June 24: Luke 1:16-17, 76-77

June 24 is the traditional date commemorating the birth of John the Baptist—six months prior to the birth of Jesus, according to Luke 1:26. Just as the traditional date for the Jesus’ birth corresponds generally to the winter solstice, so John’s birth corresponds to the summer. This synchronicity symbolizes the relationship between John and Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition. There are a number of ways this relationship might be studied, ranging from the historical to the theological-christological; I will be looking at it here, over several daily notes, according to one aspect, centered around the figure of Elijah.

With regard to John’s birth, apart from a generic (and proverbial) reference in Matt 11:11 / Lk 7:28, it is treated only in the Lukan Infancy narratives (Lk 1) and there in significant detail. In fact, within Lk 1-2, the births of Jesus and John are presented as parallel and overlapping (or intercut) narratives (sometimes referred to as a narrative “diptych”); the parallelism is clear and striking—each contains:

    • An angelic appearance (by Gabriel) announcing the child’s birth—with a prophecy/declaration of the child’s future—to one of the parents (Zechariah/Mary), patterned after similar Old Testament annunciations (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)
    • A short narrative with an utterance by Elizabeth (Lk 1:24-25, 39-45)
    • A canticle by one of the parents (Mary/Zechariah), of a similar character and style drawing heavily upon Old Testament imagery (Lk 1:46-55, 67-79)
    • A narrative of the birth of the child, involving the reaction by people nearby (Lk 1:57-66; 2:1-20)
    • A notice of the naming and circumcision of the child (Lk 1:59-60; 2:21)
    • A statement regarding the child’s growth and development, patterned after the Samuel narrative in the OT (Lk 1:80; 2:40, 52)

This prominence is offset by the fact that, upon the start of Jesus’ ministry, John disappears more completely from Luke than in the other Gospels—Luke has eliminated the flashback narrative of John’s arrest and execution (Mk 6:14-29 and Matt par), and, more significantly, reduced the narrative of Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:21-22), removing any specific mention of John’s role. Perhaps there is implicit here what is made explicit in Jn 3:30.

There are two passages in the Infancy narratives which are prophetic of John’s relationship to Jesus—one in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah (Lk 1:16-17) and one in the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:76-77)—both involve the motif of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah).

Luke 1:16-17

The prediction or prophecy by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) begins in verse 14, extending through verse 17. There are actually two separate predictions: (1) in vv. 14-16 and (2) in v. 17. For the first prediction, the points mentioned are—

    • You (Zechariah) will have joy and leaping (for joy), v. 14a
    • Many will rejoice upon the child’s birth, v. 14b
    • The child will be great (me/ga$) in the eyes/sight of the Lord, v. 15a
      (note the similar statement regarding Jesus in Lk 1:32, “he will be great [me/ga$]”, and cf. Lk 7:28)
    • He will not [i.e. is not to] drink wine or beer/liquor, v. 15b—presumably as a ‘Nazirite’, like Samuel and Samson, two figures for whom there also were heavenly birth announcements (cf. Judg 13:4-5)
    • He will be filled with the holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, v. 15c—perhaps echoing similar phrasing of Samson as a ‘Nazirite’ from his mother’s womb (Judg 13:7; 16:17)
    • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to [lit. e)pi/ upon] the Lord their God, v. 16

Verse 16 is a clear reference to John’s role as a prophet—one whose preaching and proclamation (often warning of impending judgment) sought to bring about repentance and a return to faithfulness among the people. In this regard, the prophet himself was often understood as having an eschatological role or status (cf. for example, Hos 3:5). This, in turn, points toward the association of John with the messenger of Malachi 3-4, which is specified clearly in verse 17:

“And he will go before in His [i.e. the Lord’s] eyes/sight in (the) spirit and power of Eliyyah [i.e. Elijah], to turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded [i.e. unbelieving/disobedient] in [i.e. unto] (the) thoughtfulness of (the) just/righteous (ones), to make ready for the Lord a people packed down fully [i.e. properly equipped, prepared].”

Note the specific phrases:

    • He will “go before” the Lord, as the Messenger in Mal 3:1 “looks over (and prepares) the way before” the Lord. The Greek expressions [pro] e)nw/pion (in Lk 1:17) and pro prosw/pou (Mal 3:1), though slightly different, have generally the same meaning (“before the face/sight of”). This may also be reflected in the earlier v. 15a.
    • “(the) spirit and power of Elijah”—the identification of the prophet/messenger with “Elijah”, as in Mal 4:5 [3:23 Hebrew].
    • “turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring”—this same idea is expressed in Mal 4:6 [3:24 Hebr], though with slightly different language. Again this would seem to be reflected in the earlier v. 15 (use of the same verb e)pistre/fw “turn back upon”, i.e. “return”).
    • “make ready for the Lord a people ‘prepared’ [kataskeuasme/non]”—that this is taken from Mal 3:1 is confirmed by the citation in Lk 7:27, where we see the same verb kataskeu/azw (lit. “pack down [fully]”, but in conventional English something like “prepare/equip properly”). For the phrase “make ready (e(toima/zw) a people”, cf. 2 Sam 7:24 [LXX 2 Kingdoms 7:24]; Sir 49:12.

The author of the Gospel (trad. Luke) may also have been familiar with Sirach 48:10, which cites Mal 4:6 in an eschatological context. For more on the Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a supplementary study on the subject.

Luke 1:76-77

These verses represent a strophe in the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79). Verses 67-75 extol the faithfulness and power of God in dealing with his people—his mercy and mighty works—much as we see in the parallel canticle of Mary (the Magnificat, Lk 1:46-55). Verses 76-77, however, are addressed (prophetically) to John:

“But also you, (little) child—you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest,
for you will pass/travel before in the eyes/sight of the Lord to make ready His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people in [i.e. by] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins”

Again we see here a citation from Mal 3:1 (cf. also Isa 40:3), which was, in Gospel tradition, generally understood as applying to John the Baptist (as will be discussed in the next day’s note). It is worth noticing the Jesus/John parallelism in the titles used:

    • John: “he will be great in the eyes/sight of the Lord” (e&stai me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou), Lk 1:15
      Jesus: “he will be great” (e&stai me/ga$), Lk 1:32
    • John: “(you) will be called prophet of the Highest” (profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|), Lk 1:76
      Jesus: “(he) will be called son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai), Lk 1:32

This raises the somewhat difficult question of the meaning of ku/rio$ (“Lord”) when passages such as Mal 3:1 are applied to John—is the “Lord” Yahweh or Jesus? Presumably, in Lk 1:15-17, 76 it is God the Father (Yahweh) that is meant, in keeping with the Old Testament usage, as well as the literary context. However, Luke, like nearly all early Christians, would also understand “Lord” immediately has a title for Jesus, and this is certainly implicit here as well (involving literary foreshadowing). That there was some interpretive confusion is indicated by the textual variants which cropped up occasionally in such passages. It is safest to assume that Luke primarily intends to depict John as a Prophet who goes before the Lord (YHWH), in fulfillment of Old Testament tradition; but secondarily these verses are prophetic of John as the forerunner of the Lord (Jesus). This secondary meaning is hinted at in the evocative, though somewhat ambiguous, language of the strophe which closes the Benedictus (vv. 78-79):

“…through the (inner) organs of (the) mercy of our God,
in which a rising [a)natolh] out of (the) height has looked upon us,
to shine (forth) upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death,
to straighten down our feet into (the) way of peace.”

