December 27: Psalm 89:27-28

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:27-28 [26-27]
Verse 27 [26]

“He shall call to me: ‘My Father you (are),
my Mighty (One) and (the) Rock of my salvation!'”

In this short unit of vv. 27-28, YHWH is still the speaker, continuing the prophetic Discourse of vv. 20-26. It is possible to read v. 27 as part of vv. 20-26, and v. 28 with the following vv. 29ff. However, I have chosen to follow the structure outlined by Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 400, 407, 410f), who emphasizes these verses as containing (and epitomizing) a “two-sided declaration of covenant”, between YHWH and the king (David). The emphatic pronouns in each verse—aWh (“he”) and yn]a* (“I”)—support this structural approach. Each party to the covenant makes an affirmation of the binding relationship, using the terminology of a father-son paradigm. The king declares of YHWH that “you (are) my father”, while YHWH, in turn, declares that the king is his “firstborn” son (v. 28).

The importance of this father-son bond makes the metric division of the verse as a 4+3 couplet preferable, as it highlights the declaration of this bond in the first line. In the second line, the king expounds on the covenantal relationship, by making a further (dual) declaration—calling YHWH his “Mighty (One)” (i.e., God) and “Rock” (rWx) of salvation. The familiar Rock-motif emphasizes YHWH as a source of protection for the king, echoing a theme from vv. 18-19 and earlier in the current division (vv. 20-24). It also builds upon the key theme of God’s firmness—i.e., a rock as a firm foundation, providing strong support for the kingship of the Davidic ruler. The inclusion of the noun hu*Wvy+ (“salvation”) implies that YHWH will not only protect the king, but will also bring him victory over his enemies (vv. 11b, 23-24ff).

Verse 28 [27]

“And (as for) me, I will give him (to be my) firstborn,
(the) highest of (all) kings of (the) earth!”

As noted above, the first line of v. 28 parallels the first line of v. 27, with YHWH’s declaration of the king as His firstborn (son), matching the king’s declaration of YHWH as his father. While the idea of the Israelite king as God’s “son” (in a symbolic sense) is natural, in light of ancient Near Eastern religious and cultural tradition, it is somewhat rare in the Old Testament (2 Sam 7:14 par; Psalm 2:7; Isa 9:5-6 [6-7]). Much rarer still is the specific designation of the king as God’s “firstborn” (rokB=). In at least one passage (Jer 31:9), Israel (also referred to as “Ephraim”) is called God’s ‘firstborn’, but nowhere else is this said of the king, apart from v. 28 here. The closest parallel is in Zech 12:10, where it is said that the people of Jerusalem will mourn, like a parent grieving over a firstborn son; this prophecy is given in the context of a reference to the “house of David”.

The idea of the Davidic ruler as God’s firstborn represents, in many ways, a natural extension and enhancement of the core concept of the king as God’s son. In particular, David could be seen as the first Israelite/Judean ruler who was specially chosen by God, to act as His faithful and loyal servant. The support and strength of YHWH, given to the king by the covenant-bond, along with his special status as “firstborn son”, enables him to rise to a position higher than all other earthly kings.

The comparative adjective /oyl=u# (“high[er]”), often used as a superlative (“highest”), is frequently utilized as a name/title of God (“Highest [One], Most High”). It is rare that the term is applied, as a comparable title, to a human being; there is a notable parallel in Deut 26:19; 28:1, whereby God declares that Israel will be higher than all the other nations, just as the king (i.e., the Davidic ruler) will be higher than all other kings. The usage is natural in this regard, since the king effectively represents the people; what applies to them (as a nation) also applies to him (as their king).

The father-son bond, as it is formulated here in vv. 27-28, derives primarily from the Davidic tradition in 2 Samuel 7:14 (cf. the parallels in 1 Chron 17:13; 22:10; 28:6):

“I will be for him as a Father, and he will be for me as a son”

This tradition includes promises regarding the establishment (vb /WK) of the Davidic kingship (“throne”), a royal line that will endure into the distant future (i.e., for ever), vv. 13, 16, and also that the faithfulness and devotion (ds#j#) of YHWH will remain with the ruler (lit., will not turn aside from him) and his kingdom, v. 15. This ideology and terminology is very much reflected here in vv. 20-38 of our Psalm.

Comments for Christmas

The central theme of vv. 27-28—namely, the Davidic ruler as the son of God (with YHWH as his Father)—is an important component of the identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. This applies to the identification as we find it in the Gospel Infancy narratives, though it is clearly expressed only in a pair of statements within the Lukan narrative. As part of the Angelic announcement to Mary (Lk 1:26-38), we find the following declarations about the child (Jesus) who is to be born:

    • “He shall be great, and he shall be called ‘Son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]’, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father.” (v. 32)
    • “(the) holy Spirit will come upon you, and (the) power of (the) Highest [u%yisto$] will cast shade upon you; therefore, indeed, the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) Son of God.” (v. 35)

The use of the adjective u%yisto$ (“highest”) echoes the corresponding Hebrew term /oylu# (as a divine title) in Ps 89:28b. Moreover, the idea of this ruler’s kingdom being greater than all earthly kingdoms—and he greater than all other kings—is certainly implied in the Angel’s announcement. It is more or less specified in v. 33, where the promise is given that the Messianic ruler’s kingdom will last “into the Age” and “there will be no end” to it—ideology that is found both in the original Davidic covenant tradition (2 Sam 7:13-16), and reflected throughout Ps 89 (esp. in vv. 20-38).

References above marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

 

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 2 (Luke 1:35)

Luke 1:35

The second Annunciation scene in the Lukan Infancy narrative is in 1:26-38. The Angelic announcement regard the birth of Jesus, and follows immediately after the announcement of John’s birth (cf. the previous study on 1:15-17). This establishes the John-Jesus parallelism that runs throughout the narrative, along with the implicit comparison, emphasizing the superiority of Jesus as a Messianic figure.

This second Annunciation scene may be outlined 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). 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:

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 2 (Luke 1:15-17)

The Spirit in the Lukan Infancy Narrative

The Holy Spirit features more prominently in the Lukan Infancy narrative, which, in large part, reflects the greater role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts as a whole. The lines of tradition, regarding the Spirit, discussed in Part 1 are also reflected in the Lukan narrative. Special importance is placed on the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, and his role in ushering in the New Age, in which the Spirit will be manifest in a new way among God’s people. This Messianic identity is primarily expressed according to two distinct thematic structures in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

    • The superiority of Jesus in comparison with John the Baptist (John being viewed as a Messianic prophet-figure)
    • Jesus as the Royal Messiah from the line of David

As an organizing device within the narrative, the Jesus-John comparison is more significant. The birth narratives of John and Jesus are essentially presented side-by-side, following a similar pattern, being intercut (and interrelated). In terms of the Messianic identity of the two children, there are two main points of comparison: (1) the parallel Angelic announcements, and (2) the two inspired oracles by John’s parents (Elizabeth / Zechariah). In each of these literary structures, the Holy Spirit plays a significant role and must be examined in some detail. Let us begin with the first of these.

The Angelic Announcements

The parallelism of the John and Jesus narratives, establishing the John-Jesus comparison, begins with the annunciation scenes, which follow one after the other, from John (1:5-25) to Jesus (1:26-38). For a discussion of the literary and thematic aspects of the John annunciation scene, see the earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus” (cf. also the entry in last year’s Saturday Series Christmas studies).

Luke 1:15-17

“For he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord, and wine and liquor he shall (surely) not drink,
and he will be filled (with the) holy Spirit, even (coming) out of (the) belly of his mother.” (v. 15)

This contains the first two declarations made by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) to Zechariah, announcing the conception (and coming birth) of John. The statements are made with verbs in the future tense: (i) “he will be…” (e&stai), (ii) “he will be filled…” (plhsqh/setai). They announce both John’s birth and his future destiny. He will be a chosen servant of God, a role that has genuine Messianic significance, within the context of the Gospel Tradition. This is the primary meaning of the statement “he will be great in the sight of the Lord”. It is also said of Jesus that he will be “great” (me/ga$, v. 32), but in a way that surpasses the greatness of John the Baptist, an absolute attribution that would normally be predicated of God (YHWH).

The second declaration involves the Holy Spirit:

“and he will be filled (with the) holy Spirit, even (coming) out of (the) belly of his mother”

Before examining the significance of John being “filled” by the Spirit, let us consider the final two declarations (in vv. 16-17):

“and he will turn many of the sons of Yisrael (back) upon the Lord their God,
and he will go before in the sight of Him, in (the) spirit and power of ‘Eliyyahu, to turn (the) hearts of fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded (one)s in the mind-set of (the) righteous, to make ready for (the) Lord a people having been fully prepared.”

