Notes on Prayer: Luke 11:1-13

As we continue this survey of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, having already explored the core Synoptic traditions, as well as the passages and references unique to the Gospel of Matthew, we now turn to the Gospel of Luke. In considering the Lukan evidence, one is first struck by the emphasis given to prayer as a detail in the narrative, where it is mentioned, by the author (trad. Luke), quite apart from any specific traditions he has inherited. This will be touched on further in a future study on prayer in the book of Acts, but here it suffices to point out how this emphasis on prayer is expressed in the Gospel narrative.

First, prayer is associated with the Temple at several key points in the Infancy narrative (chaps. 1-2). The angelic appearance to Zechariah in the opening episode takes place, in the Temple sanctuary, at a time when people are praying in the precincts, coinciding with the evening (afternoon) sacrifice and the offering of incense (1:10). This is the same public “hour of prayer” which serves as the narrative setting in Acts 3:1ff. Moreover, the angel’s visitation is said to be in response to Zechariah’s own prayer to God (1:13). In a later episode, we read of the aged prophetess Anna, that she was regularly in the Temple precincts (2:37), doing service to God with fasting and prayer (de/hsi$, request, petition, supplication). These details are important in establishing the idea of the Temple as a place for worship, prayer, and teaching—rather than for cultic ritual and sacrificial offerings (see also 18:10ff). While this is part of the wider Synoptic tradition (cf. the discussion in Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”), it is given special emphasis in Luke-Acts, where the early believers in Jerusalem are portrayed as continuing to frequent the Temple (24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:20ff, 42; cf. also the article on “The Law in Luke-Acts”). This new, purified role and purpose for the Temple (in the New Covenant) provides a point of contact between early Christianity and the finest elements of Israelite/Jewish religion in the Old Covenant (as represented by the figures of Zechariah/Elizabeth, Joseph/Mary, and Simeon/Anna in the Infancy narratives).

Second, the Lukan Gospel provides a number of introductory/summary narrative statements which include the detail that Jesus was engaged in prayer, indicating that it was typical of his practice during the period of his ministry. The pattern of these notices, while again related to the wider Gospel tradition, is distinctively Lukan:

    • Lk 3:21—Of all the Gospel descriptions of the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11 par), only Luke includes the detail that Jesus was praying when the Spirit descends, etc:
      “And it came to be, in the dunking of all the people, and Yeshua also being dunked and speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], and (at) the opening up of the heaven…”
    • Lk 5:16—Curiously, in 4:42f which is parallel to the Synoptic Mk 1:35ff there is no mention of Jesus praying; this detail is given separately, at 5:16, following the call of the disciples and cleansing of the Leper (par Mk 1:16-20, 40-45):
      “and he was making space (for himself) down under in the desolate places, and (was) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying]”
    • Lk 6:12—Only Luke mentions Jesus praying on the mountain at the time of his selecting the Twelve disciples/apostles (Mk 3:13ff par):
      “And it came to be in those days, with his going out onto the mountain to speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], he was spending (time all) through the night in th(is) speaking out toward God.”
    • Lk 9:18—Again it is only Luke who mentions Jesus in prayer prior to his question to the disciples regarding his identity (Mk 9:27ff par):
      “And it came to be, in his being down alone speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], his learners [i.e. disciples] were (there) with him and…”
    • Lk 9:28-29—Similarly, in the Transfiguration episode (Mk 9:2-8 par), Luke is alone in stating that the purpose in going up on the mountain was to pray:
      “And it came to be, as if [i.e. about] eight days after these sayings, [and] (with) his taking along (the) Rock {Peter} and Yohanan and Ya’aqob, he stepped up onto the mountain to speak out toward God [i.e. pray]. And it came to be, in his speaking out toward (God)…”
      As in the Baptism narrative, the divine manifestation (and voice) comes after Jesus has been praying.
    • Lk 11:1—The narrative introduction prior to Jesus’ teaching on prayer (cf. below).

Luke 11:1-13

The major section in the Lukan Gospel dealing with Jesus’ teaching on prayer is 11:1-13. It includes the famous Lord’s Prayer, which I discussed in detail in earlier notes in this series. I will not repeat that study here, but will make mention of place of the Lord’s Prayer in the section of the Gospel as we have it. This may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13)

The narrative introduction is entirely Lukan in style and vocabulary; moreover, it evinces an interest in prayer (and the background detail of Jesus engaged in prayer) that is distinct to Luke among the Synoptics (cp. the passages noted above).

Verse 1

“And it came to be, in his being in a certain place (and) speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], as he ceased [i.e. finished], one of his learners [i.e. disciples] said to him, ‘Lord, teach us (how) to speak out toward (God), even as Yohanan also taught his learners’.”

In spite of the Lukan syntax and specific prayer-emphasis, there is an important matrix of traditional Gospel elements here in this narrative summary:

    • Jesus in the (regular) act of prayer (see above)
    • His disciples observing him, wishing to follow his example (i.e. to pray like he does)
    • The significance of disciples following the pattern of religious behavior established by their master is emphasized by mention of John the Baptist
    • The reference to John the Baptist teaching his disciples how to pray (cf. 5:33 par) indicates the importance of (a certain manner of) prayer within Jewish tradition

This positioning of prayer within the wider Jewish (religious) tradition, is comparable to the teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-15 (cf. the previous study), which also contains a version of the Lord’s Prayer. While Jesus’ instruction on prayer generally continues the Jewish tradition—indeed, there is very little that is distinctively ‘Christian’ in the Lord’s Prayer, etc—he gives to it a number of different points of emphasis and interpretation. This was perhaps more clearly evident in the Matthean teachings (in the Sermon on the Mount), but it is very much at work in this Lukan passage as well.

Verses 2-4

(On the Lord’s Prayer, consult the notes, for both the Matthean and Lukan versions, previously posted as part of this Notes on Prayer series.)

Verses 5-8

This parable is unique to Luke’s Gospel (so-called “L” material). It may well have been told on a separate occasion originally, and included here by way of the thematic association (prayer); either way, in its Lukan context, it serves to illustrate further the disciples’ request on how they should pray. If the Lord’s Prayer presented the proper form and content of prayer, this parable in vv. 5-8 stresses the need for boldness in prayer, regardless of the circumstances. Several points or details in this parable are worth noting:

    • The characters involved are not strangers, but friends—people dear (fi/lo$) to each other, at least to some extent (v. 5, 8)
    • The person making the request does not do so for himself (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3), but on behalf of another friend (v. 6)
    • The request is made at an inopportune time (“the middle of the night”), otherwise there would be no problem in meeting the request; moreover, the house is locked up and everyone is in bed (v. 7)
    • Commentators question the significance of the scenario depicted in verse 7, especially the householder’s statement to his friend that “I am not able, standing up (out of bed), to give (anything) to you”; how would this relate to God the Father? The details of the parable should not be pressed so far; it functions as a qal wahomer illustration—if a human being will respond this way, how much more so will God do so for his friends!

In verse 8, Jesus brings out the point of his illustration:

“I relate to you, if he will not even give to him, standing up (to do so), through being [i.e. because he is] his dear (friend), yet through his lack of respect [a)nai/deia], rising he will give to him as (many thing)s as he needs.”