Here the mercy of God, depicted in vv. 67-75, culminates in a “rising up” (probably best understood as a rising sun/light), drawing from key Old Testament passages such as Psalm 107:9-10; Isa 9:1; 42:6-7; 60:1; Mal 4:2 [3:20 Hebr]; cf. also Num 24:17 (and later passages such as in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Zebulun 8:2; Levi 4:4; 18:3; Judah 24:1).

Images with Jesus and John the Baptist together as infants represented a popular theme in Renaissance painting, etc, part of a rich corpus of devotional, Marian art (such as in the Madonna d’Alba by Raphael [on right, and also used in the header above]). The Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke proved to be a prime source of thematic material for Western/Catholic artists in the Medieval and Renaissance periods (much more so than for the Eastern/Orthodox traditions); these included, especially—the Annunciation to Mary, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the journey of the Holy Family, and the boy Jesus in the Temple, as well as scenes from extra-canonical tradition (Infancy Gospels and Marian legends).

May 22: Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18, 20

In this series of daily notes on the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, it is now time to turn our attention to the Holy Spirit references in Luke-Acts. As we shall see, the Spirit is such an important theme, developed throughout the two-volume work, that it is important to study the Gospel and Acts in tandem. However, it is necessary first to begin with the Holy Spirit in relation to the key tradition of Jesus’ miraculous birth (properly, his conception).

The Conception/Birth of Jesus (Luke 1:35; Matt 1:18, 20)

It is generally agreed by commentators that the Infancy narratives in Matthew 1-2 & Luke 1-2 represent a later level of Gospel tradition than, for example, the Passion and Resurrection narratives or most of the sayings/parables of Jesus, etc. This does not mean that they are unhistorical, only that the traditions likely were collected, developed and given basic written/narrative form at a slightly later point in time. As a basic estimate, if the core Passion narrative took shape c. 30-40 A.D., then the Infancy narrative(s), by comparison, may have developed c. 50-60 A.D. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that no reference is made to the birth of Jesus in early preaching recorded in the book of Acts (at the historical level, c. 30-50+ A.D.), and is scarcely mentioned in the letters of Paul, etc. The story of Jesus’ birth would seem to have played little or no role in the earliest Christian preaching and instruction. Despite this fact, it is clear that both Matthew and Luke draw upon a common set of basic traditions regarding Jesus’ birth, which must pre-date by a number of years the written Gospels (i.e. sometime before 70 A.D.). A central tenet and belief in this Gospel tradition is the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ birth. This is recorded in three verses—twice in Matthew’s narrative, and once in Luke (part of the famous Angelic annunciation to Mary):

Matthew 1:18—Following an introductory genealogy (vv. 1-17), the Infancy narrative proper begins in verse 18:

“The coming-to-be [i.e. birth] of Yeshua (the) Anointed was thus: His mother Maryam being called to mind (for marriage) [i.e. betrothed/engaged] to Yôseph, (but) before their coming together, she was found holding (child) in (the) womb out of [i.e. from] (the) holy Spirit.”

Matthew 1:20—Verse 19 briefly narrates Joseph’s character (di/kaio$, “just/right[eous]”) and his decision to loose Mary from the engagement quietly/secretly. In verse 20, a Messenger of the Lord (i.e. Angel) appears to Joseph in a dream and makes the following declaration:

“Yôseph, son of Dawid, you should not fear to take along Maryam (as) your woman [i.e. wife]: for the (child) coming to be (born) in her is out of [i.e. from] (the) holy Spirit.”

Both passages use the specific phrase “out of the holy Spirit” [e)k pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou]. For the idea of being born out of the Holy Spirit, see the important references in John 3:5-6, 8, where it is applied to believers. Here it refers to Jesus, and to his actual (physical/biological) birth. When we turn to the Lukan narrative, we find the reference to the Holy Spirit in a very similar context—as part of an Angelic announcement, but to Mary rather than Joseph.

Luke 1:35—This is part of the famous Annunciation passage (Lk 1:26-38), which we may outline as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 26-27)—summarizing the setting for the heavenly Messenger Gabriel’s appearance to Mary
    • The Angel’s Greeting (v. 28)
      —Mary’s response: surprise and uncertainty (v. 29)
    • The Angel’s announcement (vv. 30-33), prefaced by the traditional assurance (“Do not fear…”)
      —Mary’s response: question (“How will this be so…?” v. 34)
    • The Angel’s response: the sign (vv. 35-37)
      —Mary’s response: acceptance (v. 38)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 38b)

This follows the basic narrative pattern in the Old Testament for Angelic appearances (including birth announcements), as I have discussed in prior notes (and cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1977, 1993,  pp. 155-60, 296-8). The core announcement of verses 30-33 may further be divided:

    • Assurance (v. 30)—”Do not fear, Maryam, for you have found favor alongside [i.e. before] God”
    • Birth announcement (v. 31)—”And, see! you will take/receive together in (the) womb and you will produce a son, and you will call his name ‘Yeshua'”
    • Fivefold promise/prophecy of the child’s future (vv. 32-33)—
      • “he will be great”
      • “he will be called ‘Son of the Highest'”
      • “the Lord God will give to him the (ruling) seat of his father Dawid”
      • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Ya’aqob into the Age”
      • “there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom”

There are unquestionable Messianic phrases and concepts in the prophecy of vv. 32-33. Mary’s response (question) relates to the apparent impossibility of her having a child: “How will it be so, seeing (that) I do not know a man?” (v. 34). Here the verb “know” preserves a Semitic idiom for sexual relations, and expresses the tradition of Mary’s virginity prior to bearing Jesus (also found in Matt 1:18 [above]). In verses 35-37 the Messenger gives a three-fold sign, explaining or confirming the truthfulness of the announcement:

    • Prophecy regarding the Divine source of Jesus’ conception (v. 35)
    • The miraculous conception by Elizabeth, who (being old/barren) similarly could not naturally bear a child (v. 36)
    • A declaration of the power of God to bring about anything he has uttered, i.e. through His Messenger (v. 37)

The reference to the Holy Spirit is in the prophecy of verse 35:

“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you—therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, (the) Son of God”

The first part of the verse presents two synonymous phrases in (poetic) parallel:

  • The holy Spirit—will come upon [e)pi] you
    The power of the Highest—will cast shade upon [e)pi] you