These statements describe (and define) the Messianic role of John the Baptist—certainly as it was understood in the early Gospel Tradition. It can be summarized by the expression “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. In order to gain a proper understanding of the place of the Spirit in this passage, we must join together these two aspects of the annunciation, where the noun pneu=ma is used:

    • “(filled) by the holy Spirit”
    • “in the spirit…of Elijah”

The principal association is between the Spirit and prophecy. John will be among the greatest of prophets (7:26-28 par), fulfilling the role of the end-time (Messianic) Prophet, according to the figure-type of Elijah (for more on this, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). More than this, he may be regarded as the last of the prophets of the old covenant (16:16 par), standing on the threshold of the new covenant. This sense of continuity between the old and new covenants is especially important in terms of how this passage fits in with the Lukan view of the Spirit.

This is the first occurrence of two distinct modes, in the Lukan narratives, whereby the Spirit is present and active. The first mode involves the idea of filling—i.e., being filled by the Spirit. Here the verb plh/qw is used. The idiom occurs numerous times in the book of Acts, but in the Gospel only within the Infancy narratives (1:41, 67) and the Lukan description of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:1).

The second mode involves being (and walking) in the Spirit. Here it is said that John will go about in the spirit of Elijah, which is a very specific way of referring to the spirit of prophecy—which, in turn, is brought about by the presence of God’s own Spirit. The expression “the spirit of Elijah” can be understood two ways, as it relates to the person of John the Baptist: (1) the same Spirit (of God) that inspired Elijah also is present in John; or (2) that John is essentially a new manifestation of Elijah himself, inspired by the distinctive prophetic spirit that Elijah possessed (and which he gave to Elisha, 2 Kings 2:9-12).

Either way, the “spirit of Elijah” involves the presence of the Spirit, so we may fairly claim that the wording here in v. 17 is an example of the Lukan motif of persons going about “in (or by) the Spirit” (2:27; 4:1, 14; 10:21).

If we are to isolate the main Lukan themes that are introduced here, they would be as follows:

    • The association of the Spirit with prophecy—John is the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant; with Jesus and his disciples (believers), the time of the New Covenant begins, and, with it, a new understanding of the nature of prophecy.
    • The Messianic role of John as “Elijah”, who will appear prior to the end-time Judgment (Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6)—this reflects the fundamental eschatological understanding of early Christians, which Luke develops powerfully in his 2-volume work, emphasizing the eschatological dimension of the early Christian mission.
    • The person of John as a transitional figure, emphasizing the continuity between the Old and New Covenant—he embodies the prophetic Spirit of the Old and, at the same time, points toward the manifestation of the Spirit in the New.

Another minor theme could also be mentioned, which is as much traditional as anything distinctly Lukan. In v. 15 the Spirit is associated with John the Baptist’s ascetic behavior (cf. Mk 1:6 par; Lk 7:33 par), but reflecting specifically the religious vow of the Nazirite (cf. Num 6:3). This detail may have been influenced by the Samuel and Samson narratives (Judg 13:4; 1 Sam 1:11, 22 [v.l.]), but there is no reason that it could not also be an authentic historical detail in the case of John. The principal idea here is twofold: (a) purity/holiness, and (b) consecration to God. Both of these motifs are central to the idea of the presence and activity of God’s Spirit (the holy Spirit, Spirit of holiness), are emphasized, to varying degrees, in the Lukan narratives. On the Nazirite motif, in association with the birth of Jesus himself, cf. my earlier note on Matthew 2:23 (in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”).

June 6: Luke 1:35

Luke 1:35

The next reference to the Spirit in Luke-Acts is in the Angelic announcement to Mary of Jesus’ conception and birth (vv. 26-38). This episode follows, and is parallel to, the announcement to Zechariah regarding John the Baptist (cf. the previous note on vv. 15-17).

In this case, however, the reference to the Spirit is clearly part of an historical tradition inherited by the Gospel writer. We know this because of the similar reference in Matt 1:18, 20 (also involving an Angelic announcement). The supernatural (virginal) conception of Jesus is explained by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Luke follows this same basic line of tradition, as the reference to the Spirit (v. 35) comes in Gabriel’s answer to Mary’s question in verse 34—viz., how a pregnancy is possible, since she is a virgin (“I do not know a man”). The answer is that the miraculous character of this pregnancy is due to the Holy Spirit.

Even though the association of the Spirit with Jesus’ conception (and birth) is part of an inherited tradition, the statement in v. 35, within the Lukan context, also reflects the author’s thematic development regarding the Spirit. Before exploring this development further, let us briefly examine v. 35:

“And, giving forth (an answer), the Messenger said to her:
‘(The) holy Spirit will come upon you,
and (the) Power of (the) Highest will cast shade upon you;
therefore, even the (one) coming to be (born) will be called Holy, (the) Son of God.'”

There is a poetic (or at least prosodic) quality to the Angel’s response, the first two lines (above) reflecting the synonymous parallelism typical of Hebrew poetry:

    • The Holy Spirit | will come upon you
    • The Power of the Highest | will cast shade upon you

The “holy Spirit” (pneu=ma a%gion) is thus synonymous with “power of the Highest” (du/nami$ u(yi/stou). That is to say, the reference is to the Spirit of God (YHWH), His active, creative power—the same life-giving power that was present and at work in the Creation (Gen 1:2). The verb e)piskia/zw (“cast shade upon, overshadow”) is rare, in both the New Testament and the LXX, but there is a notable occurrence at Exod 40:35, where it refers to the presence of YHWH, in the form of the theophanous cloud, filling the Israelite tent-shrine (tabernacle); cf. also Psalm 90:4; 139:8. The main NT occurrence is similar: the cloud-presence of God manifest in the Transfiguration scene (Lk 9:34 par); Luke also uses it in Acts 5:15.

In fact, the wording here in v. 35, while traditional, also reflects Lukan style and vocabulary. The verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”), in particular, is distinctly Lukan; 7 of the 9 NT occurrences are found in Luke-Acts. Most notably, it is used in the context of the coming of the Spirit on believers in Acts 1:8. There the Spirit is also referred to as the “power” (du/nami$) of God, coming down from heaven (cp. Lk 24:49, “…power out of [the] height[s]”, du/nami$ e)c u(pi/stou).

With this in mind, let us explore further the Lukan development of the Spirit-theme, as it occurs here in Lk 1:35. I would make four points, each of which will be expounded briefly below.

1. The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. The two annunciation scenes are reflective of a broader parallel treatment of the births of John and Jesus, respectively, in the Lukan Infancy narrative. The two narrative strands run parallel, alternating back and forth, intersecting only in the Visitation episode (1:39-45ff). While there are clear similarities in thematic detail and form, between the John and Jesus strands, there can be no doubt regarding the superiority of Jesus. If John is destined to be a great prophet and Messianic figure (cf. verses 15-17 and the previous note), Jesus will be that much greater. John will be “great” before God, and will also be pure and holy as His chosen one (i.e., consecrated Nazirite status), but Jesus will be so in a more transcendent and absolute sense. The substantive adjectives me/ga$ (“great”, v. 32) and a%gio$ (“holy”, v. 35) are comparable to the Divine attributes predicated of YHWH (i.e., the Great and Holy One).

John is to be a Prophet, the last great Prophet of the Old Covenant; he will also fulfill a Messianic role as the “Elijah” of the end-time. Jesus, too, will be a uniquely inspired and Spirit-empowered Prophet—an identification that particularly applies to the period of his Galilean ministry, where he is also associated with the (Messianic) figure of Elijah (cf. the discussion in Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). However, here, in the Annunciation scene—and throughout the Infancy narratives—Jesus is identified specifically with the royal/Davidic figure-type. The title “Son of God” here must be understood, primarily, in this Messianic sense (cf. Parts 6, 7, 8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”).

2. Prophetic Inspiration. The motif of the Spirit coming upon (e)pi/) a person goes back to ancient Near Eastern (and Israelite) tradition regarding the nature of prophecy. The Spirit comes upon the chosen individual, enabling him (or her) to function as a prophet (Heb. ayb!n`)—an inspired spokesperson for YHWH, who communicates His word and will to the people. If John is filled with this prophetic Spirit of God, even while he is still in the womb, it can be implied that the same is true of Jesus, even to a greater degree. This aspect is expressed more directly in the traditional Baptism scene (Lk 3:21-22 par), but the Gospel writer would almost certainly extend this relationship to the Spirit to the very conception and birth of Jesus.

