“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:6-8

1 John 5:6-8

The two central themes of 1 John—trust in Jesus and love of believer for one another—are brought together again at the start of chapter 5. Just as they represented the two aspects of the two-fold command, or duty, for the believer in Christ, so here they define one’s Christian identity—as a son/child of God, one who has come to be born of God. This is stated clearly in verse 1:

“Every (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be (born) out of God, and every (one) loving the (One) causing (one) to be (born) [also] loves the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

The articular perfect participle o( gegennhme/no$ (“the [one] having coming to be [born]”) serves as a title for believers in the Johannine letters. Apart, it would seem, from the second occurrence in 5:18, the verb genna/w in 1 John always is used of believers, referring to our spiritual birth “out of God” (e)k tou= qeou=)—cf. 2:29; 3:9 (twice); 4:7; 5:4, 18; also Jn 1:13; 3:3-8. It is always used in the passive, i.e. the so-called “divine passive”, where God (and the Spirit of God) is the implied subject; only in the second occurrence here in verse 1 is God indicated as the active subject.

Love is the aspect emphasized in vv. 2-3, while faith/trust in Jesus is given emphasis in vv. 4ff. Indeed, in verses 4-5 it is stated that our trust in Jesus is that which gives us victory over the world:

“(For it is) that every (one) having coming to be (born) out of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world; and this is the victory [nikh/] th(at) gives victory [nikh/sasa] (over) the world—our trust. [And] who is the (one com)ing to be victorious (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God.”

In the Johannine writings the word ko/smo$ refers, according to the fundamental meaning of the word, to the current world order—i.e. the arrangement of things as they have come to be for created (spec. human) beings, governed and dominated by sin and darkness. In John 16:33, the closing words of the Last Discourse proper, Jesus declares “I have been victorous [neni/khka] (over) the world!” Presumably it is the completion of Jesus’ mission on earth—the e)ntolh/ given to him by the Father—culminating in his sacrificial death (cf. 19:30) which is in view. This same duty or “command” (e)ntolh/) is expressed for the believer in terms of trust in Jesus and love for fellow believers, as we have seen. The word e)ntolh/ appears again here in verse 3, connected specifically with the duty to love, but it would apply just as well to the trust that is emphasized in vv. 4ff. Just as Jesus was victorious over the world, so, too, are we through our trust in him.

This “trust” (pi/sti$) is not left unqualified. For the author of the letter, true trust or “faith” in Jesus means something definite—a specific recognition (and confession) of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Christ/Messiah) and Son of God. Of particular interest for the author is the Christological belief that Jesus was the Anointed One and Son of God who came to earth in the flesh (e)n sarki/). This is the test given in 4:2-3, and any message which denies, or is unwilling to admit, this about Jesus, is “against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$, i.e. “antichrist”). From the context, we may fairly assume that such a Christological view characterized those who separated from the Johannine congregations. It may also explain why the author begins the letter as he does (in 1:1), emphasizing the (concrete) hearing, seeing and touching of Jesus. Such a view (denying Jesus’ coming “in the flesh”) would seem to reflect some early kind of “docetic” Christology—i.e., that Jesus was not a true flesh-and-blood human being (in the ordinary sense), but only seemed to be so. It must be admitted, as many commentators have noted, that it would not be difficult for such a Christological outlook to develop from the Gospel of John itself with its “high” Christology. By comparison with the Synoptic Gospels, and other early strands of Gospel tradition, the portrait of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel gives relatively less emphasis on certain aspects of Jesus’ human nature—i.e. his experience as a true human being.

It is particularly in regard to Jesus’ experience of human suffering that the Gospel of John differs considerably from the Synoptics. Consider that:

    • There is no institution of the “Lord’s Supper” in the Last Supper scene; as a result, the breaking of his body and shedding of his blood is not emphasized (or even mentioned) in chapters 13-17. By contrast, earlier references to Jesus’ upcoming death stress his (divine) authority in laying down his life, and taking it up again (cf. 10:17-18, etc).
    • In the Garden scene (18:1-11f), there is no account of any suffering by Jesus such as we see in Mk 14:34-39 par; [Lk 22:43-44] (but note Jn 12:27). By contrast, Jesus is depicted as being fully in control of events, speaking with such authority to his captors that they fall to the ground (v. 5-8).
    • Similarly, Jesus speaks with divine authority to Pilate (18:33-38; 19:9-11), while in the Synoptics he says virtually nothing.
    • There is no “cry of dereliction” by Jesus on the cross, nor any loud cry at the moment of his death; nor is there any account of people standing by mocking him. By contrast, Jesus is surrounded by his mother and close disciples, and appears to speak calmly, depicted as being in control of events, even at the very moment of his death (19:25-30).

