge to the townspeople. At this point, Luke does not mention the people taking offense at Jesus (cp. Mark 6:3); rather, Jesus seems to be taking the initiative in provoking them. The proverb brings to light the miracles performed by Jesus and plays upon the Synoptic tradition in Mk 6:5 par—that he was unable to perform many miracles in his home town (because of the people’s lack of faith). The proverb itself is relatively common, with parallels known from the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern world. However, in Luke, joined as it is with the saying of v. 24, it effectively creates a dual contrasting statement (physician/prophet). This, in fact, is how the saying has been preserved in at least one line of tradition, as recorded in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1 and the Gospel of Thomas (§31)—i.e. “a prophet is not… and a physician does not…”. The Lukan form of the saying in v. 24 also differs from the version in Mark/Matthew:

“A foreteller [i.e. prophet] is not without honor, if not [i.e. except] in his father(‘s) land and among his relatives and in his (own) house” (Mk 6:4)

“Not one foreteller [i.e. prophet] is accepted in his father(‘s) land” (Lk 4:24)

Most likely, Luke’s version represents an abridgment and/or simplification of the Synoptic tradition. Again, it serves a distinct purpose in the Lukan context—it makes more direct the identification of Jesus as a prophet.

Verses 25-27—The prophetic association becomes even clearer with the references to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:8-16; 2 Kings 5:1-19) and the miracles they worked. Jesus effectively is identifying himself with a prophet like Elijah/Elisha, a connection which appears a number of times in the Gospel tradition. For more on this, see parts 2 and 3 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Verses 28-30—Luke, quite in contrast with the narrative in Mark/Matthew, records an openly hostile, violent reaction to Jesus, provoked, it would seem, by Jesus’ own words in vv. 23-27. There is nothing quite like this in the core synoptic narrative, which ends rather uneventfully, with a laconic statement that Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his home town, and that he marveled at the people’s lack of faith (Mk 6:5-6a). This is the only point at which the Lukan account really does not fit the Synoptic outline of the episode in Mark/Matthew. It does, however, fulfill two important themes within the narrative context of Luke’s Gospel:

    • It prefigures the opposition/violence that Jesus, as the Anointed One and Son of God, would face from the people, and serves as a parallel to the close of the Galilean period, and the Passion references which follow (9:21-22, 31, 43b-45, 51).
    • It also looks back to the Infancy Narrative, and the oracle by Simeon in 2:34-35, illustrating the opposition predicted by him most vividly.

Quite possibly, the original (historical) tradition contained more of this element of opposition to Jesus, but that it was not preserved in the Synoptic account of Mark/Matthew, retained (if at all) only in the statement at the end of Mk 6:3. If so, then Luke has developed and enhanced this aspect of the tradition.

John 6:42

Finally, it is worth noting, that, although the Gospel of John does not have anything corresponding to the Nazareth episode of the Synoptics, it does include at least one similar tradition—Jn 6:42, forming part of the great Bread of Life discourse in 6:22-59. As in the Synoptic episode under discussion, verse 42 reflects the people’s reaction to statements by Jesus regarding his identity. In Luke 4:16-30, he identifies himself with the Anointed (Messianic) herald/prophet of Isaiah 61:1ff (v. 21), and, by implication, as also being the Son of God (vv. 22ff, cf. above). In the discourse of John 6:22-59, Jesus draws upon different Scriptures—the Exodus traditions, especially that of the manna (as “bread from heaven”)—and identifies himself as the true Bread that comes down from heaven. This is expressed in verse 42 by one of the famous “I Am” declarations in John—”I am the bread th(at is) coming down [lit. stepping down] out of Heaven” (cf. also vv. 32-33, 35, 38, 48, 50-51, 58). In the Johannine context, this certainly refers to Jesus as the eternal (pre-existent) Son of God who has come (down) into the world to bring Life to those who would believe. Here Jesus’ sonship (in relation to God the Father) is understood at a much deeper level than in the Gospel of Luke. However, the basic contrast expressed is the same. The people recognize Jesus only at the ordinary, human level, and are troubled/offended by his words:

Is this not Yeshua, the son of Yoseph, of whom we have seen [i.e. known] his father and (his) mother? (So) now how (can) he say that ‘I have stepped down out of heaven?'”

The italicized portion is quite similar to the words of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:3 par; indeed, the first phrase—”is this not…the son of Joseph?”—is virtually identical with Luke 4:22b. And, to be sure, John expresses the same aspect of opposition and misunderstanding among the people as Luke does. They view Jesus merely as the son of Joseph, when, in fact, his true identity is as the (eternal) Son of God the Father (Jn 6:27, 32, 37, 40, 44, 46, 57, etc).

January 12: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$ (“…alongside God and men”). This phrase qualifies (and locates) the ‘progress’ Jesus makes in “wisdom and age and favor”, and is (with the verse as a whole) drawn from 1 Samuel 2:26 (cf. also below on the parallel in Proverbs 3:4). The preposition para/ would be rendered properly “alongside”, but often has the sense of “with” (cf. meta/ in the LXX of 1 Sam 2:26) or “before”—i.e., “with God and men”, “before God and men”. It hardly need be said that “men” (pl. of a)nqrw/po$) here means people in general, other human beings.

How does this expression relate to each of the three terms coming before it? To begin with the second, h(liki/a (“age”): to say that Jesus progressed in age (or size/stature) alongside (other) men is simply another way of stating that he grew up into an adult just like everyone else around him. See Galatians 1:14, where Paul states that he “progressed [proe/kopton] in Judaism above many together-in-age [sunhlikiw/ta$, i.e. those his same age]”. An interesting question is whether the phrase “alongside God and men” governs all three terms, or just (e)n) xa/riti. In my view the phrase applies primarily to xa/riti (i.e. “in favor alongside God and men”), but covers the whole verse as well (i.e. the progress in wisdom/age/favor all takes place “alongside God and men”).

What of wisdom (sofi/a) in this regard? There are several possibilities:

    • Jesus progresses/increases in both human and divine wisdom
    • His progress/advancement in wisdom (whether understood generally or as human or divine wisdom) takes place both before God and among other people.
    • His wisdom (human and/or divine) is increasingly recognized by both God and men.

As I feel that wisdom generally is meant in verse 52, the second interpretation seems more likely; however, the nature of the Lukan Gospel narrative as a whole makes the third at least possible (for the theme of recognition in the Infancy narrative, cf. Lk 1:41ff; 2:16-18, 19, 27ff, 38, 46-48, 50-51).

The word xa/ri$ has a closer (proximate) connection to the phrase “alongside God and men”, as indicated above. This is made clear in 1 Samuel 2:26 (the main model for Lk 2:52): “and the child Samuel passed on and became great and (was) good both with the Lord and with men“. This is a literal rendering of the Hebrew: “and the youth Samuel went [lit. walked] and became great, and was good both with YHWH and also with men”. Consider also the similar wording in Proverbs 3:4: “and find [imperative] favor and good-skill in the eyes of God and man”. The word here translated “skill” (lk#c@) is somewhat similar in meaning to sofi/a (“intelligence, understanding”, etc). In any case, there is a general connection here between “favor” [/j@ = xa/ri$] and ‘wisdom’, as in Lk 2:52. To gain favor in the eyes of someone, means that he/she increasingly thinks well of, and is pleased with (or finds joy/delight in), that person.

Even though the righteous (or believers) may experience persecution, there is also the thought expressed that they will (or should work honestly to) gain favor in the eyes of people in the world (believers and non-believers alike). As an example, consider the initial reaction to Jesus in the Lukan account of his appearance back in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). Since this is the first episode (in Luke’s Gospel) of Jesus’ public ministry (following the baptism and temptation), its connection back to 2:52 (and 2:40) is noteworthy. There are actually several verbal and thematic points of contact:

    • Following the baptism, Jesus returns “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1); on the parallel with “being filled with wisdom” in 2:40, see the previous day’s note.
    • Following the temptation, Jesus returns “in (the power) of the Spirit” (4:14); cf. the longer reading of 2:40.
    • Jesus comes to Nazareth, where he had been nourished/nurtured [i.e. brought up, raised] (4:16); this connects back to the end of the Infancy narrative (esp. 2:39-40, 50-51) and to his progressing “in age” [h(liki/a|] in v. 52.
    • Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah (Isa 61:1-2): “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (4:18f); this is parallel to the “the favor [xa/ri$] of God was upon him” in v. 40 (cf. “in favor [xa/riti] before God”, v. 52).
    • Upon his reading, and the saying in 4:21, the townspeople in the synagogue all “gave (good) witness concerning him and wondered at the gracious/favorable/pleasant [xa/rito$] words that were passing/coming out of his mouth” (4:22)

Of course, the crowd turns against Jesus halfway through the episode, but the first portion at least serves almost as an illustration of 2:52.