More than this, it is possible that here the idea of Mary as a prophet may also be in view. The Magnificat in vv. 46-55 is attributed to Mary (though in a few manuscripts Elizabeth is the speaker), and must be regarded, in the context of the narrative, as an inspired (prophetic) utterance. In the case of the inspired utterances by Elizabeth and Zechariah, it is specifically said that they were “filled by the Spirit” (vv. 41, 67). While this is not stated directly of Mary, it seems probable that prophetic inspiration is foreshadowed by the coming of the Spirit “upon” her in v. 35.

3. Prefiguring the Coming of the Spirit on Believers. As noted above, the verb e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”) is also used in Acts 1:8, where Jesus promises the coming of the Spirit upon his disciples (fulfilled in 2:1-4ff). Indeed, this is one of three primary modes whereby the relationship between believers and the Spirit is expressed in Luke-Acts. The other two—being filled with the Spirit and walking in (or being led by) the Spirit—were introduced in Lk 1:15-17 (cf. the discussion in the previous note). This coming of the Spirit upon believers represents a uniquely Christian form of the traditional association between the Spirit and prophecy (cf. above).

4. The continuity of the Old and New Covenants. Like John the Baptist, Mary represents a transitional figure between the Old and New Covenant. Mary, along with her husband Joseph, is depicted as being faithful to the Old Covenant, dutifully observing the regulations and requirements of the Torah (2:21-24, 39, 41ff). At the same time, she is the first person who grapples with the meaning and significance of the new revelation of God in the person of Jesus. A measure of trust and belief is attributed to Mary (cf. 1:38, 45; 2:19, 33-35, 51), making her, in a sense, the first believer and a type-pattern looking forward to the Christians of the New Covenant. She stands together with the first believers in Acts 1:14 (cp. Lk 8:19-21 par).

 

 

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38

This is the second episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative. It presents the Angelic announcement of the miraculous conception (and birth) of Jesus, parallel with the announcement of John’s conception/birth in verses 5-25 (discussed in the previous study). In certain respects, it is similar to the announcement scene in the Matthean narrative (1:18-25, see the prior study). Both Gospel writers appear to have fashioned their episode, basing it on an annunciation tradition—an historical tradition, but one that has also been patterned after Old Testament narratives. Though fundamentally different in detail, each author’s annunciation scene shares a common set of features.

Before proceeding to a more detailed study from the standpoint of historical and literary criticism, we should mention briefly the textual situation. There is a small but substantial variant reading at verse 35 (discussed briefly below); otherwise, the Greek text is relatively secure.

The source-critical question in vv. 26-38 is similar to that in vv. 5-25: did the author (trad. Luke) derive the episode from an earlier source (written or oral)? One might posit a source document that provided a rudimentary narrative of Jesus’ birth, even as scholars have supposed the existence a “Baptist source” for the birth of John the Baptist. In my view, a Lukan composition throughout is more likely.

In both episodes, the Gospel writer is working from an established historical tradition, and has developed the narrative, giving shape and texture to it largely through the application of certain Old Testament (and traditional Jewish) narrative patterns. The main difference in vv. 26-38 is that there likely was an established tradition regarding an Angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth, since we find the same in the Matthean narrative. However, since the two scenes (in Luke and Matthew) have such fundamental points of difference, it is unlikely there were many fixed details to the annunciation-tradition that each share.

With regard to the form of the annunciation-tradition, it appears to be patterned after familiar Scriptural examples: angelic announcements in Old Testament narrative—for birth annunciations, see Genesis 16:7-13; chapters 17-18 (esp. 17:15-21; 18:10-15) and Judges 13. This narrative pattern, which applies here in vv. 26-38, may be outlined as follows:

    • Appearance of the angel, who addresses the person by name (v. 28)
    • The person is startled (v. 29)
    • Assurance of the angel— “do not fear” (v. 30)
    • Announcement of the coming/impending birth (v. 31)
    • The name which is to be given to the child (v. 31b)
    • Prophecy/announcement of the child’s future (v. 32-33)
    • Question by the person receiving the vision— “how will this be?” (v. 34)
    • The angel’s response, along with a sign (vv. 35-37)
    • Acceptance of the vision (v. 38)

For more detail, cf. R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1993, pp. 155-9, 292-8.

As we turn here to a literary-critical examination, we shall consider the structure of the announcement scene. There are three parts to the angel’s message, each followed by Mary’s response:

    • Verse 28—Mary is addressed by name
      • V. 29—Mary is startled by what she sees
    • Verses 30-33—The Message to Mary
      • V. 34—Mary asks “how will this be?”
    • Verses 35-37—Answer to Mary’s question, with a sign
      • V. 38—Mary responds “…may it come to be for me according to your word”

Each part has a theological/christological element, which is an indication of how the traditional pattern has been developed within the Gospel narrative:

    • v. 28b—”the Lord is with you”
    • vv. 31ff—”this one will be great and will be called Son of the Highest…”
    • v. 35a—”The Holy Spirit… power of the Highest…
      v. 35b—…(the child) will be called Holy, the Son of God”

Let us briefly examine each of these in turn, from an exegetical standpoint.

Luke 1:28b “the Lord is with you”

According to the Old Testament/Jewish background of this episode, the “Lord” (ho kýrios) is YHWH, God the Father; but note the use of kýrios to refer to Jesus in Lk 1:43; 2:11, and the more ambiguous reference in Lk 1:76. There can be little doubt that, by the time the Gospel of Luke had been written (around 70 A.D. or a bit later), kýrios was being regularly applied to Jesus in terms of his divine nature or status, connected especially with his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:36, etc).

The expression corresponding to ho kýrios metá sou (“the Lord is with you” or “the Lord be with you”) appears as a pious, but ordinary, greeting in Ruth 2:4. A closer parallel to our passage is found in the angelic annunciation to Gideon in Judg 6:12, as an assurance of God’s support and care. In Lk 1:28, 30, this divine care is described in terms of God’s favor (cháris)—Mary is one who has been favored (kecharitœmén¢) by God (chárin pará tœ Theœ¡).

There is a similar instance in the famous prophecy of Isa 7:14, with the name Immanuel (±imm¹nû °E~l)— “God with us”. The context of Isa 8:8-10 indicates that this name reflects God’s support and protection of the (righteous) king, connected with peace, prosperity, and the salvation of the land/people from enemies. In terms of the original historical context, the most reasonable identification is with Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). Later on, of course, the passage (along with Isa 9:1-6) came to be interpreted in a (future) Messianic sense, and was applied by Christians to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22-23).

There may also be an allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 here in Lk 1:28. Apart from the formal similarity of the opening (chaíre, “be glad / rejoice!” as a greeting) and a possible parallel between Mary and “daughter of Zion” (Jerusalem/Judah personified), note the similar assurance that is offered (compare v. 28a with Zeph 3:15b, 17a). In Zephaniah, it is also a promise of protection and salvation.

Luke 1:31-33 “this one will be… will be called…”

Here, in the angelic message proper, the emphasis is on the Messianic character and status of the child. This aspect was discussed briefly in the previous study, in relation to John the Baptist’s Messianic identity. The Lukan parallelism, effectively comparing John’s birth with Jesus’ birth, emphasizes the superiority of Jesus. This applies also to his Messianic identity.

To begin with, there is the announcement of the conception (“you will receive together in the womb”) and birth (“you will produce”) a son (v. 31a)—this is connected with the favor (cháris) Mary receives from God (vv. 28, 30). In terms of the naming of the child (v. 31b), there may here be an echo of Isa 7:14 LXX (cf. above)—note the similar sequence “will produce” followed by “will call his name” —as is made explicit in Matthew (“you will call his name Yeshua” / “they will call his name Immanuel”, Matt 1:21, 23).

Almost certainly, in this passage there also are allusions to 2 Sam 7:8-16—a prophetic announcement regarding the Davidic line, which had come to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by the time the Gospels were written, as can be seen, for example, in the Qumran text 4QFlor (174) lines 10-13. Note the following points of correspondence:

    • v. 32a—Jesus’ greatness and his name (2 Sam 7:9)
    • v. 32b—Jesus as God’s son (2 Sam 7:14)
    • v. 33—The throne of David and his kingdom, which will last forever (2 Sam 7:13, 16)

Cf. also Isa 9:5-6 (6-7) and Dan 7:14. In this regard, there are two main theological/christological phrases in Lk 1:32 which need to be examined, since they both relate to Jesus’ Messianic identity (and his superiority to John).