Despite an orthodox tendency to relate these two phrases with different members of the Trinity (“power” being associated with the Son), there can be little doubt that “holy Spirit” and “power of the Highest” are more or less synonymous expressions here. In Old Testament and Israelite tradition, the Spirit was not so much a distinct person as a manifestation of the presence and (life-giving) power of God (YHWH). This is important in light of how the concept and theme of the Holy Spirit is developed throughout Luke-Acts. The Infancy narratives preserve much of the Old Testament/Jewish background from which the new Faith (Christianity) would come forth—indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the important religious forms and patterns found in Old Testament tradition. The reference in Matt 1:18, 20 (“out of the holy Spirit”) simply indicates the divine source of Jesus’ conception, without saying anything about how this takes place. By contrast, in Luke’s account, the Angel provides vivid and colorful imagery—but how exactly should we understand these two verbs (e)pe/rxomai [“come upon”], e)piskia/zw [“cast shade upon”]) as they are used here?

e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”)—of the nine New Testament occurrences of this verb, seven are in Luke-Acts, most notably a parallel reference to the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in Acts 1:8. This prophecy by Jesus, similar and with a position in Acts comparable to the prophecy of Gabriel, will be discussed in an upcoming note. The verb can have the sense of something literally (physically) coming upon a person, but more commonly in the general sense of something happening (i.e. coming near) which will dramatically affect the person. It is used several times in the Old Testament in a sense similar to that of Acts 1:8 (cf. 1 Sam 11:7; Isa 32:15 LXX).

e)piskia/zw (“cast shade upon”)—this verb really only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (with two parallel references), including twice in Luke-Acts in a context that is especially relevant to its use here:

  • Luke 9:34 par—the cloud in the Transfiguration scene is said to “cast shade/shadow upon” the three disciples; this image, of course, alludes to the Old Testament theophany of YHWH at Sinai and in the Desert (cf. Exod 13:21ff; 19:9, 16). For the verb used of the divine Cloud in the LXX, cf. Exod 40:34f.
  • Acts 5:15—it is related that Peter’s shadow was thought (by the people) to bring healing to the sick when it “cast shade/shadow upon” them. It is not clear from the context of the narrative whether this genuinely took place, or reflects a popular belief associated with Peter.

These two occurrences inform its use in Lk 1:35; the basic meaning is two-fold, as a vivid expression for the manifestation to human beings of (a) the presence of God (i.e. the Cloud), and (b) the power of God. It is unwise to read anything further than this into the text. The result of this divine “overshadowing”, of course, is declared in the last portion of verse 35: “therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, the Son of God”. It is probably best to read the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) as a substantive in apposition to “Son of God”, both being predicate to the verb “will be called”; in other words, we have here two names or titles which (will) belong to Jesus:

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 2 (Luke 1-3)

This note will look at the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, as developed in the Gospel of Luke. There are three areas where we can see this:

    • In the Lukan Infancy narrative of chapters 1-2
    • In the structure of the Baptism narrative in chapter 3, and
    • Specific details in the Lukan Baptism narrative

The Infancy Narrative (Luke 1-2)

I have discussed the Lukan Infancy narrative in some detail in earlier notes and articles, most recently in the Advent/Christmas series “And You Shall Call His Name…” There is good reason to believe that the Infancy narratives in Luke and Matthew each, independently, represent a somewhat later development within the Gospel Tradition. By all accounts, the core Gospel (and Synoptic) narrative effectively begins with the ministry of John and the baptism of Jesus, as we see in Mark (and also the Fourth Gospel). In Luke, the central figures from the baptism scene—John and Jesus—are kept together in the Infancy narrative which precede it. There is a clear parallelism that runs through the first two chapters, focusing on John and Jesus in turn; for each there is:

    • An announcement of his coming birth by a heavenly Messenger (Gabriel), following a similar pattern, including a declaration of the child’s name and his future destiny/role in God’s plan of salvation for his people (1:8-23, 26-38)
    • The mother is not able at the time to bear a child (for different reasons), the conception/birth being the result of God’s miraculous action (1:7, 27 & 34)
    • The parent who receives the heavenly announcement (Zechariah, Mary) utters a song/hymn of praise to God (1:46-55, 67-79)
    • The mothers (Elizabeth, Mary) meet together in a central scene, in the same house (1:39-56); each utters an inspired hymn or declaration (vv. 42-45, 46ff)
    • The special circumstances surrounding the child’s birth become known to people in the surrounding area, who react with wonder (1:58, 65-66; 2:8-20)
    • The circumcision and naming of the child is narrated (1:59ff; 2:21)
    • The parents are both described/depicted as devout and observant of the Law (Torah), which includes fulfilling their religious duties/obligations at the Temple in Jerusalem (1:6, 8-10, 23, 59; 2:21-24ff, 39, 41-42)
    • An aged, devout pair (male and female) is associated with the child, in different ways—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna (1:5-6, etc; 2:25-38)
    • An aged, devout figure (Zechariah, Simeon) utters an oracle regarding the child’s future destiny (1:76-79; 2:29-35)
    • A summary notice of the child’s growth and development (1:80; 2:40 & 52)

More significantly, the relationship between John and Jesus, established in the Synoptic tradition at the baptism, is, in Luke, partially transferred to the Infancy narrative, where it is enhanced. Interestingly, this is done almost entirely in two places: (a) the Angelic annunciations, and (b) the oracles by Zechariah and Simeon.

(a) The Angelic Annunciation

The heavenly Messenger’s announcement to Zechariah (1:13-20) includes a declaration of the child John’s future destiny, in which it is said of him:

“and many of the sons of Yisrael he will turn (back) upon [i.e. to] the Lord their God, and he will go before [i.e. forward] in His sight, in (the) spirit and power of Eliyyah, to turn (the) hearts of fathers (back) upon [i.e. to] (their) offspring, and (the ones) unpersuaded (by the truth) in(to) the (way of) thinking of (the) right(eous)” (vv. 16-17)

This statement clearly draws upon Malachi 3:1ff, which, along with Isaiah 40:3, is the principal Scripture (and prophecy) associated with John the Baptist in the Gospel tradition. Keep in mind that the opening of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 1:2-3), introducing John and his ministry, combines Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3. It is likely that this combination is secondary to the primary Synoptic tradition, since the overall citation refers only to Isa 40:3 (“even as it has been written in Yesha’yah the Foreteller [i.e. Isaiah the Prophet]”, v. 2). Matthew and Luke only include the Isaiah reference, Mal 3:1 being applied to John elsewhere in Gospel, in the “Q” material (Matt 11:10 / Lk 7:27). If Luke was following Mark in the main Synoptic narrative, then he (along with Matthew) has omitted any reference to Mal 3:1 in the introduction to John’s ministry. For Luke, there would have been less need to include it there, since he already established the association in the Infancy narrative. The reference to “Elijah” and the thought expressed in Lk 1:16-17 stems largely from the interpretation found at the end of Malachi (4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24]). It is likely that this is a (secondary) explanation of the original oracle in 3:1ff, interpreting the Messenger of the passage in the light of certain traditions related to Elijah. Jewish tradition and eschatology generally followed the line of interpretation, which was picked up and utilized by early Christians as well.