In conclusion, it is necessary to return to the Christological question touched upon in the previous days’ notes: what exactly does the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) indicate regarding the person of Jesus in this verse? I would make the following points:

1. An emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. In a primary sense the growth of v. 40 and the progress of v. 52 is that which is common to all human beings. What of the idea of his advancement in wisdom? Luke certainly seems to be affirming that Jesus grew in human skill and understanding, and, indeed, to deny this of him virtually results in a one-sided (docetic) Christology. Fully human means just that—it includes (natural) growth and development in knowledge and understanding. The presence of h(liki/a (age/size/stature) positioned in between sofi/a (wisdom) and xa/ri$ (favor) confirms that normal human development is involved.

2. What Jesus shares in common with the righteous. Wisdom (sofi/a) and favor (xa/ri$) are attributed to the righteous (of Israel), and to believers; this includes the motif of being “filled with wisdom” and having “the favor God upon” him. Consider especially in this regard, the following details in the Infancy narrative: (a) the Temple setting, (b) the presence of devout pious Israelites such as Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna, (c) the themes and Scriptural allusions in the canticles, (d) the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus’ parents, (e) the theme of fulfilling the Law.

3. The connection between wisdom/favor and (the) Spirit. On these points, see above and in the previous note. There is a reasonably close parallel between being filled with wisdom and being filled with the Spirit; similarly the favor of God can be related to the Spirit being or coming upon a person. At the very least, this conjunction of elements shows Jesus to be especially or uniquely favored (one may say chosen). But the angelic annunciation to Mary earlier in the narrative (Lk 1:35) indicates an even closer connection to the Spirit. The relationship to God is only implied in 2:40, 52, but will be expressed more fully at the baptism (Lk 3:21-22), in the Lukan account of the transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36), and the post-resurrection narratives.

4. His unique/chosen character will be recognized by both God and men. People may respond to Jesus’ human wisdom (Lk 2:46-48; 4:22), or they may penetrate to a deeper understanding of his Person. In this regard, note especially the canticle (Lk 2:29-32) and prophecy (Lk 2:34-35) of Simeon, and the carefully narrated responses by Mary in 2:19, 51b. In other words, the Incarnation as such does not exist in a vacuum: it occurs alongside (para/) human beings—they may respond positively or negatively, with acceptance or rejection.

5. A suggestion of the Two Natures? It must be admitted that Luke does not specifically declare or narrate the Deity of Jesus (in the traditional orthodox sense) in chapters 1-2. Of course, it is not in any way denied either. In the angelic announcements (Lk 1:32, 35; 2:11) and the exclamation of Elizabeth (Lk 1:43) we find the closest thing to an outright declaration—effectively identifying Jesus with the Lord (YHWH) and as Son of God. One may also read 2:40 as an indication of divine status, in some sense. Is it possible that there is even a hint of the ‘Two Natures’ of Christ in v. 52? It is noteworthy that the Infancy narrative ends with the phrase “alongside God and men“. While I think it unlikely that Luke would consciously have had such an allusion in mind, the inspired authors of Scripture almost certainly wrote better than they themselves knew or understood. By any standard, the doctrine of the hypostatic union requires that one at least acknowledge the profound mystery of the Incarnation even in verses as apparently simple and unassuming as Lk 2:52.

January 11: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

e)n th=| sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti (“…in wisdom and age and favor”). These three terms represent the areas in which Jesus progressed/advanced (proe/kopten). To begin with the second: h(liki/a would be rendered “age” in its primary sense, but also carries the meaning “size” or “stature” (cf. Lk 12:25 par; 19:3; John 9:21, 23; Eph 4:13; Heb 11:11). It is clear enough that the word here indicates normal human physiological growth. But what of the two surrounding terms?

sofi/a and xa/ri$ also occur together in the prior summary description of the child Jesus’ growth (Lk 2:40), so it is reasonable to assume that their use here has some relation to that in v. 40. The first word sofi/a has the basic sense of knowledge/ability, the practical side of which we might render as “skill”, often with the sense of being experienced, etc; the more abstract intellectual side is best translated by “wisdom”, and it is this meaning that came to be predominant. The word occurs more than 50 times in the New Testament, with three points of reference—(1) wisdom generally, (2) specifically human wisdom, or (3) specifically divine wisdom. In regard to these last two, see especially Paul’s interchange between them in 1 Corinthians 1-2. The epistle of James also distinguishes the wisdom “from above” with flawed/false human ‘wisdom’ (James 3:15, 17). More to the point is the usage of sofi/a in Luke-Acts: apart from proverbial references to wisdom in Lk 7:35; 11:31, most of the occurrences relate to the special wisdom possessed by the righteous (Lk 1:17) or believers (Lk 21:15), the latter indicating a specific gift from God. Two passages are particularly worth noting:

  1. Wisdom is attributed to Stephen (parallel with “Spirit” [pneu=ma]) in Acts 6:3, 10; cf. especially v. 3: “full of [the] Spirit and wisdom”. The expression is similar to that in Lk 2:40. Here, as in Lk 1:80, it is not absolutely certain that pneu=ma means the Holy Spirit, but this is more likely when referring to believers in Acts.
  2. Wisdom is attributed to Moses in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:10, 22). Here normal human wisdom, or wisdom generally, is indicated. The expression in 7:10, “and (God) gave him favor [xa/rin] and wisdom [sofi/an] in front of Pharaoh”, is fairly close to that of Lk 2:52 and is certainly the closest parallel.

There is a fine line, perhaps, between the wisdom of God (i.e. divine wisdom) and special wisdom/understanding which God grants to the believer or righteous one. Is the wisdom attributed to Moses (in Acts 7:10) or Jesus (in Lk 2:40, 52) a unique/attenuated form of human (intellectual) ‘skill’ or does it reflect an inspired, revelatory charisma in a deeper sense?

The final word, xa/ri$, can be somewhat difficult to translate, for it carries a rather wide semantic range. The primary sense is “joy, delight”, the noun being derived from xai/rw (“rejoice, be glad/pleased”); in other words, that which brings joy or delight, etc. The xa/ri$, the response to that which brings joy, can be understood either in terms of giving or receiving—a person who finds joy/pleasure in someone or something, bestows favor, or a gift on the object of joy; one who receives favor (or a gift) will, in turn, over an expression of gratitude or thanks. In English, “grace” has a similarly multivalent meaning, but has also become heavily infused with a specific theological-soteriological sense (by way of Paul, Augustine, and the Reformers). Generally, “favor” is preferable as a translation of xa/ri$, both in Luke 2:40, 52 and in the rest of the New Testament as well.