The key word is a)nai/deia, which I translated as “lack of respect”, but it could be rendered even more forcefully as “(being) without shame, shameless(ness)”. Respect for the time and situation ought to have prompted the person making the request to wait until a more appropriate time (i.e. in the morning), yet he went ahead, regardless of the situation, and woke up is friend in the middle of the night to make his request—which, one might add, was not particularly urgent. Thus, contrary to the way this parable is portrayed by many commentators, the stress is not on persistence in prayer (cp. with 18:1-8), but, rather on boldness—or, perhaps, better, that we should be willing to make our request to God without concern for the situation or what people would consider proper. This is surely to be regarded as an aspect of faith in prayer. We ought never to imagine that God is too ‘busy’ or that it might be better to wait until a more opportune moment; rather, when there is a need at hand, we should make our request boldly, at that very moment.

Verses 9-13

The sayings on prayer in these verses have their parallel in Matthew (Sermon on the Mount, 7:7-11), and thus are part of the so-called “Q” material common to both Gospels. Despite the difference in location, these sayings almost certainly stem from a single historical tradition, though, possibly, they may represent separate sayings combined (by theme) at a very early point in the collection of Gospel traditions. I tend to think that, in this particular instance, they were probably spoken together by Jesus.

The saying in vv. 9-10 corresponds with Matt 7:7-8:

“(You must) ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up for you; for everyone asking receives, and the one seeking finds, and for the one knocking it [will be] opened up.”

The two versions are identical; the only difference being whether the final verb in Luke’s version is present (“it is opened up”) or future (“it will be opened up”, as in Matthew). The message is clear enough: God will answer those who pray to him. The three-fold idiom only emphasizing this point. God’s faithfulness in responding to prayer is further indicated through the illustration in vv. 11-12 (= Matt 7:9-10):

“And for what (one) out of you will the son ask the father (for) a fish and, in exchange for a fish, will give over a snake? or also—will he ask (for) an egg, and (the father) will give over a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?”

Here the emphasis is on a father giving a son what he needs (and would naturally ask for), i.e. food and sustenance (cp. the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, v. 3). The point is driven home through exaggeration—the father not only not giving the son what he needs, but giving what is actually harmful (and deadly) for him! Clearly, no human father would behave this way; most would genuinely wish to give their children what they need and request (much like the friend in the previous parable). In Matthew’s version the illustration is a bit different, though the basic point is certainly the same; the first comparison is a rock instead of bread, while the second is the same as the first Lukan comparison (a snake instead of a fish).

In verse 13 (Matt 7:11), Jesus explains the illustration in vv. 11-12 (as if the explanation and application were not obvious enough). It is here that the Lukan version differs most significantly from the Matthean; I give Matthew’s version first:

“So if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

Here the emphasis is on God giving “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/), or “good gifts” (do/mata a)gaqa/), in a general sense. God will answer requests in prayer, by giving people what they need and which is truly beneficial for them. The Lukan version follows the Matthean rather closely, but there are a couple of key differences (points of difference indicated by italics):

“So if you, beginning under (as) evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will your Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!”

It is worth considering each of these points of difference:

1. For the descriptive participle, Luke uses the verb u(pa/rxw (u(pa/rxonte$) instead of the verb of being ei)mi (o&nte$). It is possible that u(pa/rxw was used to soften the implication that the disciples of Jesus were called “evil” (ponhro/$). Literally, the verb means “begin under”, i.e. begin under a particular situation or condition, etc. Frequently it was used in an existential sense, of a person (or thing) coming into being, or for an existing condition, etc. As such, the verb could also be used, loosely, as an equivalent for the ordinary verb of being. Luke appears to have been particularly fond it, as more than half of the New Testament occurrences (31 out of 46) are in Luke-Acts (7 in the Gospel, 24 in Acts). Possibly the use here may relate to the idea of the disciples as human beings (who, generally speaking, are “evil”), without implying that they, specifically, are evil in character.

2. The description of God the Father in Luke’s version is “out of heaven” (e)c ou)ranou=), while in Matthew it the more proper title “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This latter title is virtually unique to Matthew’s Gospel (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:21, etc), and, as such, likely reflects the distinctive Matthean vocabulary and style (nearly half of all NT occurrences of the expression “in the heavens [pl.]” are in Matthew). If the wording were characteristic of the wider Gospel tradition (in Greek) of Jesus’ sayings, we would expect to see more evidence of it in the other Gospels (it is found elsewhere only at Mk 11:25).

While it is possible that the expression in the Lukan version (“out of heaven”, e)c ou)ranou=) reflects a stylistic difference (in Greek), it seems much more likely that it is meant to stress that the “good gifts” God the Father gives to Jesus’ disciples (believers) come from out of heaven. The manuscript tradition shows some uncertainty in this regard, with some key witnesses including a definite article (Ë75 a L 33), and others not. The presence of a definite article would indicate that the expression should be understood as a title (as in Matthew), i.e. “the Father the (One giving) out of Heaven”, or, perhaps even o( path\r o( as an abbreviation for “the Father the (One in Heaven)”. The lack of a definite article would best be understood as the source/origin for the Holy Spirit—the Father gives the Spirit from out of Heaven.

3. Most notably, Luke’s version makes specific (“[the] holy Spirit”) what is general in Matthew’s version (“good [thing]s”). If both sayings stem from a single historical tradition, as seems likely, it is hard to see how they both could accurately reflect what Jesus said (at the same time). Most critical commentators would regard the Lukan version as an interpretive or explanatory gloss (by the author), reflecting the idea of the Holy Spirit as the “gift” (do/ma) sent by the Father (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 24:49; cf. also John 4:10), and which, in turn, is the source of all (spiritual) “gifts” for believers (1 Cor 12; 14:1ff, etc). The Lukan evidence (from Acts), in particular, is strong confirmation for the critical view. This does not necessarily contradict a sound view of the Gospel’s inspiration, since it is simple enough to consider the Lukan version here as preserving an inspired interpretation of Jesus’ original words. Many similar such examples could be cited, both in Luke and elsewhere.

This emphasis on the Holy Spirit is significant for Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, in a number of ways:

    • It signifies the climax of this teaching—i.e., for the disciples of Jesus who remain faithful, and continue in prayer, following Jesus’ example and instruction, the end result will be the gift of the Spirit.
    • Ultimately, it is the Spirit (of God and Christ) that should be the focus of our prayer, i.e. it is the Spirit (its power, manifestation, etc) that we should be requesting from God the Father (cf. John 15:16, 26, etc); this is a key lesson, one which here is presented in terms of the initial sending of the Spirit (to the first believers).
    • The statement in verse 13, in its literary context, connects back to the Lord’s Prayer, and the request for the coming of God’s Kingdom. As I have noted previously, on several occasions, the framework of Luke-Acts associates the Kingdom with the coming of the Spirit and the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. especially Acts 1:6-8). There is also the interesting variant reading of Lk 11:2 which reads (or glosses) the coming of the Kingdom as the coming of the Spirit.