“he will be great” (éstai mégas)—The absolute use of mégas (“great”) in the LXX typically refers to YHWH (Psalm 48:2 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5); it tends to be qualified when used of human beings, such as when it is used of John the Baptist in Lk 1:15 (“he will be great in the eyes of the Lord”)—see also 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22 (Fitzmyer, p. 325). The fact that the Lukan infancy narratives present the births of John and Jesus side by side—with Jesus having the more exalted status—indicates that mégas here means something decidedly greater than when applied to John.

“he will be called Son of the Highest” (huiós hypsístou kl¢th¢¡setai)—Here, in context, kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called“) is parallel and generally synonymous with éstai (“he will be“); see, for example, the parallel saying of Jesus in Matt 5:9 / Lk 6:35. In ancient (Near Eastern) thought, the name represented the essential identity and character of the person, often in a dynamic, quasi-magical sense. The giving of a name—especially when given by God—confers (and confirms) just who the child is, and what he/she will become. In this respect, it is worth noting the ‘prophetic’ nature of many naming scenes in the Old Testament (Gen 5:29 et al), and in the New Testament as well (Matt 1:21; 16:17-18, etc).

Here the specific name is “son of the Highest” —hypsístos, which is attested in (pagan) Greek usage (of Zeus, etc), is used in the LXX of YHWH, as a translation of Hebrew ±Elyôn (Gen 14:18; Dan 4:14; cf. also Jubilees 16:18, and note 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22). It is used relatively often in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17)—in Lk 1:76, it is said of John, “you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest”. Cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 347-8.

Luke 1:35 “…will be called Holy, the Son of God”

In this verse, the prophetic announcement and naming of the child by the angel (Gabriel) comes to a climax with the title “Son of God” (huiós Theoú). Actually, the syntax of this phrase is somewhat ambiguous, and there are at least two other ways it could be translated: (a) “…(will be) holy (and) will be called Son of God”, or (b) “the holy (child)…will be called Son of God”. It does seem better to read hágion (as a substantive adjective) and huiós Theoú as parallel predicates which are generally apposite. As a whole, verse 35 refers to both the conception and birth of the child:

Conception (v. 35a)—with two phrases:

There is a strong poetic quality to the angel’s words and the phrases clearly are in synonymous parallelism: “Holy Spirit / Power of the Highest”, “come upon you / cast shade upon you”). The two-fold image or metaphor reflects both the presence and power of God.

Birth (v. 35b)—here there are likewise two phrases, which follow the general pattern of the announcement in v. 31:

“you will produce a son | and you will call his name Yeshua” (v. 31)
“the (child) coming to be born | will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

    • “the (child) coming to be (born)” (to gennœ¡menon)—in a few manuscripts (C* Q f1 33), versional witnesses, and in several Church Fathers, the reading is “the (child) coming to be (born) out of you [ek sou]”; if the addition was intentional, the purpose may have been to emphasize the full reality of Jesus’ human birth, i.e. that he genuinely partook from Mary’s flesh (contrary to the view of certain “Gnostics”). The fundamental meaning of gennáœ, like the related verb gínomai, is “come to be, become”, though often with the specific denotation of coming to be born.
    • “will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” —assuming that this is the correct way to render the syntax of this verse (see above), there are two names or titles given to Jesus:
      hágion (“Holy [One]”), a neuter substantive; Jesus is not often referred to specifically as “holy” (hágios) in the New Testament, but there are several key passages where it is used as a substantive appellation (Luke 4:34 par; Jn 6:69; Acts 3:14 [cf. also 4:27, 30]; Rev 3:7). In Luke 1:49, it is used specifically as a name/title of God the Father (YHWH); cf. also Rev 4:8; 6:10.
      huiós Theoú (“Son of God”), used frequently of Jesus, in various forms, sometimes in the unqualified/absolute form “(the) Son”. In the Gospel of John, Jesus often identifies himself as “the Son”, though, throughout the Gospels, the specific title “Son of God” is almost never spoken by Jesus (cf. Jn 5:25 and note Lk 22:70 par), the title “Son of Man” being far more common.

At this point, we shall turn the lens of historical criticism back on this passage. As part of our study on the historical background of the announcement scene, one ought to mention the extraordinary correspondence of several key elements from the annunciation which are found, together, in a text from Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)—4Q246, sometimes referred to as the Aramaic “Son of God” text. The four key phrases in 1:32, 35 are indicated and compared side by side with 4Q246:

[]rb lhwh ±l °r±° “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
blh dy °l yt°mar “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
wbr ±lywn yqrwnh “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
mlkwth mlkwt ±lm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
hoútos éstai mégas “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
kl¢th¢¡setai huiós Theoú “he will be called | Son of God”
kai huiós hypsístou kl¢th¢¡setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai t¢s basileías autoú ouk éstai télos “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

It is doubtful that the Gospel writer was influenced directly by this text. Much more likely, the Lukan Infancy narrative and 4Q246 each are drawing upon established Messianic traditions, involving both specific titles and phrasing, and also a number of shared Scriptural allusions, which had become rooted in Jewish Messianic thought by the first century A.D.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Volume 28 [1981].

December 31: Luke 1:32, 35

This note continues our examination of the development in early Christian thought, in terms of an awareness of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. By the time the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written—and their Infancy narratives, in particular (c. 70-80 A.D.?)—this Christological awareness extended all the way back to Jesus’ birth as a human being, encompassing his entire life. This meant that the earlier association with his resurrection (and exaltation to heaven) was expanded to include many aspects of his earthly life and ministry, especially with regard to the salvation it brings. It is this aspect of Jesus as the Savior of his people (Matt 1:21ff) which informs the only reference to Jesus as God’s Son in the Matthean narrative (2:15, citing Hosea 11:1). This was discussed in the previous note, and now we turn to the Lukan narrative, where there is also a reference to Jesus as the Son of God—it is a two-fold reference, part of the Angelic announcement to Mary (1:32, 35).

Luke 1:32, 35

The famous annunciation scene in Luke (Lk 1:26-38) follows the basic pattern of angelic announcements in Old Testament narrative—for birth annunciations, see Genesis 16:7-13; chapters 17-18 (esp. 17:15-21; 18:10-15) and Judges 13, as well as Lk 1:11-20 and Matt 1:20-21 in the infancy narratives (for more on this, cf. the article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”). There are three parts to the angel’s message, each followed by Mary’s response:

    • Verse 28—Mary is addressed by name
      • V. 29—Mary is startled by what she sees
    • Verses 30-33—The Message to Mary
      • V. 34—Mary asks “how will this be?”
    • Verses 35-37—Answer to Mary’s question, with a sign
      • V. 38—Mary responds “…may it come to be for me according to your word”

Each part has a theological/christological element:

    • v. 28b—”the Lord is with you”
    • vv. 31ff—”this one will be great and will be called Son of the Highest…”
    • v. 35a—”The Holy Spirit… power of the Highest…
      v. 35b—…(the child) will be called Holy, the Son of God”

The fundamental emphasis of these phrases is unquestionably Messianic. With the regard to the first phrase in v. 28b, it is reminiscent of the wording in the famous prophecy of Isa 7:14 (cited in the Matthean Infancy narrative), with the name Immanuel (la@ WnM*u!, ±imm¹nû °¢l)—”God with us”. The context of Isa 8:8-10 indicates that this name reflects God’s support and protection of the (righteous) king, connected with peace, prosperity, and the salvation of the land/people from enemies. In terms of the original historical context, the most reasonable identification is with Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). Later on, of course, the passage (along with Isa 9:1-6) came to be interpreted in a (future) Messianic sense, and was applied by Christians to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22-23). I discussed these verses in considerable detail in series of advent notes.