The “Lord” (ku/rio$) of Mal 3:1 LXX, and here in Lk 1:16-17, is God the Father (YHWH, Yahweh); however, early Christian tradition, due to its use of ku/rio$ in reference to Jesus (as “Lord”), was able to apply the prophecy to the coming of Jesus. This relates to the second Annunciation scene, to Mary, regarding the conception and birth of Jesus (1:26-38). Here, in the parallel declaration of the child’s future destiny, it is said of him: “This (child) will be great, and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’…” (v. 32a). This passage is rich in Messianic associations and allusions, but the two phrases quoted here are especially important in terms of the relationship between John and Jesus:

    • “This (one) will be great” (ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$), which should be compared with what is said of John:
      “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” (v. 15)
      The unqualified use of me/ga$ for Jesus almost certainly indicates a superior position, and, indeed, a special divine status.
    • “He will be called Son of the Highest”, which is similar with what is prophecied of John in the song of Zechariah (cf. below):
      “You will be called Prophet of the Highest”

This implicit relationship is expressed in the following scene, of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (1:39-56). The babe John, in the womb, is said to have “jumped” at the sound of Mary’s greeting (vv. 41, 44). The idea, expressed dramatically (and most creatively) in the narrative, is that John is, in a sense, recognizing Jesus. Elizabeth, too, in what is said to be an inspired utterance (v. 41b), calls Mary “the mother of my Lord [ku/rio$]” (v. 43). This plays on the same dual-meaning of ku/rio$ for early Christians (cf. above) and echoes the Mal 3:1 reference as applied to John.

(b) The Oracles

The relationship of John to Jesus is central to the oracle in the song of Zechariah (1:67-79, vv. 76-79), where the prophecies of Isa 40:3 and Mal 3:1 are implicit:

“And also (for) you, my little child—you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest, for you will travel before in the sight of the Lord to make ready his ways…” (v. 76)

If the “Lord” (ku/rio$) in 1:16-17 was YHWH, here it should be understood primarily in reference to Jesus. That is certainly how the Gospel writer would have understood it, in light of early Christian tradition and interpretation of Isa 40:3/Mal 3:1. This relationship is further clarified through the language and imagery expressed in vv. 77-79, with the emphasis on salvation—”to give knowledge of salvation to his people…” (v. 77). This, too, is the emphasis in the song of Simeon in 2:29-32, which, like the song of Zechariah, is full of Messianic allusions, especially in its use of key passages from Isaiah (on this, cf. my earlier notes on the song). The Infancy narrative rather clearly expresses the idea which would become standard among early Christians—that Jesus was the Anointed One (Messiah) of God, in the sense of being the chosen Davidic ruler and “Son of God”, and that John was preparing the way for him (according to Isa 40:3 / Mal 3:1ff).

John and Jesus: A Unique detail

The main factual/historical detail presented in the narrative, unique to the Gospel of Luke, is that John and Jesus were apparently related—as cousins, presumably, of some degree. This can be inferred from 1:36 and use of the word suggenh/$—one who has “come to be [born] together with” another, often in the sense of family relations; it also fits the setting of the visitation scene which follows. Critical scholars are naturally skeptical of this datum, since it not attested (or even suggested) anywhere else in the New Testament. Be that as it may, it is clearly of significance for Luke, since it establishes a special relationship between John and Jesus which gives added meaning to the baptism scene which follows in chapter 3.

The Baptism Narrative (Luke 3)

Given the central importance of the theme in the Infancy Narrative—the relationship between John and Jesus—does not feature as prominently in the Baptism narrative itself. We can see something of the approach taken by the Gospel writer, in terms of adapting and developing the traditional material, by examining the structure of the narrative. Note the following outline:

    1. John’s ministry (vv. 1-20)
    2. The Baptism of Jesus (vv. 21-22)
    3. The Genealogy of Jesus—his (true) identity as Son of God (vv. 23-38)

It is important to notice how John’s ministry is kept separate from Jesus’ baptism, which the Gospel writer does through a careful reworking and (subtle) arrangement of material. In this regard, the Lukan portrait is quite distinct from the other Gospels. Here is an outline of verses 1-20, which demonstrates how it is, in many ways, an enclosed section:

  • Narrative (historical) introduction—the current rulers (Herods, etc) (vv. 1-2)
    • The ministry of John [Isaiah 40:3-5] (vv. 3-6)
      • Preaching for repentance: eschatological emphasis—the Judgment (vv. 7-9)
      • The “fruits of repentance”: ethical emphasis (vv. 10-14)
    • The ministry of John: Messianic emphasis—the Judgment (vv. 15-17)
  • Narrative summary—the current ruler (Herod) (vv. 18-20)

In terms of source criticism, the Lukan narrative here is complex:

(a) The narrative summaries in vv. 1-2, 18-20 are a Lukan refashioning of traditional (and Synoptic) material
(b) Vv. 3-6, 7-9, and 10-14 can be marked Synoptic [Mark], “Q”, and “L” material, respectively
(c) Vv. 15-17 would seem to combine Synoptic [Mark], “Q”, and “L” (?)

The strands of tradition, such as the author has inherited them, have been blended together with consummate (literary) skill to create a unified whole. It begins with a notice on the start of John’s ministry, and ends with a notice of his imprisonment. This effectively ‘removes’ John from the baptism scene. Of course, the author understood the historical tradition, that John baptized Jesus, but he does not emphasize this. For him, the baptism tradition serves a different purpose, which is two-fold, establishing two key themes regarding Jesus’ identity, which will carry on through the Gospel:

    1. The descent (i.e. anointing) of the Spirit—Jesus as the Chosen/Anointed of God
    2. Jesus as the Son of God

The latter theme is developed, most creatively, through the inclusion of the genealogy of Jesus in vv. 23ff. These points will be discussed further in the next main section of our study (on Jesus as the Anointed One).

Details in the Baptism Narrative

These have been mentioned, to some extent, above. However, there are several other special points which should be noted:

    • Lk 3:2b, a Lukan addition to the traditional (Synoptic) narrative, is a clear echo of the Infancy narrative and the (prophetic) role of John expressed there.
    • Luke is the one Gospel writer who extends the citation of Isaiah 40:3 to include vv. 4-5 (3:5-6). This is almost certainly an intentional adaptation so as to introduce the motif that “all flesh” will see “the salvation of God”, the reading of the Greek (LXX) version of v. 5. This connects back to the theme of salvation in the Song of Zechariah (1:77ff) and the Song of Simeon (cf. above), and, in turn, touches on John’s role (as the Messenger of Mal 3:1ff) in relation to Jesus (the Messiah and “Lord”).
    • Lk 3:15 is another Lukan addition, but one which almost certainly reflects early tradition (cf. Jn 1:19ff). It will be dealt with more fully in upcoming notes, but it is important to see how the author has included it ahead of the Baptist’s sayings in vv. 16-17, joining it with those well-established traditions. In Luke’s version, the sayings are in response to questions that John might be the Anointed One (Messiah). Much the same occurs in the Fourth Gospel (to be discussed in the next note).
    • In 3:16a the phrase o)pi/sw mou (“in back of, behind me”) has been omitted or is otherwise not included (cp. Mk 1:7, etc). It is possible that the expression was intentionally left out because of the implication that Jesus was a follower (disciple) of John, such as many commentators believe to be the case. The version in Acts 13:25, which may stem from a separate tradition, uses meta/ instead of o)pi/sw, and is more readily understood in a temporal/chronological sense (i.e. “after, later [than]”).
    • The Lukan addition in 3:18 emphasizes again John as one who speaks the word (v. 2b), and who proclaims the “good message”. This provides another allusion to the Infancy narrative (1:16ff, 68-69ff, 77; 2:10f).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 1 (Lk 3:2, 10-14 etc)