Let us consider the use of sofi/a and xa/ri$ in Luke 2:40; there it states that the child (Jesus) “grew and became strong, being filled [plhrou/menon present pass. participle] with wisdom [sofi/a|] and (the) favor [xa/ri$] of God was [h@n imperfect active indicative] upon him”. So there are two expressions:

    • “[being] filled with wisdom”
    • “favor of God [was] upon him”

With regard to the first expression, there seems to be a connection between wisdom (sofi/a) and spirit (or “Spirit”, pneu=ma)—cf. Acts 6:3, and the Lukan references to John and his parents being “filled” with the Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67). In Lk 1:80 there is also the statement that the child John “grew and became strong in (the) spirit [pneu/mati]”. As indicated in a prior note, some manuscripts and versions of Lk 2:40 also contain pneu/mati, though most scholars consider the shorter reading to be original. In my view, Lk 1:15, 41, 67 (and Acts 6:3) all refer to the (Holy) Spirit, but for Lk 1:80, something more akin to “the (prophetic) spirit of Elijah” (Lk 1:17) is intended. In the book of Acts, believers too are “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17, etc); and it is noteworthy that the Gospel of Luke uses the expression of Jesus as well (Lk 4:1), though more commonly Jesus is “in the Spirit” (4:1, 14; 10:21) or the Spirit is “upon him” (3:22; 4:18, cf. also 1:35). There may also be a parallel between “favor of God upon him” and “the Spirit (of God) upon him”. In any case, Lk 2:40 clearly refers to the unique relationship between Jesus and God. But should we identify the “wisdom” here with divine wisdom? I believe that the connection with wisdom and Spirit is close enough in this regard to justify the equation. In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, wisdom (Heb. hm*k=j*) was occasionally personified as an aspect (or hypostasis) of God Himself—i.e. Divine Wisdom (see Proverbs 8, and the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom). In early Christian theology, Jesus too was often identified both with the Word (Lo/go$) and Wisdom (Sofi/a) of God. With regard the the favor (xa/ri$) of God, I do not think it inappropriate to draw upon the words of the divine Voice at Jesus’ baptism: “this is my (be)loved Son, in you I am well-pleased [lit. think well of]” (Lk 3:22 par.).

The situation is somewhat different with the use of sofi/a and xa/ri$ in Luke 2:52, for here more decidedly the emphasis is on Jesus’ human growth and development (as will be discussed in the next note). I would argue that “wisdom” and “favor” are used in a more general sense, in a way that would be applicable to all human beings (or at least, all righteous/believers). It would be much too simplistic to say, from an orthodox perspective, that verse 52 refers to Jesus’ humanity, and verse 40 to his deity, but I think there is a sense in which this is not far from the mark. The Christological problem, of course, comes in relating the humanity and deity of Christ—how exactly should we understand his progressing/advancing “in wisdom… and favor”? There is no reason to think that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) means anything other than a normal (albeit especially gifted) growth in human wisdom (knowledge/understanding/skill/experience), such as would have been found in Moses, for example (on this, see Acts 7:10, 22, also Josephus Antiquities II.228-231). The expression, as applied to the righteous in general, is close to that of Proverbs 3:4. Does Luke intend something deeper as well? This will be discussed in the concluding note on this verse; however, consider the following paradigm as a possible expression of the Christological mystery:

The Wisdom [sofi/a] (v. 40, 52)
(of God)
{parallel to the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God}
which fills him
(v. 40, cf. also Lk 4:1 etc)
Jesus progresses/advances in age [h(liki/a] (v. 52)
as he grows and becomes strong (v.40)
—an expression of his human nature which is
in between expressions of his deity (his relationship to God)
The Favor [xa/ri$] (v. 40, 52)
of God
{i.e. this is my beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased, cf. Luke 3:22}
which is upon him {as the Spirit [pneu=ma] is upon him}
(v. 40, cf. Luke 3:22; 4:18)

January 10: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

(see the previous daily note)

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

proe/kopten (“[and Yeshua/Jesus] struck forward”). The verb proko/ptw literally means “to cut/strike forward”, but is typically translated “to progress, advance, etc”; in English idiom we might say “make (one’s) way ahead, make headway”. The verb is used just five other times in the New Testament: once in Romans 13:12 (as a locution for the coming of night), and three times in 2 Timothy. These latter instances warn against believers’ failure to make (positive) spiritual progress (2 Tim 3:9); indeed many may go from bad to worse (2 Tim 2:16; 3:13). The use in Galatians 1:14 corresponds closely to that in Lk 2:52: there Paul states that (as a young man) he “progressed [proe/kopten] in Judaism over many (of those) together-in-age [sunhlikiw/ta$, i.e. those his own age]”. The verb is not found in the Septuagint, but the related noun prokoph/ (“progress”) does occur in Sirach 51:17; 2 Macc 8:8, as well as several times in the New Testament (Phil 1:12, 25; 1 Tim 4:15).

As mentioned in an earlier note, the narrative summary statements in Luke 1:80; 2:40, 52 are modeled, in part, after the descriptions of the child Samuel‘s development in 1 Samuel 2:21, 26 (in particular, Lk 2:52 is rather close to 1 Sam 2:26). An examination of the verbs used may be helpful:

  • 1 Sam 2:21 [LXX]—”and the (little) child Samuel became great [e)megalu/nqh aorist passive]…”
  • 1 Sam 2:26 [LXX]—”and the (little) child Samuel passed on [e)poreu/eto imperfect middle] and became great [e)megalu/neto imperfect passive]…”
  • Luke 1:80; 2:40—”and the (little) child grew [hu&canen imperfect active] and became strong [e)krataiou=to imperfect passive]…”
  • Luke 2:52—”and Jesus struck forward [proe/kopten imperfect active]…”

The expression in 1 Sam 2:26, which is a literal rendering of the Hebrew syntax, indicates continued growth (“become great” generally = “grow”). Luke 1:80; 2:40 roughly corresponds by use of a similar expression “grew and became strong”. proe/kopten in Luke 2:52 more specifically emphasizes progress or advancement.

This progress cannot be separated from the following three terms—wisdom (sofi/a), age (h(liki/a), and favor (xa/ri$). I will be discussing these in the next note; but, suffice it to say, there is almost nothing in this verse to suggest anything other than normal human growth and development. The situation is perhaps a little different in verse 40, where the relationship is specifically between the child and God—there the same words wisdom (sofi/a) and favor (xa/ri$) also occur, but in distinctive expressions common to the Old Testament: the child was “filled with wisdom” and “the favor of God was upon him”. Even here, however, the context need not indicate anything more than the sort of divine gifting and favor shown to prophets and patriarchs of old.

Needless to say, these references to Jesus’ growth and progress have created some difficulty for those accustomed to thinking of him from an orthodox Christological point of view. Development in terms of age/stature (h(liki/a) is not really a problem, but the idea of growth in wisdom (sofi/a) and grace/favor (xa/ri$) for one understood to be the incarnate Son of God (fully divine from birth) is a bit more troublesome. Even we limit sofi/a to human wisdom and understanding, it is not entirely clear how one would relate Jesus’ growth and progress here to the divine omniscience, etc. one usually attributes to him. This is all part and parcel of the mystery of the incarnation and the person of Christ, and it is surely dangerous to read too much into these few short verses. But what Christological point or stance (if any) does the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) wish to convey here? This will be explored a bit further in the next note.

January 9: Luke 2:52

For the next several days, leading up to the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (Jan 13), I will examine Luke 2:52—the only verse in the New Testament which describes Jesus’ life as a young man prior to his baptism. Each word and phrase will be discussed in detail.

Luke 2:52
Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

kai\  )Ihsou=$ (“and Yeshua/Jesus…”). This is the fifth mention of Jesus’ name in the Lukan Infancy narrative: the first two relate to the giving of the name in the angelic annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:31), repeated at the circumcision (Lk 2:21). The next three are found in Lk 2:22-40, 41-52. The parallel structure of these two sections was illustrated in the previous note, and may be clarified here:

  • The little child Jesus (to\ paidi/on  )Ihsou=n) in the Temple (2:22-38)—the phrase is in the accusative (his parents brought the little child Jesus into the Temple), with “the (little) child” mentioned before “Jesus”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of the little child (to\ paidi/on) (2:40).
  • Jesus the child ( )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$) in the Temple (2:41-50)—the phrase is in the nominative (Jesus remained behind), with “Jesus” mentioned before “the child”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of Jesus ( )Ihsou=$) (2:52).