There may also be an allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 here in Lk 1:28. Apart from the formal similarity of the opening (xai=re, “be glad / rejoice!” as a greeting) and a possible parallel between Mary and “daughter of Zion” (Jerusalem/Judah personified), note the similar assurance that is offered:

Zeph 3:14-17 LXX

    • v. 15b: ku/rio$ e)n me/sw| sou (“the Lord is in the middle of you [i.e. is in your midst]”)
    • v. 17a: ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ sou e)n soi (“the Lord your God is in/among you”)

Luke 1:28b

o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou=
“the Lord is with you”

In Zeph 3:14-17 it is also a promise of protection and salvation. According to the Old Testament/Jewish background, the “Lord” (o( ku/rio$) is YHWH, God the Father; but note the use of ku/rio$ to refer to Jesus in Lk 1:43; 2:11, and the more ambiguous reference in Lk 1:76. There can be little doubt that, by the time the Gospel of Luke had been written (around 70 A.D. or a bit later), ku/rio$ was being regularly applied to Jesus in terms of his divine nature or status, connected especially with his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:36, etc, cf. the earlier notes in this series). The expression corresponding to o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou= (“the Lord is with you” or “the Lord be with you”) appears as a pious, but ordinary, greeting in Ruth 2:4. A closer parallel to our passage is found in the angelic annunciation to Gideon in Judg 6:12, as an assurance of God’s support and care. In Lk 1:28, 30, this divine care is described in terms of God’s favor (xa/ri$)—Mary is one who has been favored (kexaritwme/nh) by God (xa/rin para\ tw=| qew=|).

The emphasis on the Messianic character and status of the child continues in vv. 31-33. To begin with, there is the announcement of the conception (“you will receive together [sullh/yh|] in the womb”) and birth (“you will produce [te/ch|]”) a son [ui(o/$] (v. 31a)—this is connected with the favor (xa/ri$) Mary receives from God (vv. 28, 30). In terms of the naming of the child (v. 31b), there may here be an echo of Isa 7:14 LXX (cf. above)—note the similar sequence “will produce” [te/cetai] followed by “will call his name” [kale/sei$ to\ o&noma au)tou]—as is made explicit in Matthew (“you will call his name Yeshua” / “they will call his name Immanuel”, Matt 1:21, 23).

Almost certainly, in this passage there are allusions to 2 Sam 7:8-16—a prophetic announcement regarding the Davidic line, which had come to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by the time the Gospels were written, cf. the Qumran text 4QFlor (174) lines 10-13. Note the following points of correspondence:

      • v. 32a—Jesus’ greatness and his name (2 Sam 7:9)
      • v. 32b—Jesus as God’s son (2 Sam 7:14)
      • v. 33—The throne of David and his kingdom, which will last forever (2 Sam 7:13, 16)

Cf. also Isa 9:5-6 (6-7) and Dan 7:14. There are two main theological/christological phrases in Lk 1:32:

e&stai me/ga$ (“he will be great”)—The absolute use of me/ga$ (“great”) in the LXX typically refers to YHWH (Psalm 48:2 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5); it tends to be qualified when used of human beings, as of John in Lk 1:15 (“he will be great in the eyes of the Lord”)—see also 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 325). The fact that the Lukan infancy narratives present the births of John and Jesus side by side—with Jesus having the more exalted status—indicates that me/ga$ here means something decidedly greater than when applied to John.

ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai (“he will be called Son of the Highest”)—Here, in context, klhqh/setai (“he will be called“) is parallel and generally synonymous with e&stai (“he will be“); see, for example, the parallel saying of Jesus in Matt 5:9 / Lk 6:35. In ancient (Near Eastern) thought, the name represented the essential identity and character of the person, often in a dynamic, quasi-magical sense. The giving of a name—especially when given by God—confers (and confirms) just who the child is, and what he/she will become. In this respect, it is worth noting the ‘prophetic’ nature of many naming scenes in the Old Testament (Gen 5:29 et al), and in the New Testament as well (Matt 1:21; 16:17-18, etc). Here the specific name is “son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou)—u(yi/sto$, which is attested in (pagan) Greek usage (of Zeus, etc), is used in the LXX of YHWH, as a translation of Hebrew /oyl=u# ±Elyôn (Gen 14:18; Dan 4:14; cf. also Jubilees 16:18, and note 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22). It is used relatively often in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17)—in Lk 1:76, it is said of John, “you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest [profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|]”. Cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 347-8.

Luke 1:35 “…will be called Holy, the Son of God”

In this verse, the prophetic announcement and naming of the child by the angel (Gabriel) comes to a climax with the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=). Actually, the syntax of this phrase is somewhat ambiguous, and there are at least two other ways it could be translated: (a) “…(will be) holy (and) will be called Son of God”, or (b) “the holy (child)…will be called Son of God”. It does seem better to read a%gion (as a substantive adjective) and ui(o\$ qeou= as parallel predicates which are generally apposite. As a whole, verse 35 refers to both the conception and birth of the child:

Conception (v. 35a)—with two phrases:

There is a strong poetic quality to the angel’s words and the phrases clearly are in synonymous parallelism: “Holy Spirit / Power of the Highest”, “come upon you / cast shade upon you”). The two-fold image or metaphor reflects both the presence and power of God.

Birth (v. 35b)—here there are likewise two phrases, which follow the general pattern of the announcement in v. 31:

“you will produce a son | and you will call his name Yeshua” (v. 31)
“the (child) coming to be born | will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

    • “the (child) coming to be (born)” (to\ gennw/menon)—in a few MSS (C* Q f1 33), versional witnesses, and in several Church Fathers, the reading is “the (child) coming to be (born) out of you [e)k sou]”; if the addition was intentional, the purpose may have been to emphasize the full reality of Jesus’ human birth, i.e. that he genuinely partook from Mary’s flesh (contrary to the view of certain “Gnostics”)—for more on this possibility, cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford:1993), p. 139. The fundamental meaning of genna/w, like the cognate verb gi/nomai, is “come to be, become”, though often with the specific denotation of coming to be born. Subsequent notes will provide further exploration of the use of this verb in the New Testament.
    • “will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (a%gion klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=)—assuming that this is the correct way to render the syntax of this verse (cf. above), there are two names or titles given to Jesus:
      a%gion (“Holy [One]”), a neuter substantive; Jesus is not often referred to specifically as “holy” (a%gio$) in the New Testament, but there are several key passages where it is used as a substantive appellation (Luke 4:34 par; Jn 6:69; Acts 3:14 [cf. also 4:27, 30]; Rev 3:7). In Luke 1:49, it is used specifically as a name/title of God the Father (YHWH); cf. also Rev 4:8; 6:10.
      ui(o\$ qeou= (“Son of God”), used frequently of Jesus, in various forms, sometimes in the unqualified/absolute form “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$). In the Gospel of John, Jesus often identifies himself as “the Son”, though, throughout the Gospels, the specific title “Son of God” is almost never spoken by Jesus (cf. Jn 5:25 and note Lk 22:70 par), the title “Son of Man” being far more common.

In conclusion, one ought to mention the extraordinary correspondence of several key elements from the annunciation which are found, together, in a text from Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)—4Q246, sometimes referred to as the Aramaic “Son of God” text. The four key phrases in 1:32, 35 are indicated and compared side by side with 4Q246:

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

For more on this remarkable text, see the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” article.

In exactly what sense should we understand the expression “Son of God” as applied to Jesus in this passage? Based on both the Jewish background, parallels with the Matthean Infancy narrative, and the immediate context in Luke, the primary significance is Messianic—that is, based on the idea that the anointed king is God’s “son” (cf. Psalm 2:7), in a figurative or symbolic sense. This takes on sharper meaning in a developed Messianic interpretation, such as we see the Gospels of Matthew and Luke c.70 A.D., since the Anointed figures, who are to appear at the end-time, are God’s divinely appointed emissaries, who represent God Himself in a more concrete sense. Beyond this, the Lukan use of the title “Son of God” has an even deeper significance, based on two key factors that are present in the passage:

    • The application of the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) to Jesus, part of a dual-use of the word by early Christians—using it equally, and often interchangeably, for both God the Father (YHWH) and Jesus.
    • The presence of the Spirit of God in relation to Jesus’ conception. The wording and imagery in the Lukan annunciation (v. 35, cf. above) goes beyond the basic idea of a supernatural (virginal) conception, and even beyond the declaration regarding the Holy Spirit in Matt 1:18, 20; it alludes to the manifest presence of God (YHWH) Himself, as expressed in Old Testament tradition.

In my view there is no clear evidence for a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus in Luke-Acts; however, the factors mentioned above shows the Lukan form of the Gospel Tradition as pointing in that direction. It finds full-fledged expression in the Johannine Gospel, as well as at several other points in the later writings of the New Testament. This we will explore in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Volume 28 [1981].