June 24: Luke 1:16-17, 76-77

June 24 is the traditional date commemorating the birth of John the Baptist—six months prior to the birth of Jesus, according to Luke 1:26. Just as the traditional date for the Jesus’ birth corresponds generally to the winter solstice, so John’s birth corresponds to the summer. This synchronicity symbolizes the relationship between John and Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition. There are a number of ways this relationship might be studied, ranging from the historical to the theological-christological; I will be looking at it here, over several daily notes, according to one aspect, centered around the figure of Elijah.

With regard to John’s birth, apart from a generic (and proverbial) reference in Matt 11:11 / Lk 7:28, it is treated only in the Lukan Infancy narratives (Lk 1) and there in significant detail. In fact, within Lk 1-2, the births of Jesus and John are presented as parallel and overlapping (or intercut) narratives (sometimes referred to as a narrative “diptych”); the parallelism is clear and striking—each contains:

    • An angelic appearance (by Gabriel) announcing the child’s birth—with a prophecy/declaration of the child’s future—to one of the parents (Zechariah/Mary), patterned after similar Old Testament annunciations (Lk 1:8-23, 26-38)
    • A short narrative with an utterance by Elizabeth (Lk 1:24-25, 39-45)
    • A canticle by one of the parents (Mary/Zechariah), of a similar character and style drawing heavily upon Old Testament imagery (Lk 1:46-55, 67-79)
    • A narrative of the birth of the child, involving the reaction by people nearby (Lk 1:57-66; 2:1-20)
    • A notice of the naming and circumcision of the child (Lk 1:59-60; 2:21)
    • A statement regarding the child’s growth and development, patterned after the Samuel narrative in the OT (Lk 1:80; 2:40, 52)

This prominence is offset by the fact that, upon the start of Jesus’ ministry, John disappears more completely from Luke than in the other Gospels—Luke has eliminated the flashback narrative of John’s arrest and execution (Mk 6:14-29 and Matt par), and, more significantly, reduced the narrative of Jesus’ baptism (Lk 3:21-22), removing any specific mention of John’s role. Perhaps there is implicit here what is made explicit in Jn 3:30.

There are two passages in the Infancy narratives which are prophetic of John’s relationship to Jesus—one in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah (Lk 1:16-17) and one in the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:76-77)—both involve the motif of John as Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah).

Luke 1:16-17

The prediction or prophecy by the heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) begins in verse 14, extending through verse 17. There are actually two separate predictions: (1) in vv. 14-16 and (2) in v. 17. For the first prediction, the points mentioned are—

    • You (Zechariah) will have joy and leaping (for joy), v. 14a
    • Many will rejoice upon the child’s birth, v. 14b
    • The child will be great (me/ga$) in the eyes/sight of the Lord, v. 15a
      (note the similar statement regarding Jesus in Lk 1:32, “he will be great [me/ga$]”, and cf. Lk 7:28)
    • He will not [i.e. is not to] drink wine or beer/liquor, v. 15b—presumably as a ‘Nazirite’, like Samuel and Samson, two figures for whom there also were heavenly birth announcements (cf. Judg 13:4-5)
    • He will be filled with the holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, v. 15c—perhaps echoing similar phrasing of Samson as a ‘Nazirite’ from his mother’s womb (Judg 13:7; 16:17)
    • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to [lit. e)pi/ upon] the Lord their God, v. 16

Verse 16 is a clear reference to John’s role as a prophet—one whose preaching and proclamation (often warning of impending judgment) sought to bring about repentance and a return to faithfulness among the people. In this regard, the prophet himself was often understood as having an eschatological role or status (cf. for example, Hos 3:5). This, in turn, points toward the association of John with the messenger of Malachi 3-4, which is specified clearly in verse 17:

“And he will go before in His [i.e. the Lord’s] eyes/sight in (the) spirit and power of Eliyyah [i.e. Elijah], to turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring, and (the) unpersuaded [i.e. unbelieving/disobedient] in [i.e. unto] (the) thoughtfulness of (the) just/righteous (ones), to make ready for the Lord a people packed down fully [i.e. properly equipped, prepared].”

Note the specific phrases:

    • He will “go before” the Lord, as the Messenger in Mal 3:1 “looks over (and prepares) the way before” the Lord. The Greek expressions [pro] e)nw/pion (in Lk 1:17) and pro prosw/pou (Mal 3:1), though slightly different, have generally the same meaning (“before the face/sight of”). This may also be reflected in the earlier v. 15a.
    • “(the) spirit and power of Elijah”—the identification of the prophet/messenger with “Elijah”, as in Mal 4:5 [3:23 Hebrew].
    • “turn the hearts of (the) fathers (back) upon (their) offspring”—this same idea is expressed in Mal 4:6 [3:24 Hebr], though with slightly different language. Again this would seem to be reflected in the earlier v. 15 (use of the same verb e)pistre/fw “turn back upon”, i.e. “return”).
    • “make ready for the Lord a people ‘prepared’ [kataskeuasme/non]”—that this is taken from Mal 3:1 is confirmed by the citation in Lk 7:27, where we see the same verb kataskeu/azw (lit. “pack down [fully]”, but in conventional English something like “prepare/equip properly”). For the phrase “make ready (e(toima/zw) a people”, cf. 2 Sam 7:24 [LXX 2 Kingdoms 7:24]; Sir 49:12.

The author of the Gospel (trad. Luke) may also have been familiar with Sirach 48:10, which cites Mal 4:6 in an eschatological context. For more on the Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with a supplementary study on the subject.

Luke 1:76-77

These verses represent a strophe in the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79). Verses 67-75 extol the faithfulness and power of God in dealing with his people—his mercy and mighty works—much as we see in the parallel canticle of Mary (the Magnificat, Lk 1:46-55). Verses 76-77, however, are addressed (prophetically) to John:

“But also you, (little) child—you will be called Foreteller [i.e. Prophet] of the Highest,
for you will pass/travel before in the eyes/sight of the Lord to make ready His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people in [i.e. by] the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins”

Again we see here a citation from Mal 3:1 (cf. also Isa 40:3), which was, in Gospel tradition, generally understood as applying to John the Baptist (as will be discussed in the next day’s note). It is worth noticing the Jesus/John parallelism in the titles used:

    • John: “he will be great in the eyes/sight of the Lord” (e&stai me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou), Lk 1:15
      Jesus: “he will be great” (e&stai me/ga$), Lk 1:32
    • John: “(you) will be called prophet of the Highest” (profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|), Lk 1:76
      Jesus: “(he) will be called son of the Highest” (ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai), Lk 1:32

This raises the somewhat difficult question of the meaning of ku/rio$ (“Lord”) when passages such as Mal 3:1 are applied to John—is the “Lord” Yahweh or Jesus? Presumably, in Lk 1:15-17, 76 it is God the Father (Yahweh) that is meant, in keeping with the Old Testament usage, as well as the literary context. However, Luke, like nearly all early Christians, would also understand “Lord” immediately has a title for Jesus, and this is certainly implicit here as well (involving literary foreshadowing). That there was some interpretive confusion is indicated by the textual variants which cropped up occasionally in such passages. It is safest to assume that Luke primarily intends to depict John as a Prophet who goes before the Lord (YHWH), in fulfillment of Old Testament tradition; but secondarily these verses are prophetic of John as the forerunner of the Lord (Jesus). This secondary meaning is hinted at in the evocative, though somewhat ambiguous, language of the strophe which closes the Benedictus (vv. 78-79):

“…through the (inner) organs of (the) mercy of our God,
in which a rising [a)natolh] out of (the) height has looked upon us,
to shine (forth) upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death,
to straighten down our feet into (the) way of peace.”