It is significant that Jesus neither speaks nor acts on his own until this second episode (v. 43b, 46-51), when he is twelve years old (v. 42). This is a realistic depiction in terms of the normal development of a human child, and stands in contrast to a number of extra-canonical Infancy Gospels (Pseudo-Matthew, Arabic Infancy Gospel, Infancy Gospel of Thomas), where Jesus is shown to be an omniscient, miracle-working child practically from birth. It is only in 2:41-50 that “Jesus” takes precedence over “the (little) child”, as would befit the historical moment—for at the age of twelve, a Jewish boy was on the threshold of manhood, and would very soon take his place among the adult males in society. In other words, he was beginning to come into his own identity. Something of this is certainly indicated by Jesus’ statement in verse 49 (on the rendering and interpretation of this difficult saying, see my earlier article). The circumstances surrounding this saying are important:

  • Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem with his parents for Passover, as would be required by all adult males from the age of thirteen; for the twelve year old Jesus, this may, at the historical level, reflect a preliminary orientation to the practice under the supervision of his parents.
  • Jesus was separated from his parents and remained behind; it is useless to speculate on just why/how this separation may have occurred.
  • Symbolically at least, Jesus took his place as a young pupil seated among the Teachers (of the Law) in the Temple (there is no real indication that the boy Jesus was teaching them).
  • When confronted by his parents, Jesus affirmed his own identity and destiny (“it is necessary for me to be in/among the [things] of my Father”); note the difficulty his parents have in understanding this.

The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) does temper this episode with a statement in verse 51 (parallel to v. 39), that Jesus returned and was in obedient submission to his parents. However, by the end of verse 52, it is clear that we are dealing with Yeshua/Jesus as an independent young man, and the stage is set for the Gospel narrative proper—that is, of his adult ministry, marked and inaugurated by the revelation at his Baptism (Lk 3:21-22).

This depiction of the (natural human) growth and development of the child Jesus has proved somewhat problematic for commentators and theologians who approach the text from the standpoint of a developed (post-Nicene) Christology. As indicated above, there is no evidence in Luke 1-2 that Jesus, as a child, possessed omniscience (or even divine foreknowledge), nor did he work any miracles. The wisdom (sofi/a) and understanding (su/nesi$) mentioned in vv. 40, 47, and 52 need not reflect anything more than that of a gifted and precocious youth. All of which is fine for an affirmation of Jesus’ full humanity; but what of his deity? This will be explored, in relation to the remainder of verse 52, over the next few notes.

It is interesting that Luke offers no explanation for the name “Jesus (Yeshua)” such as we see in Matthew 1:21 (cf. earlier note), even though he is clearly writing for a Gentile (Greco-Roman) audience (Lk 1:1-4; Acts 1:1ff). Y¢šûa± (u^Wvy@) is a shortened form of the Hebrew Y§hôšûa± (u^Wvohy+), by contraction from Yôšûa± (u^Wvoy). Matthew 1:21 is presented as the message of Gabriel to Joseph, “and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins”; however, most critical scholars would effectively attribute the explanation to the Gospel writer (or earlier tradition). If intended as an actual etymology of the name, then, while certainly correct in a religious and theological sense, from a linguistic point of view it would seem to be inaccurate. By all accounts, uWvohy+ (Y§hôšûa±) is a combination of Yah(u), a theophoric/hypocoristic form of the divine name hwhy (YHWH) and uwv (“cry for help” cf. the noun u^Wv [šûa±] “[cry for] help”); the meaning would be something like “May-YHWH-help”. The etymology (if such it is) in Matt 1:21, would seem to derive the name from uvy (“save, deliver”); and, admittedly, the name is very close to (almost a homonym of) the noun hu*Wvy+ (y§šû±â), “salvation”. However, there is no reason to force the narrative in Matthew to bear the weight of such analysis. The similarity between y§šû±â and Y¢šûa± is enough to make the explanation entirely valid—such wordplay is frequent in the Scriptures, and is appropriate to time and place, used for communicating even the most profound theological insight. (See, for example, in my earlier note on Matthew 2:23).

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:52

For the first Sunday after Epiphany, and to conclude this series of Advent and Christmas season notes, I will discuss the final section of the Lukan Infancy narrative, which consists of two main parts:

    1. The episode of the boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51), and
    2. The concluding summary verse (Luke 2:52)

As I dealt with the section 2:41-51 in some detail (especially the difficult saying in verse 49) in an earlier article, today I will look specifically at the concluding verse.

The concluding Summary verse (Luke 2:52)

This verse is clearly parallel to v. 40, which concludes the Infancy narratives proper—Luke has added a story of Jesus as a boy (in the Temple), creating a kind of doublet:

  • Infant Jesus in the Temple (having come with his parents according to the Law [purification/redemption-of-firstborn]), and is among pious and devout representatives of Israel (Simeon, Anna) (2:22-38)
    • A return to Nazareth is summarized, re-emphasizing the family’s obedience to the Law (2:39)
    • A summary statement on the child Jesus’ growth (2:40)
  • Boy Jesus in the Temple (having come with his parents according to the Law [Passover]), and is among the teachers of Israel and “among the (things/ones) of my Father” (see above) (2:41-50)
    • A return to Nazareth is summarized, emphasizing Jesus’ obedience to his parents (2:51)
    • A summary statement of the child Jesus’ growth (2:52)

It is worth comparing verses 40 and 52 side by side:

V. 40:

But the child grew and became strong, being filled with wisdom and the joy/favor of God was upon him.
To\ de\ paidi/on hu&canen kai\ e)krataiou=to plhrou/menon sofi/a| kai\ xa/ri$ qeou= h@n e)p’ au)to/.

V. 52:

And Jesus struck forward [in] wisdom and age and favor alongside God and men.
Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$.

Verse 40 is virtually identical to the description of the child John’s growth in 1:80:

V. 40:

But the child grew and became strong…
To\ de\ paidi/on hu&canen kai\ e)krataiou=to

1:80a:

But the child grew and became strong in spirit
To\ de\ paidi/on hu&canen kai\ e)krataiou=to pneu/mati

A wide range of manuscripts include pneu/mati (“in [the] spirit”) for verse 40 (on this, see below); if original, then the text matches precisely that in 1:80. Compare these verses also with 1 Samuel 2:21, 26 (LXX):

1 Sam 2:21b:
kai\ e)megalu/nqh to\ paida/rion Samouhl e)nw/pion kuri/ou
“and the child Samuel became great [i.e. grew] in the eye/face of [i.e. before] the Lord”

1 Sam 2:26:
kai\ to\ paida/rion Samouhl e)poreu/eto kai\ e)megalu/neto kai\ a)gaqo\n kai\ meta\ kuri/ou kai\ meta\ a)nqrw/pwn
“and the child Samuel passed/went on and became great [i.e. continued to grow] and (was) good both with the Lord and with men”
Note: the LXX here, especially in v. 26, renders the Hebrew quite literally

It is interesting that there are two notices of Samuel’s development, just as there are two for Jesus (Lk 2:40, 52), the latter being rather close in form and sense (if not actual vocabulary) to 1 Sam 2:26. This is hardly surprising, given the influence of the Samuel birth narrative on Luke 1-2 (discussed in prior Advent/Christmas season notes). However, one can draw more specific parallels between 1 Sam 2:21, 26 and Lk 2:40, 52 (that is between the two notices):

1 Sam 2:21 / Lk 2:40:

  • A specific statement of growth: e)megalu/nqh (“became great”) / hu&canen kai\ krataiou=to (“grew and became strong”). The Lukan phrase is more precise as a reflection of natural human growth—it could almost be viewed as an explanatory gloss on the verb in Samuel.
  • A reference to the child’s relationship to God: e)nw/pion kuri/ou (“[became great] in the eyes of the Lord”) / xa/ri$ qeou= h@n e)p’ au)to/ (“[the] favor of God was upon him”). Again it could be said that Luke has ‘interpreted’ the phrase from Samuel, in the light of Jesus, adding—(1) wisdom (sofi/a) which fills him, and (2) grace/favor (xa/ri$) which is upon him.