Clearly, the Gospel writer has a very different side of the story he is telling, one which, while drawing upon many of the same fundamental historical traditions as the Synoptics, is presented in different manner, with themes and points of emphasis unique to the Johannine Tradition. One especially important tradition—that of the blood and water emerging out of Jesus side (19:31-37, vv. 34, 37)—would seem to relate in some way to 1 John 5:6-8. Here is how this passage begins:

“This is the (one) coming through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in the water only, but in the water and the blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness (to this), (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth.” (v. 6)

The initial (emphatic) pronoun (“this”, ou!to$) picks up from the end of verse 5, and refers to Jesus, the Son of God (“…that Yeshua is the Son of God”); the same identification is specified parethetically in v. 6, thus combining the two titles marking Jesus’ identity:

    • “Yeshua…the Son of God
    • “Yeshua the Anointed (One)

As in the case of the declaration in 4:2-3, it is not enough to trust/proclaim Jesus by these titles, but also to recognize (and confess) that Jesus came “through water and blood”. This phrase, and the statement in v. 6a, has long perplexed commentators—how exactly should this phrase be understood, and what, indeed, does it mean? The first clue lies in the obvious parallel with 4:2-3; note the specific belief regarding Jesus which was the point of contention between the author and the “antichrists”:

    • Jesus…has come in the flesh [e)n sarki/] (4:2)
    • Jesus…is the one (hav)ing come through water and blood [di’ u%dato$ kai\ ai%mato$] (5:6)

While the preposition dia/ (“through”) is different, that it may be understood as synonymous with e)n (“in”) is clear from the phrasing which follows: “in water and blood” (e)n tw=| u%dati kai\ tw=| ai%mati). Thus the parallel is even more precise:

    • in the flesh
    • in water and blood

In other words, to say that Jesus came “in water and blood” is generally the same as saying that he came “in the flesh”. At the same time, the phrase in 5:6 also appears to build on that in 4:2, indicating a development of thought. If “in the flesh” indicates that Jesus was born as a real flesh-and-blood human being, taking on the human condition, then the expression “water and blood” must relate to this in some way. This will be the focus of the discussion in the next note.

January 12: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$ (“…alongside God and men”). This phrase qualifies (and locates) the ‘progress’ Jesus makes in “wisdom and age and favor”, and is (with the verse as a whole) drawn from 1 Samuel 2:26 (cf. also below on the parallel in Proverbs 3:4). The preposition para/ would be rendered properly “alongside”, but often has the sense of “with” (cf. meta/ in the LXX of 1 Sam 2:26) or “before”—i.e., “with God and men”, “before God and men”. It hardly need be said that “men” (pl. of a)nqrw/po$) here means people in general, other human beings.

How does this expression relate to each of the three terms coming before it? To begin with the second, h(liki/a (“age”): to say that Jesus progressed in age (or size/stature) alongside (other) men is simply another way of stating that he grew up into an adult just like everyone else around him. See Galatians 1:14, where Paul states that he “progressed [proe/kopton] in Judaism above many together-in-age [sunhlikiw/ta$, i.e. those his same age]”. An interesting question is whether the phrase “alongside God and men” governs all three terms, or just (e)n) xa/riti. In my view the phrase applies primarily to xa/riti (i.e. “in favor alongside God and men”), but covers the whole verse as well (i.e. the progress in wisdom/age/favor all takes place “alongside God and men”).

What of wisdom (sofi/a) in this regard? There are several possibilities:

    • Jesus progresses/increases in both human and divine wisdom
    • His progress/advancement in wisdom (whether understood generally or as human or divine wisdom) takes place both before God and among other people.
    • His wisdom (human and/or divine) is increasingly recognized by both God and men.

As I feel that wisdom generally is meant in verse 52, the second interpretation seems more likely; however, the nature of the Lukan Gospel narrative as a whole makes the third at least possible (for the theme of recognition in the Infancy narrative, cf. Lk 1:41ff; 2:16-18, 19, 27ff, 38, 46-48, 50-51).

