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.

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