Here the mercy of God, depicted in vv. 67-75, culminates in a “rising up” (probably best understood as a rising sun/light), drawing from key Old Testament passages such as Psalm 107:9-10; Isa 9:1; 42:6-7; 60:1; Mal 4:2 [3:20 Hebr]; cf. also Num 24:17 (and later passages such as in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Zebulun 8:2; Levi 4:4; 18:3; Judah 24:1).

Images with Jesus and John the Baptist together as infants represented a popular theme in Renaissance painting, etc, part of a rich corpus of devotional, Marian art (such as in the Madonna d’Alba by Raphael [on right, and also used in the header above]). The Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke proved to be a prime source of thematic material for Western/Catholic artists in the Medieval and Renaissance periods (much more so than for the Eastern/Orthodox traditions); these included, especially—the Annunciation to Mary, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the journey of the Holy Family, and the boy Jesus in the Temple, as well as scenes from extra-canonical tradition (Infancy Gospels and Marian legends).

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:

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 2 (Acts 1:14 etc)

In the last several notes, I have been looking at the main Gospel traditions involving the family and relatives of Jesus. These early traditions occasionally put Jesus’ relatives in something of a negative light—suggesting a certain misunderstanding of who he is and the nature of his mission, and, at times, even reflecting opposition toward him. Such traditions soon would disappear; we can actually see this process at work, by noting that there is nothing corresponding to Mark 3:20-21 in either Matthew or Luke—the episode described briefly in those verses has ‘dropped out’ of the Gospel Tradition. At the same time, Jesus’ family came to achieve a revered position and status in the early Church. While we know virtually nothing of Jesus’ sisters (mentioned in Mk 6:3), his mother (Mary) and at least some of his brothers began to feature prominently in early Christian tradition by the end of the first century. Something of this is reflected already in the New Testament, and must, on objective grounds, go back to authentic (historical) tradition. Here I will briefly examine the New Testament references (1) to Mary, (2) to James, and finally (3) the important Lukan description in Acts 1:14.

1. Mary, the mother of Jesus

It is scarcely necessary to mention the revered position of Mary, as Jesus’ mother, well-established (with traditions full of fabulous details), by the early 2nd century A.D. It has always been somewhat surprising to Christians that the New Testament, on the whole, has so little to say about her. If we separate out the Infancy Narratives of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, she is mentioned by name in just one passage—Mark 6:3 (par Matt 13:55). In several other places she is referred to as “his mother”, or otherwise indirectly (Mark 3:31-32ff par; John 2:3ff; 19:25-27; Gal 4:4). Given the importance of the virgin birth for Christians past and present, it is worth pointing out that even the birth of Jesus is scarcely mentioned in the New Testament, apart from the Infancy narratives.

Mary appears in the Matthean Infancy narrative , but it is really Joseph who is featured most prominently in those passages (1:16, 18-25; 2:13-15, 19-23). On the other hand, in the Gospel of Luke, Mary takes center stage. It is she who receives the Angelic message (1:26-38), is honored by Elizabeth (1:39-45), utters the Magnificat hymn [according to most MSS] (1:46-55), has a central place in the birth scene (2:5-7, 16-19), and in the purification ritual that brings the family to the Temple (2:22-24), and is addressed directly within Simeon’s oracle (2:34-35). I have discussed the Infancy narratives in considerable detail in several study series for Advent and Christmas season (“And you shall call His Name…“, “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus“); here I will point out several verses in the Lukan narrative which indicate Mary’s faith, and, if we may say, her spiritual growth:

  • At the Angel’s initial appearance and greeting (1:28-29), Mary is thoroughly disturbed (vb. diatara/ssw) but also “gathers things through” (dialogi/zomai), i.e. in her mind. This use of dialogi/zomai is significant.
  • Following the Angel’s message, Mary responds with trust and obedience—”See, (I am) the slave-girl of the Lord; let it come to be for me according to your utterance [i.e. your word]” (v. 38)
  • Elizabeth’s blessing of Mary contains the declaration: “and happy [i.e. blessed] (is she) the one trusting that there will be a completion [i.e. fulfillment] to the (thing)s spoken to her (from) alongside the Lord” (v. 45). Again, this indicates Mary’s faith/trust in God.
  • After the birth of Jesus, and following the visit of the shepherds announcing the miraculous things they had seen and heard (i.e. Angels’ message, 2:10-14), it is said of Mary in verse 19, that “she kept all these (thing)s (close) together, throwing (them) together, in her heart”. This suggests that Mary is beginning to ponder the true nature and identity of the child born to her. The two verbs used here are parallel to the two in 1:29, following the Angel’s announcement:
    • diatara/ssw (pass. “[be] stirred/disturbed through[out]”)
      dialogi/zomai (“gather [i.e. consider] [things] through”)
    • sunthre/w (“keep [things] together”)
      sumba/llw (“cast/throw [things] together”, i.e. in one’s mind)
  • In 2:21-24, along with v. 39 and 41ff, Mary and Joseph are depicted as faithful in observing the religious requirements and regulations set down in the Old Testament/Jewish Law.
  • The statement by Simeon, in his oracle, addressed directly to Mary (in v. 35a): “and a sword also will come/go through your heart”. As I discussed in an earlier note, this declaration may possibly allude to Ezekiel 14:17, and the sword of God’s Judgment that will pass through the land. If Mary represents the people of Israel, at the transition point between the Old and New Covenants, then the sword that separates and divides (cf. the context of vv. 34-35) will also pass through Mary (her own heart). She, too, will have to come to terms with Jesus’ identity.
  • In the following episode (the child Jesus in the Temple, vv. 41-50), it is illustrated that Mary still does not fully understand who Jesus is—his true identity (as God’s Son) and the nature of his mission (to be in/among “the things of God”), cf. verses 48-49.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mother (not mentioned by name) appears in two episodes. The first is the miracle at Cana (2:1-12), in which she requests Jesus to perform a miracle for the wedding party. This narrative, on objective grounds, has all the earmarks of an early (authentic) tradition, though one which is unique to John. There are also certain similarities between this episode and that of Luke 2:41-50. Each includes a question/request by Mary, and a response by Jesus, illustrating that his mother does not truly understand the nature and purpose of his mission. The second scene occurs at the crucifixion (19:25-27). Critical scholars are more likely to question the historicity of this tradition, since it would seem to have the (apologetic) purpose of giving prominence to the “disciple whom (Jesus) loved”, and is otherwise absent from the well-established Gospel traditions surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. It is sometimes thought to have symbolic significance—e.g., Mary as the “mother” of the disciples (i.e. the Church, represented by the beloved Disciple). However, I find it much more likely that the significance is literary, in terms of the overall structure of the Fourth Gospel. The two episodes involving Jesus’ mother are set at the very beginning and end of his ministry on earth, respectively—his first public miracle (in Galilee) and his death (in Jerusalem). In view of the portrait of Jesus in this Gospel—as the eternal Son of God who was sent to earth (as a human being)—Mary was only his mother during the short time of his incarnation and earthly ministry. At the time of Jesus’ death, it was necessary to transfer that (human) sonship to another—the one closest to him, the beloved Disciple.