1 Sam 2:26 / Lk 2:52:

  • A specific statement of progress: e)poreu/eto kai\ e)megalu/neto (“went on and became strong”) / proe/kopten (“struck forward”). The first verb in Samuel (poreu/omai) has the basic sense of “passing on (ahead), traveling”; the Lukan verb literally means “cut/strike forward”—in English idiom we might say “he made his way ahead”, i.e. “advanced, progressed”.
  • A reference to the child’s relationship to both God and men (i.e. other people): kai\ meta\ kuri/ou kai\ meta\ a)nqrw/pwn (“both with the Lord and with men”) / para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$ (“alongside God and men”). If Luke is genuinely adapting Samuel here, there may be two points in which it is being interpreted and applied to Jesus: (1) instead of the verb “became strong” [repeated from 1 Sam 2:21], the ‘progress’ of Jesus is qualified by the prepositional phrase “in wisdom and age” [repeating from Lk 2:40]; (2) in the other direction, the adjective “good” (a)gaqo$) [“was good with…”] is modified as “grace/favor” (xari$) [again repeating from Lk 2:40], and connected with the prior phrase “advanced in wisdom and age and grace/favor with…”. Notably, Jesus’ age/stature is positioned in between “wisdom” and “grace/favor”.

Textual Note on Luke 2:40:

As mentioned above, a significant number of Greek manuscripts (and several versions) read pneu/mati (“the child grew and became strong in spirit“), which would make the notice of Jesus’ growth there identical to that of John in Lk 1:80. Many commentators regard this as simply a harmonization with 1:80, but I am not certain that it should be dismissed so easily. An important question is whether Luke in 1:80 is referring to the human spirit or the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit); if the latter, then 1:80 would be translated “…became strong in the Spirit“. This is certainly possible, given the references to John (and his parents) being “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 1:15, 41, 67); however, I think that Lk 1:17 is perhaps a closer parallel “in the spirit… of Elijah”. Even if Luke did not refer here to the Holy Spirit, it is possible that later scribes had this in mind and deleted pneu/mati from Luke 2:41, to draw a clear distinction between John and Jesus (who as Son of God would not need to grow in the Spirit). I tend to think that the shorter reading in Luke 2:40 is, in fact, correct, and that the author chooses to emphasize the “wisdom and grace/favor” of Jesus over against the prophetic “spirit” of John. Yet I would not blithely ignore the variant reading here.

During this next week, I will offer a series of short exegetical and expository notes on Luke 2:52, exploring each word and phrase in detail.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:40, 52

Luke 2:40, 52

In the concluding note to the main Lukan Infancy narrative (2:39-40), we find summarized a primary theme which occurs throughout the narrative, but is especially emphasized in 2:21ff (cf. the earlier note):

“And as they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] completed all the (thing)s according to the Law of the Lord, they turned back into the Galîl {Galilee} into their own city Nazaret.” (v. 39)

The fulfillment of the Law is characteristic of the faithful ones of Israel, and Jesus is born into this environment. Verse 40 provides an initial narrative summary of the child’s growth and development; as such, it is the first indication of his fulfilling the destiny marked by his name (and naming). It also concludes the John/Jesus parallel in the narrative (note the comparison with 1:80):

  • John: “And the child grew and (became) strong in (the) spirit…” (1:80)
  • Jesus: “And the child grew and (became) strong…” (2:40)

Lk 2:40 adds the following detail: “…filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him”. There is very much an echo here of the statements of the child Samuel’s growth in 1 Sam 2:21, 26 (cf. also with regard to Moses, in Josephus Antiquities 2.228-31). The statement that “the favor of God was upon him” is similar to that regarding John in 1:66—”the hand of the Lord was with him”. There is some question whether the “spirit” (pneu=ma) in 1:80 refers to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, or to “spirit” generally. In verse 15, there is a reference to John being filled with the Holy Spirit, but the expression e)n pneu/mati (“in [the] spirit”) in verse 16 refers to a special prophetic spirit—”in (the) spirit and power of Elijah“. Most likely, the latter is intended in v. 80, especially in light of the concluding statement: “…and he was in the desert (place)s until the day of his showing up toward Israel”.

In the case of Jesus, there is greater likelihood that the Spirit (of God) is in view. There is often a close connection between Wisdom and the Spirit; note the similarity of language:

  • “he will be filled by the holy Spirit” (1:15)
  • “being filled with wisdom” (2:40)

The two are brought together in the famous Messianic passage of Isa 11:1-4ff (verse 2):

“And the Spirit of YHWH will rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…”

Thus the wisdom characteristic of Jesus even as a young child is a sign of the presence of the Spirit of God. This is also true, it would seem, with regard to the word “favor” (xa/ri$), which has served as a kind of keyword in the narrative. You may recall that it is part of the name Yôµ¹n¹n (/n`j*oy), and its meaning: “Yah(weh) has shown favor” (cf. the earlier note on vv. 13-17). The Greek word xa/ri$ (“favor”) is especially prominent in the scene of the Angelic annunciation to Mary (cf. the note on 1:32-35). The favor (of God) extends to those touched by Jesus’ birth, beginning with Mary—1:28, 30, and note the underlying idea expressed in vv. 42-43, 45, 48ff; 2:14, etc. It hardly need be pointed out, that the use of xa/ri$ (usually translated “grace”) by Paul in his letters reflects a specialized theological understanding of the term. Here we see it used in the wider, more general sense of favor shown by God to human beings.

The concluding notice in Lk 2:40 is repeated in verse 52, following the additional episode from Jesus’ childhood (vv. 41-50):

“And Yeshua cut forward in wisdom and growth, and favor alongside God and men.”

This statement again brings together the keywords “wisdom” (sofi/a) and “favor” (xa/ri$), only now this “favor” is divided into two aspects—before God, and before human beings (i.e. from God and men). It is possible that this is an allusion to Prov 3:1-4ff (verse 4): “And you will find favor [/j@]…in the eyes of God and man”. Wisdom is emphasized in this chapter of Proverbs, especially beginning in verse 13. Even more than in Lk 2:40, there is a clear allusion to the Samuel narrative (1 Sam 2:26) in verse 52, the birth and childhood of Samuel serving as a pattern for that of Jesus in this Gospel.

The idea that Jesus grew and progressed in wisdom and favor/grace has proven somewhat problematic for Christians accustomed to emphasizing his deity—often to the exclusion of his (full/true) humanity. However, the notices in Lk 2:40, 52 must be taken seriously, as the language used by the author leaves no doubt that he is referring to ordinary (and natural) human growth and development. The verb au)ca/nw in verse 40 is a primary verb meaning “grow”, used especially in the sense of trees/vegetation growing and bearing fruit. In verse 52, the verb is proko/ptw, literally “cut forward”, i.e. advance, progress, often in a social, professional or educational context; note the similar usage in Gal 1:14. Jesus’ growth and development (his “cutting forward”) is explained and stated carefully, according to three elements:

  • sofi/a (“wisdom”)—this would seem to indicate growth in (human) understanding and discernment, especially in religious matters related to God (cf. vv. 46-47ff); however, wisdom also is a mark of the Spirit and presence of God, especially in light of a Messianic passage such as Isa 11:2 (cf. above)
  • h(liki/a (“growth”)—that is, ordinary physical growth, either in the sense of age or of size/stature (Lk 12:25 par; 19:3; Jn 9:21ff).
  • xa/ri$ (“favor”)—this word also refers to the effect (or result) of Jesus’ growth and progress; even as God increasingly showed favor to him, so also did his fellow human beings (cf. 2:47; 4:22)

With regard to the last point, the scene (4:16-30) of Jesus’ return to his hometown (Nazareth) is important for a correct understanding and interpretation. As a guest speaker, he reads and comments on the Scripture (Isa 61:1-2), and, initially at least, the response of the congregation would seem to be positive:

“And all witnessed about him, and wondered upon the words of favor [xa/ri$] traveling out of his mouth…” (4:22)

Here we see both sides of the “favor”—what he is able to say, and the impression it leaves on other people (note also the reference in v. 15). However, a different kind of favor is given emphasis in the scene, represented by the initial words quoted from the Scripture (a Messianic passage): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, on account of which he has anointed me…” (Isa 61:1f, verse 18). The reference to the Spirit ties back to the idea of Wisdom, but also to the person of Jesus, who, at this point in his life, after his baptism (3:21-22) and time in the desert (4:1-13), now returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (v. 14, cf. also verse 1). This certainly reflects some manner of growth and development, though just how one defines it is a matter of some dispute. At the very least, the Synoptic tradition records two threshold events—Jesus’ baptism and his temptation in the desert. Neither of these takes place until Jesus had reached a certain point in life—a particular age and level of growth. Luke, among all the Gospels, gives to this a relatively high degree of realistic detail (3:1-2, 23ff; 4:15, 16ff) which should not be ignored.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 2:49