The word xa/ri$ has a closer (proximate) connection to the phrase “alongside God and men”, as indicated above. This is made clear in 1 Samuel 2:26 (the main model for Lk 2:52): “and the child Samuel passed on and became great and (was) good both with the Lord and with men“. This is a literal rendering of the Hebrew: “and the youth Samuel went [lit. walked] and became great, and was good both with YHWH and also with men”. Consider also the similar wording in Proverbs 3:4: “and find [imperative] favor and good-skill in the eyes of God and man”. The word here translated “skill” (lk#c@) is somewhat similar in meaning to sofi/a (“intelligence, understanding”, etc). In any case, there is a general connection here between “favor” [/j@ = xa/ri$] and ‘wisdom’, as in Lk 2:52. To gain favor in the eyes of someone, means that he/she increasingly thinks well of, and is pleased with (or finds joy/delight in), that person.

Even though the righteous (or believers) may experience persecution, there is also the thought expressed that they will (or should work honestly to) gain favor in the eyes of people in the world (believers and non-believers alike). As an example, consider the initial reaction to Jesus in the Lukan account of his appearance back in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30). Since this is the first episode (in Luke’s Gospel) of Jesus’ public ministry (following the baptism and temptation), its connection back to 2:52 (and 2:40) is noteworthy. There are actually several verbal and thematic points of contact:

    • Following the baptism, Jesus returns “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1); on the parallel with “being filled with wisdom” in 2:40, see the previous day’s note.
    • Following the temptation, Jesus returns “in (the power) of the Spirit” (4:14); cf. the longer reading of 2:40.
    • Jesus comes to Nazareth, where he had been nourished/nurtured [i.e. brought up, raised] (4:16); this connects back to the end of the Infancy narrative (esp. 2:39-40, 50-51) and to his progressing “in age” [h(liki/a|] in v. 52.
    • Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah (Isa 61:1-2): “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (4:18f); this is parallel to the “the favor [xa/ri$] of God was upon him” in v. 40 (cf. “in favor [xa/riti] before God”, v. 52).
    • Upon his reading, and the saying in 4:21, the townspeople in the synagogue all “gave (good) witness concerning him and wondered at the gracious/favorable/pleasant [xa/rito$] words that were passing/coming out of his mouth” (4:22)

Of course, the crowd turns against Jesus halfway through the episode, but the first portion at least serves almost as an illustration of 2:52.

In conclusion, it is necessary to return to the Christological question touched upon in the previous days’ notes: what exactly does the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) indicate regarding the person of Jesus in this verse? I would make the following points:

1. An emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. In a primary sense the growth of v. 40 and the progress of v. 52 is that which is common to all human beings. What of the idea of his advancement in wisdom? Luke certainly seems to be affirming that Jesus grew in human skill and understanding, and, indeed, to deny this of him virtually results in a one-sided (docetic) Christology. Fully human means just that—it includes (natural) growth and development in knowledge and understanding. The presence of h(liki/a (age/size/stature) positioned in between sofi/a (wisdom) and xa/ri$ (favor) confirms that normal human development is involved.

2. What Jesus shares in common with the righteous. Wisdom (sofi/a) and favor (xa/ri$) are attributed to the righteous (of Israel), and to believers; this includes the motif of being “filled with wisdom” and having “the favor God upon” him. Consider especially in this regard, the following details in the Infancy narrative: (a) the Temple setting, (b) the presence of devout pious Israelites such as Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna, (c) the themes and Scriptural allusions in the canticles, (d) the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus’ parents, (e) the theme of fulfilling the Law.

3. The connection between wisdom/favor and (the) Spirit. On these points, see above and in the previous note. There is a reasonably close parallel between being filled with wisdom and being filled with the Spirit; similarly the favor of God can be related to the Spirit being or coming upon a person. At the very least, this conjunction of elements shows Jesus to be especially or uniquely favored (one may say chosen). But the angelic annunciation to Mary earlier in the narrative (Lk 1:35) indicates an even closer connection to the Spirit. The relationship to God is only implied in 2:40, 52, but will be expressed more fully at the baptism (Lk 3:21-22), in the Lukan account of the transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36), and the post-resurrection narratives.