2. James, the Brother of Jesus

In Mark 6:3 (and the parallel in Matthew), four of Jesus’ brothers are named, including Ya’aqob (Heb. bq)u&y~), transliterated into Greek as Ia/kwbo$, and into English as “Jacob” (the corresponding James comes into English through the Latinized form Iacomus). This is the only mention of James in the Gospels. It is not certain if he is to be counted among the brothers of Jesus in Mk 3:31ff par, or the ‘relatives’ in 3:21 (cf. the earlier note on these traditions). Jesus’ brothers are also part of the tradition recorded in Jn 7:1-9 (also discussed in an earlier note). If James was among the brothers mentioned in these passages, it would indicate that he did not understand or believe in Jesus, at least during the Galilean period of ministry.

The earliest New Testament tradition regarding James would appear to be Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:7, of a resurrection appearance by Jesus to James. Paul cites this as a well-established tradition, passed down to him (vv. 1-3ff), and the way he phrases vv. 3-7 would indicate a relatively fixed (traditional) formula, in place by at least 50 A.D. (if not earlier). In Galatians, Paul does not cite traditions but (his own) memory of recent events in Jerusalem and Antioch. The date of the letter, and the events recorded in chapters 1-2, have varied somewhat among commentators. Style and subject matter suggests a date (for the letter) around the same time as Romans and 2 Corinthians (i.e. early-to-mid-50s). At around 50 A.D., James was an important leader in the Jerusalem Church (1:19; 2:9), whom Paul associates with his Jewish(-Christian) opponents at Antioch and elsewhere (2:12). This generally relates to the controversy addressed at the so-called Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15). In Gal 1:19, Paul refers to James specifically as “the brother of the Lord”.

In the book of Acts, probably written around 70 A.D., but certainly containing many older (historical) traditions, James is mentioned as a leader of the Jerusalem Christians in 12:17. He is also featured in the Jerusalem Council episode (15:13-21), and is associated directly with the letter sent to believers in the region around Antioch (vv. 22-29). What is noteworthy for the author of Acts (trad. Luke) is that Peter and James both speak out in favor of allowing Gentile coverts to be considered part of the Church without requiring their observance of the Old Testament Law (with the exception of the points made in vv. 20-21 and 29). James thus plays a central role in the central episode of the book. After chapter 15, the Jerusalem Church gives way in the narrative to Paul’s missionary work. James does appear in one more episode (21:17-25), which confirms the validity of Paul’s work, but yet still declares the validity of the Law for Jews (and, by extension, Jewish believers). I have dealt with this topic extensively in my earlier series “The Law and the New Testament” (cf. the articles on Paul’s view of the Law, and the Law in Luke-Acts [soon to be posted on this site]).

Later Christian writers preserve additional traditions regarding James, who was surnamed “the Righteous/Just”. Eusebius (Church History 2.1, 23) cites a (lost) writing by Hegesippus which recorded several such traditions, including (a) the great virtue of James, (b) that he was a Nazirite, (c) spent time in the Holy Place of the Temple (dressed in priestly clothing), (d) that Jesus gave special instruction to him following the resurrection appearance (cf. 1 Cor 15:7), and (e) that he was clubbed to death on the parapet of the Temple sanctuary. James’ death is also reported by Josephus in his Antiquities 20.200. Both Eusebius and Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 2) consider James to have been Jesus’ half-brother (cf. Mk 15:40 par), and regard him as the first bishop of Jerusalem. James the brother of Jesus is also thought, by most commentators to be the “James” of the New Testament letter, whether such attribution is considered genuine (the traditional-conservative view) or pseudonymous (most critical scholars). Similarly, the “Jude” of the New Testament letter, called “brother of James”, is thought to refer to another of Jesus’ brothers (Mk 6:3 par).

3. Acts 1:14

That at least some of Jesus’ brothers (whether full-brothers, half-brothers, or cousins) had achieved a level of prominence in the early Church is indicated by Paul’s references in Gal 1:19 and 1 Cor 9:5. The latter reference indicates that they were thought of as distinct from the apostles (the Twelve, and others). Yet the brothers of Jesus appear in just one passage of the New Testament, outside of the Gospels—in Acts 1:14. Verses 12-14 are a narrative summary which serves as a transition between the ascension of Jesus (vv. 8-11) and the assembly of the (120) disciples in Jerusalem (vv. 15ff). We read that the disciples who witnessed the ascension returned to Jerusalem, to the (upper) room in which they were staying. Those present were: (a) the Twelve (minus Judas, i.e. Eleven), (b) the women who followed Jesus (cf. Lk 8:2-3; 23:49, 55), (c) his mother Mary, and (d) his brothers. These are precisely the characters who appear in the key section 8:1-21 of the Gospel (vv. 1-3, 19-21). In that passage, Jesus mother and brothers were contrasted with the (close) disciples of Jesus (in vv. 1-3ff). His mother and brothers want to come to Jesus, to meet him and be with him, but are unable to enter the room where he and his disciples are gathered (vv. 19-20)—they remain outside. In Acts, this situation has changed. Now the disciples of Jesus and his family (mother/brothers) are inside, together in the same room. The Jesus’ disciples and his natural family together form a single unified family of faith, a most beautiful picture which essentially fulfills the words of Jesus in Lk 8:21—”my mother and my brothers–these are the ones hearing and doing the word of God!”

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 8: The Son of David

In Parts 6 and 7 of this series, I explored the background of the Messianic figure-type of King/Ruler from the line of David, examining the belief from the standpoint of Jewish writings in the 1st-centuries B.C./A.D., as well as the New Testament. In this part, I will be looking in more detail at the specific identification of Jesus as an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This article will be divided into three areas of study:

    • The Gospel tradition—the Passion narratives and use of the expression “Son of David”
    • The association with David in early Christian Tradition (elsewhere in the New Testament)
    • The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

The Gospel Tradition

For a survey and initial examination of the relevant and essential references, see the previous article. Here I will focus on: (1) The expression “Son of David”, (2) The question regarding the Messiah and the Son of David in Mark 12:35-37 par, and (3) The scene of the Triumphal Entry.

“Son of David”

Prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem (according to the Synoptic narrative), and apart from the Infancy narratives and genealogy of Jesus (cf. below), the expression “Son of David” occurs 9 times—six of which are from the single Synoptic episode of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar on the way from Jericho (Mark 10:46-52, par Lk 18:35-43; Matt 20:29-34). In Mark’s account, this beggar (identified by name as Bartimaios, “Son of Timay” [Matthew refers to two beggars]), when he hears that Jesus is passing by, cries out: “Yeshua, (you) Son of David, show mercy (to) me!” (Mk 10:47, repeated in v. 48). The double-declaration, emphasizing the title “Son of David”, is more than just an historical circumstance; it reflects an important Gospel identification of Jesus, which will appear again in the Triumphal Entry scene and on through the Passion narrative. At the historical level, the beggar may simply have used the expression as an honorific title in addressing Jesus and does not necessarily indicate any particular Messianic belief (cf. verse 51 where he addresses Jesus as Rabbouni [on this title, cf. Part 4]).