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:

April 10 (3): Luke 2:34-35

In the year 2016, Good Friday coincided with the Annunciation—the celebration of the Angelic announcement to Mary. In most years the Annunciation comes close in time to Lent and/or Holy Week. This connection between the death of Christ on the cross, and his conception in the womb of Mary, may seem strange to most of us. We are perhaps not accustomed to meditating upon these two aspects together, but Church Fathers such as Ephrem the Syrian certainly were aware of the connection (especially the association with Passover):

Moses shut in the lamb in April
On the tenth day—a symbol of the Son
Who came into the womb and closed Himself up
On the tenth day…
(Hymn 5 on the Nativity st. 14, translation Kathleen E. McVey; cf. also Hymn 4 st. 31-34, etc)

The conception here is coordinated with the 10th of Nisan, at the time when the lambs are set aside in preparation of slaughtering for Passover (4 days later), cf. Exodus 12:3-6. Indeed, it may be most profitable on this day to consider the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), both the prophecy (arranged chiastically):

    • ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai
      • kai\ dw/sei au)tw=| ku/rio$ o( qeo\$ to\n qro/non Daui\d tou= patro/$ au)tou=
      • kai\ basileu/sei e)pi\ to\n oi@kon  )Iakw\b ei)$ tou\$ ai)w=na$
    • kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$

“This (one) shall be great and called Son of the Highest
and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father
and he shall be king upon the house of Jacob into the Ages
and of his Kingdom there shall not be an end” (vv. 32-33)

and the answer to Mary’s question:

    • pneu=ma a%gion e)peleu/setai e)pi\ se
      • kai\ du/nami$ u(yi/stou e)piskia/sei soi:
    • dio\ kai\ to\ gennw/menon a%gion
      • klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=

“(The) Holy Breath [i.e. Holy Spirit] shall come upon you
and (the) Power of the Highest will cast shadow upon you
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born) is holy
called the Son of God”
[the last portion can also be rendered as:]
through which the (one) coming-to-be (born)
shall be called holy, the Son of God” (v. 35)

However, I would like to look briefly here at another episode from the Lukan Infancy Narratives involving Mary: namely, the encounter with Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:25-35), since it has traditionally been associated with the Passion of Christ. There are four parts to the narrative: (a) the purification of Mary / presentation of Jesus [2:22-24], (b) the introduction and Canticle of Simeon [2:25-32], (c) the Prophecy of Simeon [2:33-35], and (d) the presence of the prophetess Anna in the Temple [2:36-38], along with a concluding notice by Luke [2:39-40]. The Canticle of Simeon (known by its Latin translation as the Nunc Dimittis) is one of the most beautiful and cherished of New Testament hymns, and quickly became a fixed part of the liturgy: traditionally sung as part of the Daily Office (at Compline), as well as in funeral services, it holds a special place in the Holy Week Office.

I wish to focus on the second part of the Simeon episode, the prophecy (vv. 34-35). For the moment, I leave out the parenthetical prophecy regarding Mary, so that it is easier to see the prophecy in context:

i(dou\ ou!to$ kei=tai ei)$ ptw=sin kai\ a)na/stasin
    pollw=n e)n tw=|   )Israh/l
kai\ ei)$ shmei=on a)ntilego/menon
{prophecy regarding Mary}
  o%pw$ a*n a)pokalufqw=sin e)k pollw=n kardiw=n dialogismoi/

“See, this (one) is laid (down) unto the falling (down) and standing up
of many in Israel
and unto a sign being counted (i.e. spoken) against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the countings-through (i.e. reasonings/reckonings) out of many hearts might be uncovered”

[or, in smoother, conventional translation:]

“See, this (one) is set for the falling and rising
of many in Israel
and for a sign to be spoken against
{prophecy regarding Mary}
so that the thoughts of many hearts might be uncovered”

The prophecy is fairly clear: Christ’s life and presence is set toward (and will lead to) the “falling down and standing up” of “many” in Israel. Are these separate groups of people, or separate conditions in which the same person may find him/herself? Or both? That there is some sort of division intended, I think is certain. And, indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry, up to his death and resurrection, and for all the centuries thereafter, this prophecy seems to hold. Jesus himself speaks of bringing a “sword” (Matthew 10:34)—his life and teachings, indeed, his very presence, will cause division even between members of a family. There is a two-fold aspect to the second stanza as well: (a) a sign spoken against, (b) thoughts of many hearts uncovered. The adverb o%pw$ (used as a conjunction), links the two phrases into a purpose clause—i.e., the sign is spoken against “so as” or “so that” the reckonings of many hearts will be revealed. In other words, speaking against Christ (and what he signifies) is for the purpose of (and results in) the revealing of what is inside the human heart. Why “many” and not “all”? It is possible that the primary emphasis is directed toward believers, not all the people; that is, it is not a blanket expression of judgment, but of the sifting through and revealing of those who will come to believe.

What then of the difficult prophecy regarding Mary which is embedded in the oracle? The Greek reads:

kai\ sou= [de\] au)th=$ th\n yuxh\n dieleu/setai r(omfai/a
“[and] also of you (your)self a sword will go through your heart”

The precise meaning of the statement is difficult to determine. Traditionally, it has been seen as a prophecy of the suffering Mary will experience when she sees Jesus put to death on the cross—this is the popular “Sorrowful mother” (mater dolorosa) of the Stabat Mater and Pieta in Christian art. Some would treat this more generally in terms of the suffering and rejection Mary would experience (vicariously through Christ) or in her own person. Many scholars today tend to focus more specifically on Mary’s role elsewhere in Luke-Acts: she does not appear in the Passion scene at all; also several of the scenes in which she appears (2:19, 33, 51) in the Infancy narrative emphasize that she “treasured” [suneth/rei, lit. “guarded/kept together”] and “pondered” [sumba/llousa, lit. “threw/put together”] in her heart the things she has witnessed (v. 19). This, along with the position of the statement—right before “so that the thoughts of many might be uncovered”—has suggested that the “sword” is actually one of discernment or discrimination: that is, Mary herself will come to understand the reality of who Christ is, but only with struggle and difficulty. However, in the only other (Scriptural) reference to a sword “going through” (Ezekiel 14:17), it is clearly an invading sword of judgment, “cutting off” man and beast, leaving only a remnant to survive. Is it possible that Mary here is meant as a symbol (the “mother”) of all Israel (or at least the “many”), and the sword passing through her represents the very same judgment and uncovering of thoughts that will divide the people, leaving “alive” only a believing remnant?

Mary does, of course make an appearance at the cross in the Gospel of John (19:25-27), and this becomes the basis for her traditional role in the Passion. Both Byzantine and Western art, the image of the Mary and the “Beloved Disciple” (John) flanking the cross became standard.

Deesis

However, in the West, by the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, a more popular image was the Mater Dolorosa at the foot of the cross, after the deposition, holding the dead body of Jesus (the Pieta). The visceral imagery and sheer pathos of the scene made it a favorite in Renaissance art, the most famous, of course, is that of Michelangelo.

Pieta

Returning to the juxtaposition of the birth and death of Jesus, one should mention a type of combination icon which developed in Byzantine tradition—on one side, Mary with the baby Jesus (here the Virgin Hodegetria type), on the other, Jesus as the “Man of Sorrows”.

Birth of the Son of God: Luke 1:26-38

For the days following Christmas, in celebration of the birth of Jesus, I will be exploring New Testament passages related to the theme the birth of the Son of God. Even though on Christmas it is Jesus’ human birth that is in view, early Christians gradually came to understand this birth from a broader Christological perspective; as Ignatius states: “for our God, Jesus the Christ, was carried as an embryo by Mary” (Eph 18:2) [the verb kuofore/w referring both to conception and pregnancy]. It is impossible to avoid the idea of incarnation—God becoming flesh—in this event. Already in the New Testament, within the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, something more than an ordinary human birth is involved. As we shall see, the miraculous, spiritual nature of this birth ultimately extends to believers in Christ as well, who come to be born as “sons (children) of God”.

Luke 1:26-38

Let us begin with the famous annunciation scene in Luke (Lk 1:26-38), which follows the basic pattern of angelic announcements in Old Testament narrative—for birth annunciations, see Genesis 16:7-13; chapters 17-18 (esp. 17:15-21; 18:10-15) and Judges 13, as well as Lk 1:11-20 and Matt 1:20-21 in the infancy narratives. The pattern may be outlined:

    • Appearance of the angel, who addresses the person by name (v. 28)
    • The person is startled (v. 29)
    • Assurance of the angel—”do not fear” (v. 30)
    • Announcement of the coming/impending birth (v. 31)
    • The name which is to be given to the child (v. 31b)
    • Prophecy/announcement of the child’s future (v. 32-33)
    • Question by the person receiving the vision—”how will this be?” (v. 34)
    • The angel’s response, along with a sign (vv. 35-37)
    • Acceptance of the vision (v. 38)

For more detail, cf. R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1993, pp. 155-9, 292-8.