Luke 3:2, 10-14, etc

Having discussed the key association with Isaiah 40:3 in the past two notes, we now turn to examine how the ministry of John the Baptist was developed in the Gospels of Luke and John. This will be studied in more detail when we come to the section dealing with the relationship between John and Jesus, which, in the Gospel of Luke, was established primarily in the Infancy narrative of chapters 1-2. Here also we find elements describing John’s (future) ministry role throughout:

    • The Angelic announcement to Zechariah (Lk 1:8-22)
      —John’s ascetic character (i.e. as a Nazirite), 1:15b
      —Proclamation leading people to repentance, 1:16-17
    • Birth and circumcision (1:57-66)
      —The reaction to John by the people in the surrounding region, 1:58, 65-66
    • Song of Zechariah (1:67-79)
      —Identification with the Isaiah 40:3 reference, 1:76
      —ministry leading people to forgiveness of sin, 1:77
    • Summary notice (1:80)
      —John’s time in the wilderness before appearing to the people

The notice in 1:80 is picked up again by the Gospel writer at 3:1-2. This uniquely Lukan historical/chronological setting serves as the narrative introduction to the episode, leading into the important statement in verse 2b: “the word of God came to John…in the wilderness”. The connection with the desert, as formulated here, may be an echo of Hosea 2:14. In any event, the emphasis is clearly on the specific prophetic character of John’s ministry—which begins at just this point. Note how three strands of tradition appear in sequence here in the Gospel of Luke:

    • The Synoptic narrative in vv. 3-6 (par Mk 1:3-6)
    • followed by “Q”—vv. 7-9
    • and the Lukan (“L”) material—vv. 10-14.

In verses 10-14, John is questioned by three different groups (cf. the episode in Jn 1:19-27):

    • The crowd/throng of people generally (vv. 10-11)
    • Toll-collectors (vv. 12-13)
    • Soldiers (v. 14)

To each group, John gives practical, ethical instruction regarding daily life and conduct. The teaching effectively illustrates the “good fruit… leading to repentance” mentioned in verses 8a, 9. It emphasizes a life of humility, modesty, and fair behavior, aimed especially at those with greater means or influence, directing them to show care and concern for those less fortunate. In this regard, the teaching has a good deal in common with the ethical instruction of Jesus, as seen, for example, in the parables or in the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount. However, at least as important, is the place vv. 10-14 hold in the overall structure of the narrative:

  • Narrative (historical) introduction—the current rulers (Herods, etc) (vv. 1-2)
    • The ministry of John [Isaiah 40:3-5] (vv. 3-6)
      —Preaching for repentance: eschatological emphasis—the Judgment (vv. 7-9)
      —The “fruits of repentance”: ethical emphasis (vv. 10-14)
    • The ministry of John: Messianic emphasis—the Judgment (vv. 15-17)
  • Narrative summary—the current ruler (Herod) (vv. 18-20)

There is an inclusive symmetry to this section, up to verse 20, which creates a separation from the actual baptism of Jesus in vv. 21-22. This separation is enhanced by the way that the Synoptic tradition has been reworked in vv. 18-20.

John’s arrest was mentioned in Mk 1:14 par, after the baptism of Jesus, and marking the beginning of the latter’s ministry. Luke has expanded this, bringing in detail related to the episode narrated in Mk 6:14-29 par—an episode which Luke does not include. He also sets this notice prior to the baptism. The result is that, conceptually, John is “closed up” in prison and is not mentioned in the baptism scene which follows. Luke, of course, was fully aware of the historical tradition regarding John’s role (i.e. that he baptized Jesus), but the author wishes to put the attention entirely on Jesus in this scene (cf. Jn 3:30).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 8: The Son of David

In Parts 6 and 7 of this series, I explored the background of the Messianic figure-type of King/Ruler from the line of David, examining the belief from the standpoint of Jewish writings in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D., as well as the New Testament. In this part, I will be looking in more detail at the specific identification of Jesus as an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This article will be divided into three areas of study:

    • The Gospel tradition—the Passion narratives and use of the expression “Son of David”
    • The association with David in early Christian Tradition (elsewhere in the New Testament)
    • The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

The Gospel Tradition

For a survey and initial examination of the relevant and essential references, see the previous article. Here I will focus on: (1) The expression “Son of David”, (2) The question regarding the Messiah and the Son of David in Mark 12:35-37 par, and (3) The scene of the Triumphal Entry.

“Son of David”

Prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem (according to the Synoptic narrative), and apart from the Infancy narratives and genealogy of Jesus (cf. below), the expression “Son of David” occurs 9 times—six of which are from the single Synoptic episode of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar on the way from Jericho (Mark 10:46-52, par Lk 18:35-43; Matt 20:29-34). In Mark’s account, this beggar (identified by name as Bartimaios, “Son of Timay” [Matthew refers to two beggars]), when he hears that Jesus is passing by, cries out: “Yeshua, (you) Son of David, show mercy (to) me!” (Mk 10:47, repeated in v. 48). The double-declaration, emphasizing the title “Son of David”, is more than just an historical circumstance; it reflects an important Gospel identification of Jesus, which will appear again in the Triumphal Entry scene and on through the Passion narrative. At the historical level, the beggar may simply have used the expression as an honorific title in addressing Jesus and does not necessarily indicate any particular Messianic belief (cf. verse 51 where he addresses Jesus as Rabbouni [on this title, cf. Part 4]).

Matthew records a similar (doublet) episode in Matt 9:27-31, where again two beggars cry out “show mercy to us, Son of David!” (v. 27); and similarly in Matthew’s version of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22ff par). There thus appears, at least in Matthew’s Gospel, to be a connection between Jesus’ healing miracles and the address as “Son of David”. This is confirmed by the introductory narrative in Matt 12:22-23, where Jesus is said to have healed a demon-afflicted man who was blind (and mute); the reaction by the crowd is narrated as follows (v. 23):

“And all the throngs (of people) stood out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] and said, ‘This (man) is not the Son of David(, is he)?'”

The implication is that Jesus’ miracles lead the people to think that he might be the “Son of David”, almost certainly a reference to the Messianic figure of the Ruler (from the line of David) who is expected to appear at the end-time. Interestingly, however, there is little evidence, in Jewish writings of the period, for such an Anointed Ruler as a worker of (healing) miracles. As demonstrated previously (cf. Parts 6 and 7), the role of the Davidic Messiah was expressed in terms of the Scriptural motifs from Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; Psalm 2; Isa 11:1-4, etc—he who will judge and subdue/destroy the wicked nations and establish a Kingdom of peace and security for the people of God. Miracles, on the other hand, were more directly associated with the Prophet-figures of Elijah and Moses, and, especially, with the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (cf. Parts 2 & 3)—Jesus expressly identifies himself with this latter Messianic figure-type in Luke 4:18-20ff and 7:18-23 par. There is a loose parallel to Matt 12:23 in John 7:40-43, where people debate whether Jesus might be “the Prophet” or “the Anointed One”. In verse 42, some in the crowd declare: “Does not the Writing [i.e. Scripture] say that the Anointed (One) comes out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town of David?” (for a list of the relevant Scriptures in this regard, cf. in Part 6). In Jn 7:41-42, the crowd is reacting to Jesus’ words (teaching), rather than his miracles.

