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.