There are three parts to the angel’s message, each followed by Mary’s response:

  • Verse 28—Mary is addressed by name
    • V. 29—Mary is startled by what she sees
  • Verses 30-33—The Message to Mary
    • V. 34—Mary asks “how will this be?”
  • Verses 35-37—Answer to Mary’s question, with a sign
    • V. 38—Mary responds “…may it come to be for me according to your word”

Each part has a theological/christological element:

  • v. 28b—”the Lord is with you”
  • vv. 31ff—”this one will be great and will be called Son of the Highest…”
  • v. 35a—”The Holy Spirit… power of the Highest…
    v. 35b—…(the child) will be called Holy, the Son of God”

These will be discussed in turn.

Luke 1:28b “the Lord is with you”

According to the Old Testament/Jewish background of this episode, the “Lord” (o( ku/rio$) is YHWH, God the Father; but note the use of ku/rio$ to refer to Jesus in Lk 1:43; 2:11, and the more ambiguous reference in Lk 1:76. There can be little doubt that, by the time the Gospel of Luke had been written (around 70 A.D. or a bit later), ku/rio$ was being regularly applied to Jesus in terms of his divine nature or status, connected especially with his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:36, etc). The expression corresponding to o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou= (“the Lord is with you” or “the Lord be with you”) appears as a pious, but ordinary, greeting in Ruth 2:4. A closer parallel to our passage is found in the angelic annunciation to Gideon in Judg 6:12, as an assurance of God’s support and care. In Lk 1:28, 30, this divine care is described in terms of God’s favor (xa/ri$)—Mary is one who has been favored (kexaritwme/nh) by God (xa/rin para\ tw=| qew=|).

There is a similar instance in the famous prophecy of Isa 7:14, with the name Immanuel (la@ WnM*u!, ±imm¹nû °¢l)—”God with us”. The context of Isa 8:8-10 indicates that this name reflects God’s support and protection of the (righteous) king, connected with peace, prosperity, and the salvation of the land/people from enemies. In terms of the original historical context, the most reasonable identification is with Hezekiah (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). Later on, of course, the passage (along with Isa 9:1-6) came to be interpreted in a (future) Messianic sense, and was applied by Christians to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:22-23). I discussed these verses in considerable detail in series of advent notes.

There may also be an allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 here in Lk 1:28. Apart from the formal similarity of the opening (xai=re, “be glad / rejoice!” as a greeting) and a possible parallel between Mary and “daughter of Zion” (Jerusalem/Judah personified), note the similar assurance that is offered:

Zeph 3:14-17 LXX

  • v. 15b: ku/rio$ e)n me/sw| sou (“the Lord is in the middle of you [i.e. is in your midst]”)
  • v. 17a: ku/rio$ o( qeo/$ sou e)n soi (“the Lord your God is in/among you”)

Luke 1:28b

o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou=
“the Lord is with you”

In Zeph 3:14-17 it is also a promise of protection and salvation.

Luke 1:31-33 “this one will be… will be called…”

Here, in the angelic message proper, the emphasis is on the Messianic character and status of the child. To begin with, there is the announcement of the conception (“you will receive together [sullh/yh|] in the womb”) and birth (“you will produce [te/ch|]”) a son [ui(o/$] (v. 31a)—this is connected with the favor (xa/ri$) Mary receives from God (vv. 28, 30). In terms of the naming of the child (v. 31b), there may here be an echo of Isa 7:14 LXX (cf. above)—note the similar sequence “will produce” [te/cetai] followed by “will call his name” [kale/sei$ to\ o&noma au)tou]—as is made explicit in Matthew (“you will call his name Yeshua” / “they will call his name Immanuel”, Matt 1:21, 23).

Almost certainly, in this passage there are allusions to 2 Sam 7:8-16—a prophetic announcement regarding the Davidic line, which had come to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by the time the Gospels were written, cf. the Qumran text 4QFlor (174) lines 10-13. Note the following points of correspondence:

    • v. 32a—Jesus’ greatness and his name (2 Sam 7:9)
    • v. 32b—Jesus as God’s son (2 Sam 7:14)
    • v. 33—The throne of David and his kingdom, which will last forever (2 Sam 7:13, 16)

Cf. also Isa 9:5-6 (6-7) and Dan 7:14. I will deal more with the relationship between Jesus as “Son of David” and “Son of God” in subsequent notes. There are two main theological/christological phrases in Lk 1:32 which need to be examined.

e&stai me/ga$ (“he will be great”)—The absolute use of me/ga$ (“great”) in the LXX typically refers to YHWH (Psalm 48:2 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5); it tends to be qualified when used of human beings, as of John in Lk 1:15 (“he will be great in the eyes of the Lord”)—see also 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 325). The fact that the Lukan infancy narratives present the births of John and Jesus side by side—with Jesus having the more exalted status—indicates that me/ga$ here means something decidedly greater than when applied to John.

ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai (“he will be called Son of the Highest”)—Here, in context, klhqh/setai (“he will be called“) is parallel and generally synonymous with e&stai (“he will be“); see, for example, the parallel saying of Jesus in Matt 5:9 / Lk 6:35. In ancient (Near Eastern) thought, the name represented the essential identity and character of the person, often in a dynamic, quasi-magical sense. The giving of a name—especially when given by God—confers (and confirms) just who the child is, and what he/she will become. In this respect, it is worth noting the ‘prophetic’ nature of many naming scenes in the Old Testament (Gen 5:29 et al), and in the New Testament as well (Matt 1:21; 16:17-18, etc). Here the specific name is “son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou)—u(yi/sto$, which is attested in (pagan) Greek usage (of Zeus, etc), is used in the LXX of YHWH, as a translation of Hebrew /oyl=u# ±Elyôn (Gen 14:18; Dan 4:14; cf. also Jubilees 16:18, and note 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22). It is used relatively often in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17)—in Lk 1:76, it is said of John, “you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest [profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|]”. Cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 347-8.

Luke 1:35 “…will be called Holy, the Son of God”

In this verse, the prophetic announcement and naming of the child by the angel (Gabriel) comes to a climax with the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=). Actually, the syntax of this phrase is somewhat ambiguous, and there are at least two other ways it could be translated: (a) “…(will be) holy (and) will be called Son of God”, or (b) “the holy (child)…will be called Son of God”. It does seem better to read a%gion (as a substantive adjective) and ui(o\$ qeou= as parallel predicates which are generally apposite. As a whole, verse 35 refers to both the conception and birth of the child:

Conception (v. 35a)—with two phrases:

There is a strong poetic quality to the angel’s words and the phrases clearly are in synonymous parallelism: “Holy Spirit / Power of the Highest”, “come upon you / cast shade upon you”). The two-fold image or metaphor reflects both the presence and power of God.

Birth (v. 35b)—here there are likewise two phrases, which follow the general pattern of the announcement in v. 31:

“you will produce a son | and you will call his name Yeshua” (v. 31)
“the (child) coming to be born | will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (v. 35)

  • “the (child) coming to be (born)” (to\ gennw/menon)—in a few MSS (C* Q f1 33), versional witnesses, and in several Church Fathers, the reading is “the (child) coming to be (born) out of you [e)k sou]”; if the addition was intentional, the purpose may have been to emphasize the full reality of Jesus’ human birth, i.e. that he genuinely partook from Mary’s flesh (contrary to the view of certain “Gnostics”)—for more on this possibility, cf. B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford:1993, p. 139. The fundamental meaning of genna/w, like the cognate verb gi/nomai, is “come to be, become”, though often with the specific denotation of coming to be born. Subsequent notes will provide further exploration of the use of this verb in the New Testament.
  • “will be called Holy, (the) Son of God” (a%gion klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=)—assuming that this is the correct way to render the syntax of this verse (cf. above), there are two names or titles given to Jesus:
    a%gion (“Holy [One]”), a neuter substantive; Jesus is not often referred to specifically as “holy” (a%gio$) in the New Testament, but there are several key passages where it is used as a substantive appellation (Luke 4:34 par; Jn 6:69; Acts 3:14 [cf. also 4:27, 30]; Rev 3:7). In Luke 1:49, it is used specifically as a name/title of God the Father (YHWH); cf. also Rev 4:8; 6:10.
    ui(o\$ qeou= (“Son of God”), used frequently of Jesus, in various forms, sometimes in the unqualified/absolute form “(the) Son” ([o(] ui(o/$). In the Gospel of John, Jesus often identifies himself as “the Son”, though, throughout the Gospels, the specific title “Son of God” is almost never spoken by Jesus (cf. Jn 5:25 and note Lk 22:70 par), the title “Son of Man” being far more common.