4. His unique/chosen character will be recognized by both God and men. People may respond to Jesus’ human wisdom (Lk 2:46-48; 4:22), or they may penetrate to a deeper understanding of his Person. In this regard, note especially the canticle (Lk 2:29-32) and prophecy (Lk 2:34-35) of Simeon, and the carefully narrated responses by Mary in 2:19, 51b. In other words, the Incarnation as such does not exist in a vacuum: it occurs alongside (para/) human beings—they may respond positively or negatively, with acceptance or rejection.

5. A suggestion of the Two Natures? It must be admitted that Luke does not specifically declare or narrate the Deity of Jesus (in the traditional orthodox sense) in chapters 1-2. Of course, it is not in any way denied either. In the angelic announcements (Lk 1:32, 35; 2:11) and the exclamation of Elizabeth (Lk 1:43) we find the closest thing to an outright declaration—effectively identifying Jesus with the Lord (YHWH) and as Son of God. One may also read 2:40 as an indication of divine status, in some sense. Is it possible that there is even a hint of the ‘Two Natures’ of Christ in v. 52? It is noteworthy that the Infancy narrative ends with the phrase “alongside God and men“. While I think it unlikely that Luke would consciously have had such an allusion in mind, the inspired authors of Scripture almost certainly wrote better than they themselves knew or understood. By any standard, the doctrine of the hypostatic union requires that one at least acknowledge the profound mystery of the Incarnation even in verses as apparently simple and unassuming as Lk 2:52.

January 11: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

e)n th=| sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti (“…in wisdom and age and favor”). These three terms represent the areas in which Jesus progressed/advanced (proe/kopten). To begin with the second: h(liki/a would be rendered “age” in its primary sense, but also carries the meaning “size” or “stature” (cf. Lk 12:25 par; 19:3; John 9:21, 23; Eph 4:13; Heb 11:11). It is clear enough that the word here indicates normal human physiological growth. But what of the two surrounding terms?

sofi/a and xa/ri$ also occur together in the prior summary description of the child Jesus’ growth (Lk 2:40), so it is reasonable to assume that their use here has some relation to that in v. 40. The first word sofi/a has the basic sense of knowledge/ability, the practical side of which we might render as “skill”, often with the sense of being experienced, etc; the more abstract intellectual side is best translated by “wisdom”, and it is this meaning that came to be predominant. The word occurs more than 50 times in the New Testament, with three points of reference—(1) wisdom generally, (2) specifically human wisdom, or (3) specifically divine wisdom. In regard to these last two, see especially Paul’s interchange between them in 1 Corinthians 1-2. The epistle of James also distinguishes the wisdom “from above” with flawed/false human ‘wisdom’ (James 3:15, 17). More to the point is the usage of sofi/a in Luke-Acts: apart from proverbial references to wisdom in Lk 7:35; 11:31, most of the occurrences relate to the special wisdom possessed by the righteous (Lk 1:17) or believers (Lk 21:15), the latter indicating a specific gift from God. Two passages are particularly worth noting:

  1. Wisdom is attributed to Stephen (parallel with “Spirit” [pneu=ma]) in Acts 6:3, 10; cf. especially v. 3: “full of [the] Spirit and wisdom”. The expression is similar to that in Lk 2:40. Here, as in Lk 1:80, it is not absolutely certain that pneu=ma means the Holy Spirit, but this is more likely when referring to believers in Acts.
  2. Wisdom is attributed to Moses in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:10, 22). Here normal human wisdom, or wisdom generally, is indicated. The expression in 7:10, “and (God) gave him favor [xa/rin] and wisdom [sofi/an] in front of Pharaoh”, is fairly close to that of Lk 2:52 and is certainly the closest parallel.

There is a fine line, perhaps, between the wisdom of God (i.e. divine wisdom) and special wisdom/understanding which God grants to the believer or righteous one. Is the wisdom attributed to Moses (in Acts 7:10) or Jesus (in Lk 2:40, 52) a unique/attenuated form of human (intellectual) ‘skill’ or does it reflect an inspired, revelatory charisma in a deeper sense?

The final word, xa/ri$, can be somewhat difficult to translate, for it carries a rather wide semantic range. The primary sense is “joy, delight”, the noun being derived from xai/rw (“rejoice, be glad/pleased”); in other words, that which brings joy or delight, etc. The xa/ri$, the response to that which brings joy, can be understood either in terms of giving or receiving—a person who finds joy/pleasure in someone or something, bestows favor, or a gift on the object of joy; one who receives favor (or a gift) will, in turn, over an expression of gratitude or thanks. In English, “grace” has a similarly multivalent meaning, but has also become heavily infused with a specific theological-soteriological sense (by way of Paul, Augustine, and the Reformers). Generally, “favor” is preferable as a translation of xa/ri$, both in Luke 2:40, 52 and in the rest of the New Testament as well.