Luke 2:49

Today’s note looks at the final episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative (vv. 41-50), and, in particular, the saying of Jesus in verse 49. I have discussed this in some detail during a prior Christmas season note, and will not repeat all of that analysis here. Today I will be examining the saying from the standpoint of the current series—in terms of the names and titles of Jesus, especially that of “Son (of God)”. This is a title that really only occurs in the Annunciation scene, twice, in 1:32 and 35:

“He [i.e. the child Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’…” (v. 32)
“therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no suggestion of it in the birth narrative itself, not even in the Angelic announcement to the shepherds, which otherwise makes use of exalted (and Messianic) language. For the remainder of the Infancy narrative proper, Jesus is referred to in realistic (human) terms as the “baby” (bre/fo$) or “(little) child” (paidi/on)—cf. 2:12, 16, 17, 27. To the extent that Jesus’ sonship is mentioned, it is entirely in reference to his human parents, Joseph and Mary (2:22-23, 27, 39, 41ff, 51). Verse 51a, in particular, emphasizes how Jesus was submissive to his parents, as a dutiful son—and this, in spite of the declaration in v. 49 (cf. below).

It is only here, in the account of this episode of Jesus at the age of twelve, that there is any kind of tension between Jesus as the son of Joseph/Mary and his identity as the Son of God. The realistic detail of the narrative brings out the human familial relationship:

  • The repeated mention of Jesus’ parents (gonei=$) in vv. 41, 43 (cf. also 48, 51). The word, which literally relates to a child coming-to-be (i.e. born), is used generally, even when it is a matter of legal (rather than biological) parentage.
  • The cultural setting of the pilgrimage festival (Passover)—vv. 41-42
  • The traveling caravan of relatives and friends (v. 44)
  • The parental concern (and rebuke) expressed by Mary (v. 48, cf. vv. 44-45)
  • The specific reference to Joseph as Jesus’ father, and Mary as his mother (vv. 38, 51b)

Set within this narrative framework is the central detail of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem, while the rest of his family had set off on their return trip (vv. 43-44). When Joseph and Mary find him again, after three days’ searching and travel, Jesus is said to be

“in the sacred place [i.e. Temple], sitting in the middle of the ones teaching [i.e. Teachers], both hearing them and asking them (question)s” (v. 46b)

Pious tradition has interpreted this scene as Jesus himself teaching the adult teachers, but there really is little (if any) indication of this in the text. There is no reason to see Jesus here as anything other than an interested pupil, albeit one most gifted, with a special understanding of the Scriptures and the Law (Torah). The general location is important to the symbolism of the scene, as Jesus is sitting “in the middle [e)n me/sw|] of the ones teaching”. The emphasis is not on Jesus’ position (i.e. student vs. teacher) but on exactly where he is located—among those teaching/discussing the Law of God. This is significant when we come to Jesus’ saying (v. 49), in response to his mother’s rebuke:

“(For) what [i.e. why] did you do this to us? See, your father and I, being distressed, (have been) search(ing for) you!” (v. 48)

“(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that you (are) search(ing for) me? Did you not see [i.e. know] that it is necessary for me to be among the (thing)s of my Father?” (v. 49)

The contrast between “your father and I” (Joseph/Mary) and “my Father” (God/Yahweh) is certainly clear. Even more interesting is the notice that Joseph and Mary had been searching among the things of their relatives and neighbors, rather than among the “things of God”. This parallel is generally lost in translation, but a literal rendering of the Greek brings it out:

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
    among the (thing)s of the ones coming to be together (with them) and the ones known (to them) [i.e. relatives and acquaintances]”
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)
    among the (thing)s of my Father”

Jesus’ phrase is often translated “in my Father’s house”, but it should be noted that the word corresponding to “house” (oi@ko$), i.e. the Temple as God’s house, is not present. If the author (or Jesus as the speaker) wanted to emphasize the Temple precincts or building as such, it would have been easy enough to do. More accurate would be “in the household of my Father”—i.e. the “things” referring to household belongings (like the belongings of the caravan in v. 44), generally and collectively. Such an interpretation must also include the people—that is, those spending time in the Temple, devoted to the Scriptures and the “things of God” (cf. the description of Simeon and Anna in vv. 25-27, 37-38).

With regard to the precise meaning of the expression “my Father” by Jesus, we must consider three possibilities:

  • His identification with the faithful/righteous of Israel as God’s “Son”—cf. Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6; Isa 43:6; 64:8; Hos 1:10; 11:1; Jer 31:19; Wisd 2:16-18; 18:13, etc. This association is much more direct in the Matthean Infancy narrative, Matt 1:21; 2:13-15ff, but note the positioning of the Lukan genealogy which follows in 3:23ff.
  • As a firstborn child consecrated to the service of God. The parallels with the Samuel story, that run through the Lukan narrative (cf. 1:46-47ff; 2:22ff, 40, 52, etc), make it highly likely that this aspect of the scene is intended by the author. While Samuel would spend his childhood in the Temple precincts, this can only be represented symbolically in the case of Jesus, who otherwise grew up with his parents in Nazareth (vv. 39, 51-52; 4:16ff).
  • As the unique Son of God in something like the orthodox Christological sense. This is hinted at already in the Angelic annunciation, though the parallels with the Qumran text 4Q246 (cf. the earlier discussion) should caution us against reading a developed Christology too quickly into this passage. Overall, the emphasis—in both Luke 1:32-35 and 4Q246—would appear to be Messianic. The situation is, I should say, somewhat different in the baptism scene which follows in Lk 3:21-22. And this will be discussed further in the next note, the final one of this Christmas season series.

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: The Temple (Part 3)

In the previous portion (Part 2) of this article, I discussed the first of three episodes in the Lukan Infancy narrative which have the Jerusalem Temple as their setting:

  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)

2. The Encounter with Simeon (Lk 2:25-38)

I have discussed this episode (especially the Song of Simeon, vv. 29-32) at length in prior Advent/Christmas notes; here we will examine specifically the Temple setting, according to several key themes and topics: (a) the ritual setting and parallel with the earlier Zechariah episode, (b) the character of Simeon (and Anna), (c) the eschatological/Messianic significance of the Temple, and (d) the possible symbolic association of Mary with the Temple.

a. The ritual setting and narrative outline. This scene shared with the earlier Zechariah episode a similar ritual context—one aspect of a larger set of parallels. Note:

    • The revelation (through Gabriel) comes while Zechariah is in the Temple performing his priestly duties (1:8-10)
    • The revelation (through Simeon) comes while Joseph and Mary are in the Temple performing their religious duties (2:22-24, 27)

In both instances, the performance of sacrificial ritual in the Temple is a reflection of the righteousness of the parents (of John and Jesus, respectively). This righteousness, defined in terms of faithfulness in observing the Torah, is stated explicitly for Zechariah and Elizabeth (v. 6, “they were just/righteous [di/kaio$]”). In the case of Joseph and Mary, this has to be inferred by the repeated references to their fulfilling the Law (2:21-24, 27, 39, 41); however, in the Matthean narrative, Joseph is specifically called di/kaio$ (1:19).

In the narrative, it is suggested that Joseph and Mary are in the process of fulfilling the required ritual (v. 27), which happens be twofold:

Almost certainly, there is an intentional parallel being made with the Samuel narrative, which explains the consecration (and presence) of the infant Jesus in the Temple precincts, which otherwise would not be required for fulfillment of the redemption law. For more on the Samuel background of the Lukan Infancy narrative, cf. the earlier notes and articles in this series (and note esp. the language used in 2:40, 52).