Matthew records a similar (doublet) episode in Matt 9:27-31, where again two beggars cry out “show mercy to us, Son of David!” (v. 27); and similarly in Matthew’s version of Jesus healing the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt 15:22ff par). There thus appears, at least in Matthew’s Gospel, to be a connection between Jesus’ healing miracles and the address as “Son of David”. This is confirmed by the introductory narrative in Matt 12:22-23, where Jesus is said to have healed a demon-afflicted man who was blind (and mute); the reaction by the crowd is narrated as follows (v. 23):

“And all the throngs (of people) stood out of (themselves) [i.e. were amazed] and said, ‘This (man) is not the Son of David(, is he)?'”

The implication is that Jesus’ miracles lead the people to think that he might be the “Son of David”, almost certainly a reference to the Messianic figure of the Ruler (from the line of David) who is expected to appear at the end-time. Interestingly, however, there is little evidence, in Jewish writings of the period, for such an Anointed Ruler as a worker of (healing) miracles. As demonstrated previously (cf. Parts 6 and 7), the role of the Davidic Messiah was expressed in terms of the Scriptural motifs from Gen 49:10; Num 24:17ff; Psalm 2; Isa 11:1-4, etc—he who will judge and subdue/destroy the wicked nations and establish a Kingdom of peace and security for the people of God. Miracles, on the other hand, were more directly associated with the Prophet-figures of Elijah and Moses, and, especially, with the Anointed Prophet/herald of Isaiah 61:1ff (cf. Parts 2 & 3)—Jesus expressly identifies himself with this latter Messianic figure-type in Luke 4:18-20ff and 7:18-23 par. There is a loose parallel to Matt 12:23 in John 7:40-43, where people debate whether Jesus might be “the Prophet” or “the Anointed One”. In verse 42, some in the crowd declare: “Does not the Writing [i.e. Scripture] say that the Anointed (One) comes out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town of David?” (for a list of the relevant Scriptures in this regard, cf. in Part 6). In Jn 7:41-42, the crowd is reacting to Jesus’ words (teaching), rather than his miracles.

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)”—here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the previous two articles). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note).

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13). This particular Messianic figure will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article in this series.

The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11 / Matt 21:1-11 / Luke 19:28-40ff / John 12:12-19)

In the episode of Jesus’ (“Triumphal”) Entry into Jerusalem, recorded in all four Gospels—the Synoptic tradition and John—there are four distinctive Messianic elements to the narrative, the last three of which specifically relate to the idea of an Anointed (Davidic) King:

  • Malachi 3:1ff—the Messenger of the Lord coming to Jerusalem (and the Temple) at the time of Judgment (the Day of YHWH). I have argued that originally, this referred to a Divine/Heavenly being (Messenger of YHWH) who would appear as the personal representative (or embodiment) of YHWH himself. Eventually in the Gospels, by way of Mal 4:5-6 and subsequent Jewish tradition, the “Messenger” was interpreted as John the Baptist (“Elijah”) who prepares the way for the Lord (Jesus) to come into Jerusalem (and the Temple). In the Synoptic narrative, the disciples take over this role of “preparing the way” for Jesus (Mark 11:1-6 par, cf. also Lk 9:52; 10:1).
  • Zechariah 9:9ff—a future/eschatological King who will come to Jerusalem and establish a new reign of peace for Israel (Ephraim/Judah). The imagery in the Triumphal entry scene is a clear allusion to this passage, cited explicitly in Matt 21:4-7 and John 12:14-15. If we accept the historicity of Mark 11:2-6 par, then there is a strong likelihood that Jesus intentionally identified himself with the King of Zech 9:9-16. In any event, early Christians certainly made the connection.
  • The use of Psalm 118:26—In all four versions, the crowd recites Ps 118:26a: “Blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord” (Mk 11:9/Matt 21:9/Lk 19:38/Jn 12:13). The original context and background of the Psalm had to do with the return of the (victorious) king to Jerusalem following battle (vv. 10ff), but early on it was used in a ritual/festal setting (vv. 26-27), and was recited as one of the ‘Hallel’ Psalms on the great feasts such as Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Jesus identified himself as the “one coming” in Luke 13:35 (par Matt 23:39), and there is very likely also a reference to this in Lk 19:41-44 (immediately following the Entry), blending, it would seem, the ancient traditions underlying Mal 3:1 and Psalm 118:26. Cf. also the use of Psalm 118:22f in Mark 12:10-11 par and elsewhere in early Christian tradition (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; Eph 2:20).
  • The Exclamation of the crowds—In addition to the use of Psalm 118:26, in all four Gospels, the crowds, in greeting Jesus, variously include references to David, King, or Kingdom:
    • Mark 11:10: “…blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    • Matt 21:9: “Hosanna to the to the son of David…!”
    • Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the (One) coming, the King…[or, the coming King]”
    • John 12:13 “…[and] the King of Israel!”

We might also note the detail, unique to John’s account, of the use of palm branches by the crowds (Jn 12:13a), which could have a royal connotation (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; Testament of Naphtali 5:4). For a similar example of the crowds greeting an approaching sovereign, see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7.100-103.

Early Christian Tradition (in the New Testament)

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

  • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
  • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
  • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David:

    • Romans 1:3—”…about His Son, the (one) coming to be out of the seed of David according to (the) flesh”
    • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
    • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7.

While the Anointed Ruler in Messianic expectation was thought to be a fulfillment of the covenant with David, and a continuation/restoration of that line, it is not always clear that this was understood in a concrete, biological sense. However, many early Christians certainly believed that Jesus was born from the line of David, and this is reflected in Romans 1:3. It was a central aspect of the Infancy narratives in the Gospels, as well as the associated genealogies of Jesus; and it is these passages which we will look at next.

The Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2)

I am treating these famous portions of the Gospels (of Matthew and Luke) separately, since they seem to reflect a somewhat later, and more developed, Christological understanding than that found elsewhere in the Synoptic tradition. This does not mean that the events recorded are not historical or factual, but rather that they appear to have been carefully shaped by a layer of interpretation within the composition of the narrative. To judge from the book of Acts and the NT letters, Jesus’ birth appears to have played little or no role in early Christian preaching and teaching; indeed, outside of the Infancy narratives, it is scarcely mentioned at all in the New Testament. Even the belief in Jesus as a descendant of David (cf. above) does not play an especially prominent role in early Christian tradition. The matter is rather different in the Infancy narratives—Jesus’ birth, and his identification as the Anointed Ruler (from the line of David), are set within a dense matrix of Old Testament Scriptural parallels and allusions (on this, cf. the Christmas season series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus“). In just four relatively short chapters, we find dozens of references, the most relevant of which are outlined here:

  • Both Infancy narratives are connected with (separate) genealogies of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38), which show him to be a descendant of David (Matt 1:6, 17; Lk 3:31-32). Matthew begins his genealogy (and the Gospel)  with the title: “The paper-roll [i.e. book] of the coming-to-be [ge/nesi$] of Yeshua (the) Anointed, son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1).
  • There are additional references to Joseph (Jesus’ earthly, legal father) as “son of David” (in the Angel’s address to him, Matt 1:20), as being from the “house of David” (Lk 1:27) and from the “house and paternal descent of David” (Lk 2:4). Some traditional-conservative commentators, as a way of harmonizing the apparent (and rather blatant) discrepancies between the genealogies in Matthew of Luke, have claimed that they actually reflect the lines of Joseph and Mary, respectively. This is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Lk 3:23). However, the belief that Mary was from the line of David, and that Jesus was thus a true biological descendant of David, came to be relatively widespread in the early Church; Paul himself may have held this view (cp. Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4).
  • Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, attested by separate (and independent) lines of tradition, is recorded in Matthew 2:1ff and Lk 2:1-20 (cf. also John 7:41-42). Bethlehem is specifically called “the city of David” in Luke 2:4-11, and connected with the (Messianic) prophecy of Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:5ff (and cf. Jn 7:42).
  • The expectation of a future/coming Davidic Ruler (“King of the Jews”) called “the Anointed (One)” is clearly attested in Matthew 2:1-8, with the citation (and Messianic interpretation) of Micah 5:2.
  • The Angelic announcement in Luke 2:10-12 links David (“the city of David”) with “(the) Anointed (One)” and “(the) Lord”, reinforcing the royal and Messianic implications of Jesus’ birth. For the parallel between the “good news” of Jesus’ birth and the birth of Augustus in the Roman world (contemporary with Jesus), cf. my earlier Christmas season note.
  • The shepherd motif in Lk 2:8ff etc, may contain an allusion to passages such as Micah 4:8; 5:4 (cf. Matt 2:6) and Ezekiel 34:11ff (vv. 23-24)—passages both connected to David and influential on Messianic thought.
  • In the hymn or canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), the first strophe (Lk 1:68-69) reads:
    “He has come (to) look upon and make (a) loosing (from bondage) for his people,
    and he raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his child”
    This latter expression and image is derived from Scriptures such as 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:2; 132:17 and Ezekiel 29:21.
  • There are a number of other Scripture references or allusions in the Lukan hymns which should be noted—
    1 Sam 2:1-2; Psalm 35:9 (Lk 1:46-47)
    Psalm 89:10 (Lk 1:51-52)
    2 Sam 22:51 (Lk 1:55)
    1 Kings 1:48 (Lk 1:68a)
    Psalm 18:17 (Lk 1:71, 74)
    Psalm 89:3 (Lk 1:72-73)
    1 Kings 9:4-5 (Lk 1:74-75)
    {Num 24:17} (Lk 1:78)
    [On these and other references, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library (ABRL 1977, 1993), pp. 358-60, 386-9, 456-9]

Most significant of all is the Angelic annunciation to Mary in Luke 1:30-37, especially the pronouncement or prophecy in vv. 32-33:

“This one [i.e. Jesus] will be great and will be called ‘Son of the Highest’, and the Lord God will give to him the seat (of power) [i.e. throne] of David his father, and he will be king upon the house of Jacob into the Age, and there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom

(and, also in v. 35b:)

“…therefore the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) son of God

There is no clearer instance in all the New Testament of Jesus being identified as the coming/future Ruler from the line of David. As I have noted on several occasions, there is a remarkably close parallel, in the combination of these titles and expressions, in the Aramaic text 4Q246 from Qumran (see italicized phrases above):

    • “he will be great over the earth” [column i, line 7]
    • “he will be called son of God” [column ii, line 1a]
    • “and they will call him son of the Most High” [column ii, line 1b]
    • “his kingdom will be an eternal kingdom” [column ii, line 5]
    • “his rule will be an eternal rule” [column ii, line 9]

Birth of the Son of God: Luke 2:49

Traditionally the Sunday after Epiphany commemorates the Holy Family—Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph—as marked by the last scenes of the Lukan Infancy Narrative, Luke 2:39-40, 41-50, 51-52. The scene in Lk 2:41-50 is especially significant, narrating the family’s journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (vv. 41-42), and Jesus’ decision to stay behind in Jerusalem (without his parents’ knowledge, v. 43). On the way back, Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus is missing (vv. 44-45) and eventually return to Jerusalem to find Jesus sitting in the Temple precincts (as a devout pupil) with the teachers of the Law (vv. 46-47). The popular image of the boy Jesus teaching in the Temple (often depicted in Christian art), while understandable as a pious sentiment, is unwarranted and reads or assumes much into the text that is not there. I have discussed this episode, including the question of his parents (v. 48), with Jesus’ famous response (v. 49), in a prior article. Today I will focus in detail on the phrase e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou.

Luke 2:49

“…did you not see [i.e. know] that it is necessary for me to be e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou?” (v. 49)

As I have mentioned previously, the words in Greek here from Jesus’ response in v. 49 have customarily been rendered “in my Father’s house [i.e. the Temple]”. While this is tolerable as a translation in itself, it is really not accurate, and is actually rather misleading, for Jesus is not talking about the Temple building per se. If the Temple were meant specifically, Jesus (or the author rendering/recording the words) could easily have used oi@ko$ (“house”), which is regularly used for the Temple (i.e. house of God). The expression here literally reads “in the (thing)s of my Father”, with the preposition e)n (“in”) either in the sense of “involved in” or, more likely, “among”—”did you not know that it is necessary for me to be among the (thing)s of my Father?” Let us look at the immediate context to see how this is best understood.

  • Mary and Joseph look for Jesus among their relatives and others known to them—e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
    At the historical level, the journey to and from Jerusalem would have been made by caravan train, with family, friends and fellow travelers (with their belongings) moving together in a group, largely for reasons of safety and protection.
  • Not finding him, they turn back to Jerusalem
    —searching up (and down) [a)nazhtou=nte$] for him
    —and after three days
  • They found him in the Temple
  • Mary and Joseph question Jesus, with his reply to them—e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)

Note the juxtaposition:

  • Not finding Jesus among the relatives and acquaintances [e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$]
  • They find Jesus in the Temple | among the teachers [e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn]

Moreover, there is a chain of phrases, marked the preposition e)n (“in, among”) + the dative, indicating the place where Jesus is (or is supposed to be):

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (“among the relatives and the [one]s known [i.e. acquaintances]”)
  • e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn (“in the sacred place [i.e. Temple]” | “in the middle of the teachers of [the] Law”)
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (“in/among the [thing]s of my Father”)

The twin phrases of v. 46e)n tw=| i(erw=| | e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn—give us a sense of what the expression in v. 49 means: (1) the sacred place (the Temple precincts), and (2) study of [and devotion to] God’s Law (the Torah). However, when one compares the expression of v. 49 (e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou) with the phrase in v. 44 (e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin…), this, in  turn, sheds light on Jesus’ response to his parents—”th(eir) relatives [i.e. in the caravan]” | “the things/ones of my Father”. This parallel contrasts Jesus’ earthly/familial relations with his (heavenly) Father:

    • “your father”—in Mary’s question to Jesus (v. 48)
    • “my Father”—in Jesus’ reply (v. 49)

The closing words of Jesus’ reply are also significant: dei= ei)nai/ me “it is necessary for me to be”—i.e. “it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father”, with e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou set first in emphatic position within the clause. The particle dei= (“[it is] necessary”) is used frequently in Luke-Acts, including a number key statements by Jesus regarding his Divinely-appointed mission (Lk 4:43; 9:22, etc).