Let us consider the use of sofi/a and xa/ri$ in Luke 2:40; there it states that the child (Jesus) “grew and became strong, being filled [plhrou/menon present pass. participle] with wisdom [sofi/a|] and (the) favor [xa/ri$] of God was [h@n imperfect active indicative] upon him”. So there are two expressions:

    • “[being] filled with wisdom”
    • “favor of God [was] upon him”

With regard to the first expression, there seems to be a connection between wisdom (sofi/a) and spirit (or “Spirit”, pneu=ma)—cf. Acts 6:3, and the Lukan references to John and his parents being “filled” with the Spirit (Lk 1:15, 41, 67). In Lk 1:80 there is also the statement that the child John “grew and became strong in (the) spirit [pneu/mati]”. As indicated in a prior note, some manuscripts and versions of Lk 2:40 also contain pneu/mati, though most scholars consider the shorter reading to be original. In my view, Lk 1:15, 41, 67 (and Acts 6:3) all refer to the (Holy) Spirit, but for Lk 1:80, something more akin to “the (prophetic) spirit of Elijah” (Lk 1:17) is intended. In the book of Acts, believers too are “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17, etc); and it is noteworthy that the Gospel of Luke uses the expression of Jesus as well (Lk 4:1), though more commonly Jesus is “in the Spirit” (4:1, 14; 10:21) or the Spirit is “upon him” (3:22; 4:18, cf. also 1:35). There may also be a parallel between “favor of God upon him” and “the Spirit (of God) upon him”. In any case, Lk 2:40 clearly refers to the unique relationship between Jesus and God. But should we identify the “wisdom” here with divine wisdom? I believe that the connection with wisdom and Spirit is close enough in this regard to justify the equation. In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, wisdom (Heb. hm*k=j*) was occasionally personified as an aspect (or hypostasis) of God Himself—i.e. Divine Wisdom (see Proverbs 8, and the deutero-canonical book of Wisdom). In early Christian theology, Jesus too was often identified both with the Word (Lo/go$) and Wisdom (Sofi/a) of God. With regard the the favor (xa/ri$) of God, I do not think it inappropriate to draw upon the words of the divine Voice at Jesus’ baptism: “this is my (be)loved Son, in you I am well-pleased [lit. think well of]” (Lk 3:22 par.).

The situation is somewhat different with the use of sofi/a and xa/ri$ in Luke 2:52, for here more decidedly the emphasis is on Jesus’ human growth and development (as will be discussed in the next note). I would argue that “wisdom” and “favor” are used in a more general sense, in a way that would be applicable to all human beings (or at least, all righteous/believers). It would be much too simplistic to say, from an orthodox perspective, that verse 52 refers to Jesus’ humanity, and verse 40 to his deity, but I think there is a sense in which this is not far from the mark. The Christological problem, of course, comes in relating the humanity and deity of Christ—how exactly should we understand his progressing/advancing “in wisdom… and favor”? There is no reason to think that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) means anything other than a normal (albeit especially gifted) growth in human wisdom (knowledge/understanding/skill/experience), such as would have been found in Moses, for example (on this, see Acts 7:10, 22, also Josephus Antiquities II.228-231). The expression, as applied to the righteous in general, is close to that of Proverbs 3:4. Does Luke intend something deeper as well? This will be discussed in the concluding note on this verse; however, consider the following paradigm as a possible expression of the Christological mystery:

The Wisdom [sofi/a] (v. 40, 52)
(of God)
{parallel to the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God}
which fills him
(v. 40, cf. also Lk 4:1 etc)
Jesus progresses/advances in age [h(liki/a] (v. 52)
as he grows and becomes strong (v.40)
—an expression of his human nature which is
in between expressions of his deity (his relationship to God)
The Favor [xa/ri$] (v. 40, 52)
of God
{i.e. this is my beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased, cf. Luke 3:22}
which is upon him {as the Spirit [pneu=ma] is upon him}
(v. 40, cf. Luke 3:22; 4:18)

January 10: Luke 2:52 (continued)

Luke 2:52, continued

(see the previous daily note)

Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

proe/kopten (“[and Yeshua/Jesus] struck forward”). The verb proko/ptw literally means “to cut/strike forward”, but is typically translated “to progress, advance, etc”; in English idiom we might say “make (one’s) way ahead, make headway”. The verb is used just five other times in the New Testament: once in Romans 13:12 (as a locution for the coming of night), and three times in 2 Timothy. These latter instances warn against believers’ failure to make (positive) spiritual progress (2 Tim 3:9); indeed many may go from bad to worse (2 Tim 2:16; 3:13). The use in Galatians 1:14 corresponds closely to that in Lk 2:52: there Paul states that (as a young man) he “progressed [proe/kopten] in Judaism over many (of those) together-in-age [sunhlikiw/ta$, i.e. those his own age]”. The verb is not found in the Septuagint, but the related noun prokoph/ (“progress”) does occur in Sirach 51:17; 2 Macc 8:8, as well as several times in the New Testament (Phil 1:12, 25; 1 Tim 4:15).

As mentioned in an earlier note, the narrative summary statements in Luke 1:80; 2:40, 52 are modeled, in part, after the descriptions of the child Samuel‘s development in 1 Samuel 2:21, 26 (in particular, Lk 2:52 is rather close to 1 Sam 2:26). An examination of the verbs used may be helpful:

  • 1 Sam 2:21 [LXX]—”and the (little) child Samuel became great [e)megalu/nqh aorist passive]…”
  • 1 Sam 2:26 [LXX]—”and the (little) child Samuel passed on [e)poreu/eto imperfect middle] and became great [e)megalu/neto imperfect passive]…”
  • Luke 1:80; 2:40—”and the (little) child grew [hu&canen imperfect active] and became strong [e)krataiou=to imperfect passive]…”
  • Luke 2:52—”and Jesus struck forward [proe/kopten imperfect active]…”

The expression in 1 Sam 2:26, which is a literal rendering of the Hebrew syntax, indicates continued growth (“become great” generally = “grow”). Luke 1:80; 2:40 roughly corresponds by use of a similar expression “grew and became strong”. proe/kopten in Luke 2:52 more specifically emphasizes progress or advancement.

This progress cannot be separated from the following three terms—wisdom (sofi/a), age (h(liki/a), and favor (xa/ri$). I will be discussing these in the next note; but, suffice it to say, there is almost nothing in this verse to suggest anything other than normal human growth and development. The situation is perhaps a little different in verse 40, where the relationship is specifically between the child and God—there the same words wisdom (sofi/a) and favor (xa/ri$) also occur, but in distinctive expressions common to the Old Testament: the child was “filled with wisdom” and “the favor of God was upon him”. Even here, however, the context need not indicate anything more than the sort of divine gifting and favor shown to prophets and patriarchs of old.

Needless to say, these references to Jesus’ growth and progress have created some difficulty for those accustomed to thinking of him from an orthodox Christological point of view. Development in terms of age/stature (h(liki/a) is not really a problem, but the idea of growth in wisdom (sofi/a) and grace/favor (xa/ri$) for one understood to be the incarnate Son of God (fully divine from birth) is a bit more troublesome. Even we limit sofi/a to human wisdom and understanding, it is not entirely clear how one would relate Jesus’ growth and progress here to the divine omniscience, etc. one usually attributes to him. This is all part and parcel of the mystery of the incarnation and the person of Christ, and it is surely dangerous to read too much into these few short verses. But what Christological point or stance (if any) does the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) wish to convey here? This will be explored a bit further in the next note.

January 9: Luke 2:52

For the next several days, leading up to the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (Jan 13), I will examine Luke 2:52—the only verse in the New Testament which describes Jesus’ life as a young man prior to his baptism. Each word and phrase will be discussed in detail.

Luke 2:52
Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

kai\  )Ihsou=$ (“and Yeshua/Jesus…”). This is the fifth mention of Jesus’ name in the Lukan Infancy narrative: the first two relate to the giving of the name in the angelic annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:31), repeated at the circumcision (Lk 2:21). The next three are found in Lk 2:22-40, 41-52. The parallel structure of these two sections was illustrated in the previous note, and may be clarified here:

  • The little child Jesus (to\ paidi/on  )Ihsou=n) in the Temple (2:22-38)—the phrase is in the accusative (his parents brought the little child Jesus into the Temple), with “the (little) child” mentioned before “Jesus”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of the little child (to\ paidi/on) (2:40).
  • Jesus the child ( )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$) in the Temple (2:41-50)—the phrase is in the nominative (Jesus remained behind), with “Jesus” mentioned before “the child”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of Jesus ( )Ihsou=$) (2:52).