The narrative parallel between the Zechariah and Simeon episode is particularly striking:

  • Ritual duty in the Temple by the righteous/devout parent(s)—Zechariah | Joseph/Mary [1:8-10; 2:22-24, 27]
    • Revelation occurs for the aged, righteous figure—Zechariah | Simeon [1:11-20; 2:25-26f]
      coming by way of an Angel (to Zechariah) and the Holy Spirit (to Simeon), respectively
    • This person comes to utter an inspired prophetic hymn (though only Simeon does so in the Temple) [1:67-79; 2:29-32]
      —which includes a notice of the destiny of the child (John/Jesus)
      —with strong Messianic language and imagery, filled with Scriptural allusions
  • Completion of the ritual duty—the parent(s) depart the Temple and return home [1:23; 2:39]

b. The Character of Simeon (and Anna). Somewhat in contrast to Zechariah (and Joseph/Mary), Simeon is not in the Temple precincts for the purpose of fulfilling the sacrificial ritual (nor, apparently, is Anna). These two aged figures serve a different sort of purpose (and symbolism). I regard them, from the standpoint of the Lukan narrative, as transitional figures, between the Old Covenant (with its ritual observance) and the New Covenant in Christ. And, as it happens, the Temple setting represents the very point of transition, much as it does in the subsequent episode in vv. 41-51 (cf. below).

Both Simeon and Anna reflect a shift in the Temple’s role and purpose (see the discussion in Part 2), shared by early Christians, in which the Temple serves as a place of gathering for worship, emphasizing Spirit-inspired prayer, teaching, and prophecy. Simeon appears to foreshadow the early Christians primarily through the dynamic of the Holy Spirit; three aspects relate to the role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts:

    • The Spirit was upon him [e)p’ au)ton] (v. 25)
    • He was led, or moved, in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati] (v. 27)
    • The Spirit gave special revelation to him [regarding Jesus] (v. 26)

Anna (vv. 36-38) reflects early Christian devotion and piety in other ways. She was always spending time in the Temple (cf. Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 5:42, etc), involved in prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23, etc). Beyond this, we have the specific detail that she was a female prophet, something which distinguished early Christianity (Acts 2:17ff; 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5ff), at least for a time.

c. Eschatological/Messianic significance of the Temple. The allusion to Malachi 3:1ff in the Zechariah episode was discussed earlier in Part 2. I mentioned there the possibility that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) may have had this (Messianic) prophecy in mind here in 2:22-24ff—”the Lord…will come to his Temple”—i.e. Jesus (the Lord) coming to the Temple (as a child) foreshadows his future appearance (Mk 11:15-18 par). As there was Messianic/eschatological significance to his later appearance in Jerusalem (and the Temple), so there is in his first appearance as a child.

It is enough to point out the importance of the Temple in Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought, where it is often tied to the idea of the (end-time) restoration of Israel. A rebuilt/renewed Temple is part of the restored kingom/people of Israel, centered at Jerusalem; and, at the end-time, many from among the nations (Gentiles) will join Israel, worshiping and serving God in His Temple. The roots of this tradition go back to the Old Testament prophets, and, in particular, the book of Isaiah (esp. chaps 40-66, the so-called Deutero-Isaiah). Among the key passages are: Micah 4:1-5 (Isa 2:2-5); Isa 56:6-7 [cited Mk 11:17 par]; 60:4-7, 10-14; 66:20; and, in subsequent Jewish writings, cf. Tobit 14:5-6; Jubilees 1:17; 2 Macc 2:18; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 91:13; 11QTemple 29:8-10; Testament of Benjamin 9:2.

Both Simeon and Anna are specifically described in the narrative (vv. 25, 38) as being among those devout ones in Israel holding to this (Messianic) expectation for the end-time restoration/deliverance, and this is almost certainly related to the reason they have been spending time in the Temple. There are several allusions to Deutero-Isaian prophecies in the Song of Simeon (vv. 29-32) which draw upon these Messianic and eschatological themes—Isa 40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 49:6; 52:9-10. The presence of Jesus in the Temple precincts may be seen as, in a sense, fulfilling these prophecies.

d. Mary and the Temple. It is also possible that there is intended a symbolic association between Mary and the Temple. As the mother of Jesus, she bears/bore the Son of God (1:32, 35) within her, just as the presence of God would reside (or become manifest) within the confines of the Temple. There are several possible allusions which should be considered:

i. “Daughter of Zion”. Commentators have noted the similarity of language between Lk 1:28 and Zeph 3:14ff, which I cite here from the Greek (LXX) for comparison:

  • xai=re sfo/dra qu/gater Ziwnku/rio$ o( qeo/$ sou e)n soi
    Rejoice (with) eagerness, daughter of Zion…the Lord your God (is) among you” (Zeph 3:14, 17)
  • xai=re kexaritwme/nh o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou
    Rejoice, favored (one), (for) the Lord (is) with you” (Lk 1:28)

The expression “daughter of Zion” occurs numerous times in the Old Testament, including passages with a strong redemptive message and which could be read in an eschatological or Messianic sense: Isa 52:2; 62:11; Mic 4:8ff; Zech 2:10; 9:9. It is essentially a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, as with the use of “Zion” (/oYx!, ‚iyyôn) alone. However, originally, the term referred more properly to the most ancient hilltop site, i.e. the hill on which the Temple stood.

ii. The overshadowing Cloud. The use of the verb e)piskia/zw (“cast shade over, overshadow”) in Lk 1:35 brings to mind the cloud of God’s presence which overshadowed the Tabernacle (Exod 40:35 LXX; cf. also Num 9:18ff; Isa 4:5). The verb also occurs in the LXX at Psalm 91:4 in a similar sense (cf. also Ps 140:7). Three of the remaining four occurrences in the New Testament are in the versions of the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5; Lk 9:34), where again it refers to the Divine Presence, drawing upon Old Testament traditions of the Exodus and Sinai Theophany.

iii. The Ark. The golden chest (or “ark”) in the Tabernacle/Temple served as the (symbolic) throne of God (YHWH), marking his Presence in the Sanctuary. He would become manifest, or reside, between the winged figures (“cherubim”) which decorated the top of the chest (Exod 25:20-22; 1 Chron 28:18, etc). There are two intriguing verses from the David narratives of 2 Samuel, both connected with the Ark (in different ways), where the language has a resemblance to the words of Elizabeth to Mary in Lk 1:43 (note the words in bold and italics):

“and (from) where [po/qen] (does) this (happen) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me [e&lqh/pro/$ me]?” (Lk 1:43)

“How [pw=$] shall the box [i.e. Ark] of the Lord come in toward me [ei)seleu/setai pro/$ me]?” (2 Sam 6:9b LXX)
“(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that my Lordcomes toward [h@lqenpro/$] his servant..?” (2 Sam 24:21a LXX)

3. The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-51)

The Temple also features in the closing episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative. I discuss this passage (vv. 41-51) at length in other notes (esp. on verse 49), but it is worth considering it at least briefly here. It functions as a kind of Appendix to the Infancy narrative, set at a time when Jesus was a twelve-year old boy. Famously, this is the only (canonical) Gospel tradition regarding the childhood of Jesus. In many ways, the Temple setting—indeed, the episode itself—serves as a compendium summary of a number of themes running through the earlier narrative. These themes include:

  • The faithfulness of Jesus’ parents (Joseph/Mary) in fulfilling the religious ritual required by the Torah (cf. above and in Part 2)—here, it is the observance of the Passover in Jerusalem (vv. 41-42). As in the earlier Simeon episode, Jesus’ presence in the Temple relates to the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
  • In the setting for this episode, Jesus is among his relatives (vv. 43-44)—i.e. Israelites who live under the Covenant established with them by God (cf. Rom 15:8 and Gal 4:4 [“under the Law”]). The entire Infancy narrative involves Jesus relatives (his parents, his cousin John, and John’s parents, etc).
  • The Temple represents the heart of Israelite religion (i.e. the center of the Old Covenant), the place where God’s presence is manifest and divine revelation is set forth. The revelation in the first two Temple episodes (1:13-20; 2:26-35) involves Jesus’ identity (as Messiah and Son of God [“Lord”]).
  • Jesus’ presence in the Temple symbolically marks his identity, and, in particular, his relationship to God the Father (YHWH), as confirmed in the oracles of Simeon (vv. 29-32, 34-35).

The first two points relate to the first half of the narrative (i.e., the narrative setting/introduction in vv. 41-45), while the second two points more properly relate to the core of the narrative (vv. 46-50), centered around the saying of Jesus in v. 49. This famous saying reads as follows:

“For what [i.e. why] (is it) that you search (for) me? Had you not seen [i.e. did you not know] that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?”

