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 2:49

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.

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.