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)”—here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the previous two articles). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note).

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13). This particular Messianic figure will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article in this series.

The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11 / Matt 21:1-11 / Luke 19:28-40ff / John 12:12-19)

In the episode of Jesus’ (“Triumphal”) Entry into Jerusalem, recorded in all four Gospels—the Synoptic tradition and John—there are four distinctive Messianic elements to the narrative, the last three of which specifically relate to the idea of an Anointed (Davidic) King:

  • Malachi 3:1ff—the Messenger of the Lord coming to Jerusalem (and the Temple) at the time of Judgment (the Day of YHWH). I have argued that originally, this referred to a Divine/Heavenly being (Messenger of YHWH) who would appear as the personal representative (or embodiment) of YHWH himself. Eventually in the Gospels, by way of Mal 4:5-6 and subsequent Jewish tradition, the “Messenger” was interpreted as John the Baptist (“Elijah”) who prepares the way for the Lord (Jesus) to come into Jerusalem (and the Temple). In the Synoptic narrative, the disciples take over this role of “preparing the way” for Jesus (Mark 11:1-6 par, cf. also Lk 9:52; 10:1).
  • Zechariah 9:9ff—a future/eschatological King who will come to Jerusalem and establish a new reign of peace for Israel (Ephraim/Judah). The imagery in the Triumphal entry scene is a clear allusion to this passage, cited explicitly in Matt 21:4-7 and John 12:14-15. If we accept the historicity of Mark 11:2-6 par, then there is a strong likelihood that Jesus intentionally identified himself with the King of Zech 9:9-16. In any event, early Christians certainly made the connection.
  • The use of Psalm 118:26—In all four versions, the crowd recites Ps 118:26a: “Blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Mk 11:9/Matt 21:9/Lk 19:38/Jn 12:13). The original context and background of the Psalm had to do with the return of the (victorious) king to Jerusalem following battle (vv. 10ff), but early on it was used in a ritual/festal setting (vv. 26-27), and was recited as one of the ‘Hallel’ Psalms on the great feasts such as Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Jesus identified himself as the “one coming” in Luke 13:35 (par Matt 23:39), and there is very likely also a reference to this in Lk 19:41-44 (immediately following the Entry), blending, it would seem, the ancient traditions underlying Mal 3:1 and Psalm 118:26. Cf. also the use of Psalm 118:22f in Mark 12:10-11 par and elsewhere in early Christian tradition (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; Eph 2:20).
  • The Exclamation of the crowds—In addition to the use of Psalm 118:26, in all four Gospels, the crowds, in greeting Jesus, variously include references to David, King, or Kingdom:
    • Mark 11:10: “…blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    • Matt 21:9: “Hosanna to the to the son of David…!”
    • Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the (One) coming, the King…[or, the coming King]”
    • John 12:13 “…[and] the King of Israel!”

We might also note the detail, unique to John’s account, of the use of palm branches by the crowds (Jn 12:13a), which could have a royal connotation (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; Testament of Naphtali 5:4). For a similar example of the crowds greeting an approaching sovereign, see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7.100-103.

Early Christian Tradition (in the New Testament)

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

  • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
  • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
  • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David:

    • Romans 1:3—”…about His Son, the (one) coming to be out of the seed of David according to (the) flesh”
    • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
    • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7.

While the Anointed Ruler in Messianic expectation was thought to be a fulfillment of the covenant with David, and a continuation/restoration of that line, it is not always clear that this was understood in a concrete, biological sense. However, many early Christians certainly believed that Jesus was born from the line of David, and this is reflected in Romans 1:3. It was a central aspect of the Infancy narratives in the Gospels, as well as the associated genealogies of Jesus; and it is these passages which we will look at next.

The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

I am treating these famous portions of the Gospels (of Matthew and Luke) separately, since they seem to reflect a somewhat later, and more developed, Christological understanding than that found elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition. This does not mean that the events recorded are not historical or factual, but rather that they appear to have been carefully shaped by a layer of interpretation within the composition of the narrative. To judge from the book of Acts and the NT letters, Jesus’ birth appears to have played little or no role in early Christian preaching and teaching; indeed, outside of the Infancy narratives, it is scarcely mentioned at all in the New Testament. Even the belief in Jesus as a descendant of David (cf. above) does not play an especially prominent role in early Christian tradition. The matter is rather different in the Infancy narratives—Jesus’ birth, and his identification as the Anointed Ruler (from the line of David), are set within a dense matrix of Old Testament Scriptural parallels and allusions (on this, cf. the Christmas season series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus“). In just four relatively short chapters, we find dozens of references, the most relevant of which are outlined here:

  • Both Infancy narratives are connected with (separate) genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38), which show him to be a descendant of David (Matt 1:6, 17; Lk 3:31-32). Matthew begins his genealogy (and the Gospel)  with the title: “The paper-roll [i.e. book] of the coming-to-be [ge/nesi$] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1).
  • There are additional references to Joseph (Jesus’ earthly, legal father) as “son of David” (in the Angel’s address to him, Matt 1:20), as being from the “house of David” (Lk 1:27) and from the “house and paternal descent of David” (Lk 2:4). Some traditional-conservative commentators, as a way of harmonizing the apparent (and rather blatant) discrepancies between the genealogies in Matthew of Luke, have claimed that they actually reflect the lines of Joseph and Mary, respectively. This is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23). However, the belief that Mary was from the line of David, and that Jesus was thus a true biological descendant of David, came to be relatively widespread in the early Church; Paul himself may have held this view (cp. Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4).
  • Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, attested by separate (and independent) lines of tradition, is recorded in Matthew 2:1ff and Lk 2:1-20 (cf. also John 7:41-42). Bethlehem is specifically called “the city of David” in Luke 2:4-11, and connected with the (Messianic) prophecy of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5ff (and cf. Jn 7:42).
  • The expectation of a future/coming Davidic Ruler (“King of the Jews”) called “the Anointed (One)” is clearly attested in Matthew 2:1-8, with the citation (and Messianic interpretation) of Micah 5:2.
  • The Angelic announcement in Luke 2:10-12 links David (“the city of David”) with “(the) Anointed (One)” and “(the) Lord”, reinforcing the royal and Messianic implications of Jesus’ birth. For the parallel between the “good news” of Jesus’ birth and the birth of Augustus in the Roman world (contemporary with Jesus), cf. my earlier Christmas season note.
  • The shepherd motif in Lk 2:8ff etc, may contain an allusion to passages such as Micah 4:8; 5:4 (cf. Matt 2:6) and Ezekiel 34:11ff (vv. 23-24)—passages both connected to David and influential on Messianic thought.
  • In the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), the first strophe (Lk 1:68-69) reads:
    “He has come (to) look upon and make (a) loosing (from bondage) for his people,
    and he raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his child”
    This latter expression and image is derived from Scriptures such as 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:2; 132:17 and Ezekiel 29:21.
  • There are a number of other Scripture references or allusions in the Lukan hymns which should be noted—
    1 Sam 2:1-2; Psalm 35:9 (Lk 1:46-47)
    Psalm 89:10 (Lk 1:51-52)
    2 Sam 22:51 (Lk 1:55)
    1 Kings 1:48 (Lk 1:68a)
    Psalm 18:17 (Lk 1:71, 74)
    Psalm 89:3 (Lk 1:72-73)
    1 Kings 9:4-5 (Lk 1:74-75)
    {Num 24:17} (Lk 1:78)
    [On these and other references, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library (ABRL 1977, 1993), pp. 358-60, 386-9, 456-9]