The italicized portion represents the core saying. The last portion is often translated “…in my Father’s house”, but this is rather inaccurate. The word corresponding to “house” (i.e. Grk oi@ko$) is not present, and so, we should be cautious about reading in a reference to the Temple as God’s “house” without warrant. More accurate would be the translation “…in my Father’s household“; however, the Greek literally reads e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (“in/among the [thing]s of my Father”). For more on this, cf. the earlier discussion. It is not the Temple building, as such, which is emphasized, but rather the activity taking place in the Temple (teaching and study of the Torah), and those who are engaged in this activity (those devoted to the Torah and the things of God). There is a clear contrast between “the things of God” and the “things of (his) relatives and neighbors” (v. 44)—Joseph and Mary search for Jesus among the latter, but they find him among the former:

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)

Thus, here, in this episode, the Temple setting has what we might call a Christological significance—it relates to Jesus’ unique relationship to God the Father, as the Anointed One and Son of God. In the prior Temple scene his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) of God is confirmed (vv. 26ff); here, it is his identity as God’s Son.

January 7-8: Luke 2:49

This coming Sunday (the first Sunday after Epiphany), is traditionally the date commemorating the Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), although more recently churches have celebrated it on the Sunday after Christmas. The episode—usually considered part of the Lukan Infancy Narrative (1:5-2:52)—is the only narrative in the New Testament depicting the boyhood of Jesus. Very soon many more stories would surface, with increasingly spectacular and (no doubt) fictional details, such as can be found in the surviving extra-canonical “Infancy Gospels”—the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, and so forth. The narratives in these Gospels have perhaps more in common with Saints’ Lives from the early Medieval period than with the ancient Jesus traditions. Although the boy Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is depicted as a most precocious child, he is far from the wonder-working prodigy of later tales (see for example the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, c. 2, and throughout).

In fact, there is very little in the Lukan Infancy Narratives which would suggest that Jesus experienced anything other than normal growth and development (in his human nature)—cf. Luke 2:40 and the parallel/doublet of 2:52. Whether, or to what extent, Jesus actively possessed (and exercised) the Divine Attributes (such as omniscience, et al.) as a child is probably an unsolvable Christological question. One is reminded of the Kenosis/Krypsis debate among Lutheran theologians—whether the incarnate Christ ’emptied’ himself (kenosis) of the divine attributes, or ‘hid’ (krypsis) their use through most of his life. It is a fascinating, but highly speculative area of study, and should be approached with caution.

With regard to this particular narrative, it is best to pay attention to what Luke records Jesus himself as saying about his identity. When his parents (and relatives) left Jerusalem to return home from the feast, Jesus remained behind, somehow without his parents knowing it. When they do find him at last, in the Temple, Mary says to him:

te/knon, ti/ e)poi/hsa$ h(mi=n ou%tw$; i)dou o( path/r sou k)agw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se.
“Child, what [i.e. why] have you done thus to us? See, your father and I, being in pain, search [for] you”

This passage raises all sorts of questions for modern readers—logistical (‘how could Mary and Joseph set off on such a long journey not knowing Jesus was missing?’), psychological (‘how did Mary and Joseph feel when their son was missing?’), and ethical (‘how could Jesus let his parents worry about him that way?’)—which are far removed from Luke’s purpose: he says nothing at all about such matters. The entire story, as Luke tells it, leads up to a profound revelatory moment—Jesus’ pronouncement in response to his mother’s question:

ti/ o%ti e)zhtei=te me; ou)k h&|deite o%ti e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou dei= ei@nai/ me;
“(For) what (is it) that [i.e. why do] you search [for] me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$?”

The precise meaning of the portion I have left untranslated is still disputed. Literally, it reads: “in [i.e. among] the [ones/things] of my father”. There are three main possibilities for interpretation (see J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke V1 [Anchor Bible 28], pp. 443-444, for a more detailed summary):

  1. “among the people of [i.e., belonging to] my father”—presumably referring to the teachers of the law, temple personnel, or perhaps more generally to those studying and expounding the Scriptures. This would seem to be the most literal rendering, and is certainly possible, though, I think, unlikely.
  2. “in the affairs of my father”—that is, the things in an abstract sense, again referring, one would assume, to the teaching of the Torah and temple activity. Sometimes cited supporting this basic meaning is Luke 20:25, but better Mark 8:33/Matthew 16:23. Again, this is possible, but I would prefer a more concrete sense of the expression (see below).
  3. “in the house(-hold) of my father”—the expression e)n toi=$ tou= {person} (“in/among the things/people of {so-and-so}”) can have the wider sense of “in/among the possessions of …”, translated conventionally as “in the house(-hold) of…”. Such a basic meaning is attested in the Greek version of the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 41:51), and elsewhere in Greek texts of the period; a close parallel is found in Josephus (Against Apion I.118: e)n toi=$ tou= Dio$ “in the house-(hold) [i.e. temple] of Zeus”).

This last meaning is certainly close to the mark; however, I would say that the standard translation “in my Father’s house”, is still somewhat inappropriate. If Luke (or Jesus as the speaker) had wanted to emphasize the Temple building as God’s house, he could have used oi@ko$, where the Temple is commonly referred to as God’s house (oi@ko$ qeou). I rather prefer a more general (literal) translation: “in/among the things of my Father”; this, for two reasons:

1) the translation emphasizes “my Father” rather than “house” (the Temple), which better preserves the (intentional) juxtaposition between Joseph and God as Jesus’ “father”. In her address to Jesus, Mary specifically states “your father and I…search for you”, to which Jesus responds “it is necessary for me… things of my father“. Interestingly, in the manuscript tradition, a number of scribes modified “your father” to read “Joseph” or “your relatives”, presumably in an effort to safeguard the idea of the Virgin Birth (on this, see the earlier article on textual variants in the Infancy narratives); however, this is a prime example of misguided orthodoxy at work, for the change completely ruins the parallel (and the actual Christological point!).

2) I think it possible that here with e)n toi=$ tou=… there may be a reference relevant to the historical context, which Luke preserves. Travel in the Ancient Near East, such as from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, would have involved a caravan (sunodi/a, “[those] together [on the] way”)—groups of persons, often relatives, travelling together (for safety and protection), along with any necessary possessions for the journey, pack/travel animals, and the like. It is not straying too far from Luke’s narrative context to imagine, in his parents “anxious searching” (to which Mary refers), they would first begin searching among the people and possessions in the caravan train. In essence, Jesus might be saying—by an expanded paraphrase—”why were you searching for me [among the things in the caravan], didn’t you know you would find me among my Father’s things?”

In any event, the comparison between the possessions of his (legal human) father Joseph, and those of his (Divine heavenly) Father God, would seem to be at the center of the Christological message, which is the point of the story. At the same time, the Temple setting, the teachers of the Law/Scripture (didaskaloi), the Passover feast, all retain the Old Testament connection so prominent to the setting of the Lukan Infancy Narrative. The central (self-)revelation of the Incarnate Christ as being the Son of God (even as a youth) takes place right in the middle of (e)n me/sw|) the history and religion of Israel, symbolized appropriately by the Temple (and the teaching therein) as e)n toi=$ tou= qeou=.

The traditional image of the Boy Jesus teaching the Scribes, so familiar from Christian art and commentary, is a pious interpretation (or exaggeration), influenced in part, it would seem, from the extra-canonical legends mentioned above (see the Infancy Gospel of Thomas [chap. 19] for an amplified version of the same narrative).  Luke, however (2:46-47), describes nothing of of the sort: it is merely stated that Jesus was in the temple e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn (“in the middle of the teachers”) and a)kou/onta au)tw=n kai e)perwtw=nta au)tou/$ (“he gave ear [i.e. listened] to them and inquired after them”), much as would any young pupil to a Rabbi. The teachers were “astonished” (e)ci/stanto) by young Jesus’ understanding (su/nesi$) and responses (a)po/krisi$); but nowhere is it stated, or even really suggested, that Jesus acted as their teacher.