With this climactic point of the angel’s announcement to Mary, the stage is set for our examination of the various passages of the New Testament, which will be presented in the daily notes running on through Epiphany (Jan 6). In exactly what sense should we understand the expression “Son of God” as applied to Jesus in this passage? This will be explored throughout the upcoming notes, always keeping in view the context of Lk 1:26-38. In conclusion, one ought to mention the extraordinary correspondence of several key elements from the annunciation which are found, together, in a text from Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)—4Q246, sometimes referred to as the Aramaic “Son of God” text. The four key phrases in 1:32, 35 are indicated and compared side by side with 4Q246:

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

For more on this remarkable text, see the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” article.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Volume 28 [1981].

“And you shall call His Name…”: Matthew 1:21

Matthew 1:21

Having examined the Lukan Infancy narrative in considerable in the articles of this series so far, here on Christmas day I will now turn to the narrative in Matthew. Following the genealogy of Jesus (through Joseph), in Matt 1:1-17, the Infancy narrative proper begins with verse 18 (“Jesus’ coming to be [born] was [i.e. happened] this [way]”) . By comparison with Luke’s account, that in Matthew has a much simpler structure. In place of the inter-cutting John and Jesus narrative, with their rich language and imagery drawn from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, we have a more concise sequence of short dramatic episodes with a single narrative arc. Each episode is inspired by the Old Testament, drawing upon the Scriptures in two ways:

  • The Matthean scene is patterned after one or more passages, by which it acts out and fulfills Scripture dramatically in the narrative
  • Specific verses are quoted, by the author, using a citation formula found throughout the Gospel, stating that the episode (or elements of it) are a fulfillment of prophecy

We can see both of these aspects at work in the first episode in 1:18-25. The relatively simple structure of Matthew’s narrative can be seen by the following outline:

  • Narrative introduction (vv. 18-19)—establishes the character of Joseph (parallel to Zechariah/Elizabeth in Luke)
  • The Angelic appearance and announcement (vv. 20-21)
  • Scripture–Fulfillment of Prophecy (vv. 22-23)
  • Narrative conclusion/summary (vv. 24-25)—the character of Joseph in his response to the message

In verse 19, Joseph is described as “just, right(eous)” (di/kaio$), the same adjective applied to Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6. There is a definite similarity in the portrait painted by both authors. In this context, di/kaio$ should be understood in traditional religious terms—relating to observance of the commands and regulations of the Torah, such as we see depicted by Luke (1:6ff, 59; 2:21-24, 39, 41ff). Here in Matthew, Joseph’s righteousness is illustrated in his observance of the regulations involving marital infidelity (v. 19, cf. Deut 24:1-4). He sought to be merciful to Mary in his observance of the Law, and to divorce her ‘quietly’ with as little attention as possible (cp. Num 5:11-31; Deut 22:20-21). Quite understandably, he was thinking heavily upon the matter (note the verb e)nqume/omai, meaning to be in deep/passionate thought, etc, about something), and this sets the scene for the Angel’s appearance:

“…see!—(the) Messenger of the Lord shone forth to him according to [i.e. through] a dream, saying: ‘Yoseph, son of Dawid, you should not be afraid to take alongside (of you) Maryam your wife [lit. woman]—for the (child) coming to be (born) in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit!'” (v. 20)

This Angelic (birth) announcement is similar to those in Luke—to Zechariah and to Mary (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)—and follows a basic pattern from episodes in the Old Testament (cf. the earlier note on 1:26ff, and Brown, Birth, pp. 155-9). Formally, the wording in 1:20-21 is closest to Lk 1:13, and to Gen 17:19 in the Old Testament. The distinct detail here in Matthew—that the Messenger of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream—may well be an allusion to the Joseph narratives in Genesis.

The scene here (involving Joseph) is very much parallel to the Annuciation to Mary in Luke. The Angel’s words in v. 20b are similar to those in Lk 1:35—as a response/sign to confirm the miraculous message:

“for the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to\ gennhqe/n] in her is out of the holy Spirit

Compare with Luke 1:35 (for more detail, cf. the earlier note):

“the holy Spirit will come upon you…the (thing [i.e. child]) coming to be (born) [to\ gennw/menon] will be called Holy”

Thus we have comparable statements by the Angel of the Lord to Joseph and Mary, respectively. The birth announcement proper occurs in verse 21; there are three elements to the declaration, each of which has a different subject:

  • birth—”she {Mary} will produce [i.e. bring forth] a son”
  • name—”you {Joseph} shall call his name Yeshua”
  • explanation of the name—”he {Jesus} will save his people…”

In contrast to the Lukan narrative, in which the names Yohanan (John) and Yeshua (Jesus) are explained indirectly in the announcement scenes, or through the language and imagery of the hymns, etc, here in Matthew, the significance of the name is stated explicitly by the Angel. In the Introduction to this series, I discussed the importance of names in the Ancient Near East, and how they were understood, especially when utilizing divine names and titles. Many ancient names were phrase- or sentence-names which incorporate a hypocoristic (shortened) form of a divine name. Most commonly in ancient Israel, these involved the names °E~l (cf. the article) and Yahweh (article). The name given by the Angel here is a Yaweh (Yah) name—Hebrew/Aramaic Y¢šûa± (u^Wvy@), a shortened form of Y§hôšûa± (u^Wvohy+), best known in connection with the early Israelite commander and successor to Moses (i.e. Joshua). This name is best translated as the divine name Y¹h(û) and an imperative of the verb šw± (uwv), “(seek, cry for) help”, and would mean something like “Yah(weh) give help!” The context of the cry of a mother during childbirth may be intended (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 347), and, indeed, salvation was often described in terms of the suffering of the human condition as like the pains of a woman in labor. Deliverance and new life comes at the end of a short time of intense pain and trouble.

The explanation by the Angel involves a play on words—the name Y¢šûa± sounds like the word y§šû±¹h (hu*Wvy+), derived from a different root yš± (uvy), “save, deliver, (make) free”, and thus essentially meaning “salvation”. The theme of salvation was prominent in the hymns of the Lukan narrative (1:46-47ff, 68-69ff) and Jesus was called by the title “Savior” (swth/r) in 2:11 (cf. 1:47). Here, however, the association is made more explicit and precise, tied to Jesus’ very name—and, thus, according to the ancient sense of names, to his essential character and identity, i.e. as one who saves:

“…and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21)

A similar (popular) interpretation of the name Yeshua (Jesus/Joshua) is known from the time of the New Testament, in Philo, On the Change of Names §121. Note also the important declaration in Acts 4:12: “there is not salvation in any other (name); for indeed there is no different name under heaven, given among men, in which it is necessary (for) us to be saved”. For early Christians, salvation and protection—including healing from disease and infirmity—were connected closely with the name Jesus/Yeshua. And this is another way of saying that salvation is found and experienced through the person of Jesus, rather than simply by a magical recitation of his name. As in Luke 1:77 (cf. verse 69), here salvation is understood in terms of deliverance/release from sin (and the power of sin). The plural “sins” refers to individual personal misdeeds and failings, but from the standpoint of the people (“his people”) taken collectively. In the Matthean narrative at this point, “people” still refers exclusively, or primarily, to the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews), while in Luke the author is already extending the word to include others (believers) from among the nations. The presence of the Magoi in Matthew 2 may represent a similar widening of God’s revelation into the Gentile world; this is not certain, though it is likely, if one accepts an allusion to Psalm 72:10-11; Isa 60:6 in the passage.

In the annunciation scenes from Matthew and Luke, the command to give the name Yeshua to the child is directed at Joseph and Mary, respectively. While this naturally would fit either or both of the parents, here in Matthew there is special significance to Joseph as the one giving the name. It establishes his legal paternity, thus making Jesus legitimately a “son of David” (v. 20; cf. Lk 1:27; 2:4). The importance of this association is confirmed by the preceding genealogy (vv. 1-17). The Davidic aspect of Jesus’ identity will be discussed further in the upcoming note on Matt 2:2, 4.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993). Those marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).