Most significant of all is the Angelic annunciation to Mary in Luke 1:30-37, especially the pronouncement or prophecy in vv. 32-33:

“This one [i.e. Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’, and the Lord God will give to him the seat (of power) [i.e. throne] of David his father, and he will be king upon the house of Jacob into the Age, and there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom

(and, also in v. 35b:)

“…therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) son of God

There is no clearer instance in all the New Testament of Jesus being identified as the coming/future Ruler from the line of David. As I have noted on several occasions, there is a remarkably close parallel, in the combination of these titles and expressions, in the Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran (see italicized phrases above):

    • “he will be great over the earth” [column i, line 7]
    • “he will be called son of God” [column ii, line 1a]
    • “and they will call him son of the Most High” [column ii, line 1b]
    • “his kingdom will be an eternal kingdom” [column ii, line 5]
    • “his rule will be an eternal rule” [column ii, line 9]

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 3:22

Luke 3:22

The John/Jesus parallel of the Lukan Infancy narrative continues on into the Gospel proper—the account of Jesus’ baptism as narrated in the wider Synoptic tradition (Mark 1:2-11 par). The main difference in Luke’s account is that he records the beginning and end of John’s ministry at the same point (cf. the detail in Lk 3:18-20). This effectively clears the way for the introduction of Jesus’ ministry in verse 23. The Lukan narrative describes the baptism of Jesus as part of the process—the people being baptized—but the author also sets Jesus apart from the crowd through a simple syntactical variation. Verses 21-22 utilize a construction e)geneto de/ (“and it came to be [that]”) + infinitive—which is almost impossible to translate literally in English. The action is described with a succession of infinitives:

    • all the people being dunked [i.e. baptized]
    • the heavens opening up
    • the holy Spirit stepping down upon him {Jesus}
    • a voice out of heaven coming to be

John the Baptist is a transitional figure, between the Old Covenant and the New, associated specifically with the Prophets (1:16-17, 76ff; 3:4-6; 7:26-28)—the completion of the Age of the Law and the Prophets (16:16 par). As discussed at numerous points in the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus was seen as fulfilling the types and forms of the Old Covenant—and this process is completed with the baptism. In Matthew’s account, this expressed in terms of fulfilling the righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God (“so it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness”, Matt 3:15). In Luke’s version of the baptism scene, Jesus is among the crowd coming to be baptized, but is still set apart:

“And it came to be, among all the people being dunked, and (with) Yeshua being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and the heaven opening up and the holy Spirit stepping down upon him in bodily appearance as a dove, and a voice coming to be (from) out of heaven, (this voice said)…”

There is a definite Messianic significance to the baptism scene in Luke-Acts, indicated by several points:

  • The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus (4:18 [Isa 61:1f], cf. verse 1, 14)
  • The declaration of Jesus as God’s Son, especially in light of Psalm 2:7 (cf. below)
  • The parallel declaration in the Transfiguration scene
  • The gospel statement in Acts 10:37-38

While these are common to the Synoptic tradition, several of the details are given greater emphasis in the Lukan account.

The Voice from Heaven

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions: “You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”. There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (cf. below). However, in Codex Bezae [D], along with several Old Latin MSS and writings of the Church Fathers, the voice in Lk 3:22 actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). The title “Beloved” (a)gaphto/$) in the Old Testament (LXX) tradition is associated especially with the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:2, 12; for a similar context, cf. Amos 8:10; Zech 12:10). For more on the text-critical issue in 3:22, cf. the daily note for January 13.

The Transfiguration

The Messianic significance of the corresponding scene at the Transfiguration is due, in large part, to its position in the Synoptic narrative, following Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Anointed One (9:20) and Jesus’ first prediction of his coming death and resurrection (9:21-22). We also have the identification of Jesus with the Prophet figure-types of Moses and Elijah. In many MSS, the heavenly voice in 9:35 matches that of the majority text of 3:22; however, the best reading shows a slight difference:

“You are my Son, the One Gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen One]; I have good thought/consideration in you”

The title e)klelegme/no$, parallel to a)gaphto/$ in 3:22, more properly aligns the declaration with the (Messianic) Servant song of Isa 42:1ff. A related title e)klekto/$ is used in 23:35, in close connection with xristo/$ (“Anointed One”); cf. also the variant reading in Jn 1:34, where it is used with the title “Son of God”.

Son of God

Drawing upon the earlier discussion of Jesus’ saying in Lk 2:49 (cf. the previous note), we may outline three ways of understanding Jesus as God’s Son in 3:22:

  • Identification with the people of Israel as God’s “Son” (Exod 4:22-23; Hos 11:1, etc). Jesus’ participation with the people in baptism may be intended to bring out such an association—cp. Lk 1:77 with Matt 1:21 (2:13-15ff).
  • The Messiah (the Davidic Ruler) as God’s Son (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12-16, etc)
  • Sonship in terms of exalted, heavenly position and status. In early Christian tradition, the use of Messianic Psalm passages such as Ps 2:7; 110:1 were applied to Jesus in the context of his resurrection and exaltation (to the right hand of God). Eventually, this was also understood in terms of Jesus’ pre-existent deity.

The parallel declaration in 9:35 suggests that the second option is the one primarily in view. According to Gospel tradition (cf. Acts 10:37-38), it was at the baptism that Jesus was (first) identified as the “Anointed One”, though the title was applied directly only with Peter’s confession (9:20).

