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)

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