It is significant that Jesus neither speaks nor acts on his own until this second episode (v. 43b, 46-51), when he is twelve years old (v. 42). This is a realistic depiction in terms of the normal development of a human child, and stands in contrast to a number of extra-canonical Infancy Gospels (Pseudo-Matthew, Arabic Infancy Gospel, Infancy Gospel of Thomas), where Jesus is shown to be an omniscient, miracle-working child practically from birth. It is only in 2:41-50 that “Jesus” takes precedence over “the (little) child”, as would befit the historical moment—for at the age of twelve, a Jewish boy was on the threshold of manhood, and would very soon take his place among the adult males in society. In other words, he was beginning to come into his own identity. Something of this is certainly indicated by Jesus’ statement in verse 49 (on the rendering and interpretation of this difficult saying, see my earlier article). The circumstances surrounding this saying are important:

  • Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem with his parents for Passover, as would be required by all adult males from the age of thirteen; for the twelve year old Jesus, this may, at the historical level, reflect a preliminary orientation to the practice under the supervision of his parents.
  • Jesus was separated from his parents and remained behind; it is useless to speculate on just why/how this separation may have occurred.
  • Symbolically at least, Jesus took his place as a young pupil seated among the Teachers (of the Law) in the Temple (there is no real indication that the boy Jesus was teaching them).
  • When confronted by his parents, Jesus affirmed his own identity and destiny (“it is necessary for me to be in/among the [things] of my Father”); note the difficulty his parents have in understanding this.

The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) does temper this episode with a statement in verse 51 (parallel to v. 39), that Jesus returned and was in obedient submission to his parents. However, by the end of verse 52, it is clear that we are dealing with Yeshua/Jesus as an independent young man, and the stage is set for the Gospel narrative proper—that is, of his adult ministry, marked and inaugurated by the revelation at his Baptism (Lk 3:21-22).

This depiction of the (natural human) growth and development of the child Jesus has proved somewhat problematic for commentators and theologians who approach the text from the standpoint of a developed (post-Nicene) Christology. As indicated above, there is no evidence in Luke 1-2 that Jesus, as a child, possessed omniscience (or even divine foreknowledge), nor did he work any miracles. The wisdom (sofi/a) and understanding (su/nesi$) mentioned in vv. 40, 47, and 52 need not reflect anything more than that of a gifted and precocious youth. All of which is fine for an affirmation of Jesus’ full humanity; but what of his deity? This will be explored, in relation to the remainder of verse 52, over the next few notes.

It is interesting that Luke offers no explanation for the name “Jesus (Yeshua)” such as we see in Matthew 1:21 (cf. earlier note), even though he is clearly writing for a Gentile (Greco-Roman) audience (Lk 1:1-4; Acts 1:1ff). Y¢šûa± (u^Wvy@) is a shortened form of the Hebrew Y§hôšûa± (u^Wvohy+), by contraction from Yôšûa± (u^Wvoy). Matthew 1:21 is presented as the message of Gabriel to Joseph, “and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins”; however, most critical scholars would effectively attribute the explanation to the Gospel writer (or earlier tradition). If intended as an actual etymology of the name, then, while certainly correct in a religious and theological sense, from a linguistic point of view it would seem to be inaccurate. By all accounts, uWvohy+ (Y§hôšûa±) is a combination of Yah(u), a theophoric/hypocoristic form of the divine name hwhy (YHWH) and uwv (“cry for help” cf. the noun u^Wv [šûa±] “[cry for] help”); the meaning would be something like “May-YHWH-help”. The etymology (if such it is) in Matt 1:21, would seem to derive the name from uvy (“save, deliver”); and, admittedly, the name is very close to (almost a homonym of) the noun hu*Wvy+ (y§šû±â), “salvation”. However, there is no reason to force the narrative in Matthew to bear the weight of such analysis. The similarity between y§šû±â and Y¢šûa± is enough to make the explanation entirely valid—such wordplay is frequent in the Scriptures, and is appropriate to time and place, used for communicating even the most profound theological insight. (See, for example, in my earlier note on Matthew 2:23).