The Geneaology in 3:23ff

The Lukan situation is complicated by the peculiar insertion of Jesus’ genealogy at 3:23, directly following the baptism account. Essentially, it serves to introduce Jesus at the time of the beginning of his (public) ministry, but it plays on the same idea of sonship addressed in 2:49. There, Joseph was referred to as Jesus’ parent (vv. 41, 48a) or father (v. 48b), establishing the contrast with the saying of v. 49, where Jesus identifies God as his Father. In a similar way, the genealogy of 3:23 is introduced:

“And Yeshua {Jesus} (him)self, beginning (his ministry), was as though (about) thirty years (old), being the son, as it was thought/considered, of Yoseph…”

The genealogy—his legal ancestry through Joseph—continues through verse 38, all the way back to the first human being (cf. the Genesis creation account):

“…the (son) of Enosh, the (son) of Seth, the (son) of Adam, the (son) of God”

The line is thus traced back to God himself, God the Father (Yahweh/El). This turns out to be a very clever way for the author to restate the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God”. It should be noted that the word “son” (ui(o/$) is only implied, and is not actually present throughout the genealogy of vv. 24-38. Nevertheless, the basic concept is certainly there—Jesus’ true genealogy goes back to God. A literal treatment of vv. 23-38 would simply indicate Jesus’ common human heritage—of the people Israel, stretching back through their ancestors to the Creation. But the author’s actual emphasis is on the point of contrast—Jesus was only the son of Joseph in a conventional (and legal) sense; his true sonship is divine. The framework of the Gospel narrative means that the author (trad. Luke) did not really bring out this aspect of Jesus’ sonship until after the resurrection and exaltation. Yet it is certainly foreshadowed earlier in the Infancy narrative (1:32-35; 2:41-50) and here at the baptism.

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.

Birth of the Son of God: Luke 2:49

Traditionally the Sunday after Epiphany commemorates the Holy Family—Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph—as marked by the last scenes of the Lukan Infancy Narrative, Luke 2:39-40, 41-50, 51-52. The scene in Lk 2:41-50 is especially significant, narrating the family’s journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (vv. 41-42), and Jesus’ decision to stay behind in Jerusalem (without his parents’ knowledge, v. 43). On the way back, Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus is missing (vv. 44-45) and eventually return to Jerusalem to find Jesus sitting in the Temple precincts (as a devout pupil) with the teachers of the Law (vv. 46-47). The popular image of the boy Jesus teaching in the Temple (often depicted in Christian art), while understandable as a pious sentiment, is unwarranted and reads or assumes much into the text that is not there. I have discussed this episode, including the question of his parents (v. 48), with Jesus’ famous response (v. 49), in a prior article. Today I will focus in detail on the phrase e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou.

Luke 2:49

“…did you not see [i.e. know] that it is necessary for me to be e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou?” (v. 49)

As I have mentioned previously, the words in Greek here from Jesus’ response in v. 49 have customarily been rendered “in my Father’s house [i.e. the Temple]”. While this is tolerable as a translation in itself, it is really not accurate, and is actually rather misleading, for Jesus is not talking about the Temple building per se. If the Temple were meant specifically, Jesus (or the author rendering/recording the words) could easily have used oi@ko$ (“house”), which is regularly used for the Temple (i.e. house of God). The expression here literally reads “in the (thing)s of my Father”, with the preposition e)n (“in”) either in the sense of “involved in” or, more likely, “among”—”did you not know that it is necessary for me to be among the (thing)s of my Father?” Let us look at the immediate context to see how this is best understood.

  • Mary and Joseph look for Jesus among their relatives and others known to them—e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
    At the historical level, the journey to and from Jerusalem would have been made by caravan train, with family, friends and fellow travelers (with their belongings) moving together in a group, largely for reasons of safety and protection.
  • Not finding him, they turn back to Jerusalem
    —searching up (and down) [a)nazhtou=nte$] for him
    —and after three days
  • They found him in the Temple
  • Mary and Joseph question Jesus, with his reply to them—e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)

Note the juxtaposition:

  • Not finding Jesus among the relatives and acquaintances [e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$]
  • They find Jesus in the Temple | among the teachers [e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn]

Moreover, there is a chain of phrases, marked the preposition e)n (“in, among”) + the dative, indicating the place where Jesus is (or is supposed to be):

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (“among the relatives and the [one]s known [i.e. acquaintances]”)
  • e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn (“in the sacred place [i.e. Temple]” | “in the middle of the teachers of [the] Law”)
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (“in/among the [thing]s of my Father”)

The twin phrases of v. 46e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn—give us a sense of what the expression in v. 49 means: (1) the sacred place (the Temple precincts), and (2) study of [and devotion to] God’s Law (the Torah). However, when one compares the expression of v. 49 (e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou) with the phrase in v. 44 (e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin…), this, in  turn, sheds light on Jesus’ response to his parents—”th(eir) relatives [i.e. in the caravan]” | “the things/ones of my Father”. This parallel contrasts Jesus’ earthly/familial relations with his (heavenly) Father:

    • “your father”—in Mary’s question to Jesus (v. 48)
    • “my Father”—in Jesus’ reply (v. 49)

The closing words of Jesus’ reply are also significant: dei= ei)nai/ me “it is necessary for me to be”—i.e. “it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father”, with e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou set first in emphatic position within the clause. The particle dei= (“[it is] necessary”) is used frequently in Luke-Acts, including a number key statements by Jesus regarding his Divinely-appointed mission (Lk 4:43; 9:22, etc).

There are of course many references throughout the New Testament to Jesus as the Son (of God) and his relation to the Father; however, this theme holds a special place in the Gospel of John.

Jesus the Son and God the Father in the Gospel of John

There are dozens of instances in the Gospel of John where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” and/or his unique relationship with God “the Father”—so many, in fact, that it is not possible (or useful) to list them all here. A fair percentage of them can be grouped into several related categories:

The basic image is of a dutiful child who says and does what he hear/sees the father saying and doing. This involves more than parental instruction and filial obedience. In most families, children—especially the eldest/only son—would typically take up the father’s trade; this meant the role of an apprentice, learning all the ins and outs of particular occupation or craft in detail, developing skill and expertise in the work. That Joseph was a carpenter is well-established in Gospel tradition, though it is not known for certain whether, or to what extent, Jesus followed in this trade. In any event, Jesus uses this imagery to describe his relationship with God, the heavenly Father—he does the Father’s work, which he was sent to do, as he learned it from the Father. This takes on deeper theological (and Christological) significance at several key points in the Gospel—most notably in the great prayer that concludes the discourses of John 13-17:

  • John 17:1-5 (echoing the earlier 13:31-32)—the Son shares in the glory of the Father
    • indicating Divine pre-existence (v. 5)
  • John 17:18ff—the Son is sent by the Father into the world
    • indicating Jesus’ incarnation and (human) birth (cf. Jn 1:14; 18:37)
  • John 17:20-23ff—a reciprocal relationship is established with believers (as sons of God) (cf. the key verse 11)
    • union/unity with the Father (cf. Jn 14:20)
    • binding unity is established through love (vv. 23-26)

There are three noteworthy passages in the subsequent death and resurrection scenes in the Gospel:

  • John 19:25b-27—Jesus’ address (on the cross) to Mary “his mother” in which he relinquishes the familial ties of his earthly existence (cf. above)
  • John 20:17—his words to Mary Magdalene, referring to his ascension/return to the Father (cf. Jn 13:33, 36; 14:2-4ff, 12, 28; 16:15ff, 16-17ff, 28; 17:11, 13)
  • John 20:21—Jesus sent by the Father | sends the disciples
    Here the specific context is two-fold:
    • The disciples’ receiving the Holy Spirit
    • Their mission to proclaim the Word of God (implied), cf. 17:20

With regard to the last reference, these are two elements specifically connected with the birth of believers as sons/children of GodJohn 1:12-13; 3:3-8, cf. vv. 17-21.

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.