There are of course many references throughout the New Testament to Jesus as the Son (of God) and his relation to the Father; however, this theme holds a special place in the Gospel of John.

Jesus the Son and God the Father in the Gospel of John

There are dozens of instances in the Gospel of John where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son” and/or his unique relationship with God “the Father”—so many, in fact, that it is not possible (or useful) to list them all here. A fair percentage of them can be grouped into several related categories:

The basic image is of a dutiful child who says and does what he hear/sees the father saying and doing. This involves more than parental instruction and filial obedience. In most families, children—especially the eldest/only son—would typically take up the father’s trade; this meant the role of an apprentice, learning all the ins and outs of particular occupation or craft in detail, developing skill and expertise in the work. That Joseph was a carpenter is well-established in Gospel tradition, though it is not known for certain whether, or to what extent, Jesus followed in this trade. In any event, Jesus uses this imagery to describe his relationship with God, the heavenly Father—he does the Father’s work, which he was sent to do, as he learned it from the Father. This takes on deeper theological (and Christological) significance at several key points in the Gospel—most notably in the great prayer that concludes the discourses of John 13-17:

  • John 17:1-5 (echoing the earlier 13:31-32)—the Son shares in the glory of the Father
    • indicating Divine pre-existence (v. 5)
  • John 17:18ff—the Son is sent by the Father into the world
    • indicating Jesus’ incarnation and (human) birth (cf. Jn 1:14; 18:37)
  • John 17:20-23ff—a reciprocal relationship is established with believers (as sons of God) (cf. the key verse 11)
    • union/unity with the Father (cf. Jn 14:20)
    • binding unity is established through love (vv. 23-26)

There are three noteworthy passages in the subsequent death and resurrection scenes in the Gospel:

  • John 19:25b-27—Jesus’ address (on the cross) to Mary “his mother” in which he relinquishes the familial ties of his earthly existence (cf. above)
  • John 20:17—his words to Mary Magdalene, referring to his ascension/return to the Father (cf. Jn 13:33, 36; 14:2-4ff, 12, 28; 16:15ff, 16-17ff, 28; 17:11, 13)
  • John 20:21—Jesus sent by the Father | sends the disciples
    Here the specific context is two-fold:
    • The disciples’ receiving the Holy Spirit
    • Their mission to proclaim the Word of God (implied), cf. 17:20

With regard to the last reference, these are two elements specifically connected with the birth of believers as sons/children of GodJohn 1:12-13; 3:3-8, cf. vv. 17-21.

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: The Temple (Part 3)

In the previous portion (Part 2) of this article, I discussed the first of three episodes in the Lukan Infancy narrative which have the Jerusalem Temple as their setting:

  1. The Angelic Appearance to Zechariah (1:8-23)
  2. The Encounter with Simeon (2:25-38)
  3. The Boy Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51)

2. The Encounter with Simeon (Lk 2:25-38)

I have discussed this episode (especially the Song of Simeon, vv. 29-32) at length in prior Advent/Christmas notes; here we will examine specifically the Temple setting, according to several key themes and topics: (a) the ritual setting and parallel with the earlier Zechariah episode, (b) the character of Simeon (and Anna), (c) the eschatological/Messianic significance of the Temple, and (d) the possible symbolic association of Mary with the Temple.

a. The ritual setting and narrative outline. This scene shared with the earlier Zechariah episode a similar ritual context—one aspect of a larger set of parallels. Note:

    • The revelation (through Gabriel) comes while Zechariah is in the Temple performing his priestly duties (1:8-10)
    • The revelation (through Simeon) comes while Joseph and Mary are in the Temple performing their religious duties (2:22-24, 27)

In both instances, the performance of sacrificial ritual in the Temple is a reflection of the righteousness of the parents (of John and Jesus, respectively). This righteousness, defined in terms of faithfulness in observing the Torah, is stated explicitly for Zechariah and Elizabeth (v. 6, “they were just/righteous [di/kaio$]”). In the case of Joseph and Mary, this has to be inferred by the repeated references to their fulfilling the Law (2:21-24, 27, 39, 41); however, in the Matthean narrative, Joseph is specifically called di/kaio$ (1:19).

In the narrative, it is suggested that Joseph and Mary are in the process of fulfilling the required ritual (v. 27), which happens be twofold:

Almost certainly, there is an intentional parallel being made with the Samuel narrative, which explains the consecration (and presence) of the infant Jesus in the Temple precincts, which otherwise would not be required for fulfillment of the redemption law. For more on the Samuel background of the Lukan Infancy narrative, cf. the earlier notes and articles in this series (and note esp. the language used in 2:40, 52).

The narrative parallel between the Zechariah and Simeon episode is particularly striking:

  • Ritual duty in the Temple by the righteous/devout parent(s)—Zechariah | Joseph/Mary [1:8-10; 2:22-24, 27]
    • Revelation occurs for the aged, righteous figure—Zechariah | Simeon [1:11-20; 2:25-26f]
      coming by way of an Angel (to Zechariah) and the Holy Spirit (to Simeon), respectively
    • This person comes to utter an inspired prophetic hymn (though only Simeon does so in the Temple) [1:67-79; 2:29-32]
      —which includes a notice of the destiny of the child (John/Jesus)
      —with strong Messianic language and imagery, filled with Scriptural allusions
  • Completion of the ritual duty—the parent(s) depart the Temple and return home [1:23; 2:39]

b. The Character of Simeon (and Anna). Somewhat in contrast to Zechariah (and Joseph/Mary), Simeon is not in the Temple precincts for the purpose of fulfilling the sacrificial ritual (nor, apparently, is Anna). These two aged figures serve a different sort of purpose (and symbolism). I regard them, from the standpoint of the Lukan narrative, as transitional figures, between the Old Covenant (with its ritual observance) and the New Covenant in Christ. And, as it happens, the Temple setting represents the very point of transition, much as it does in the subsequent episode in vv. 41-51 (cf. below).

Both Simeon and Anna reflect a shift in the Temple’s role and purpose (see the discussion in Part 2), shared by early Christians, in which the Temple serves as a place of gathering for worship, emphasizing Spirit-inspired prayer, teaching, and prophecy. Simeon appears to foreshadow the early Christians primarily through the dynamic of the Holy Spirit; three aspects relate to the role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts:

    • The Spirit was upon him [e)p’ au)ton] (v. 25)
    • He was led, or moved, in the Spirit [e)n tw=| pneu/mati] (v. 27)
    • The Spirit gave special revelation to him [regarding Jesus] (v. 26)

Anna (vv. 36-38) reflects early Christian devotion and piety in other ways. She was always spending time in the Temple (cf. Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 5:42, etc), involved in prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23, etc). Beyond this, we have the specific detail that she was a female prophet, something which distinguished early Christianity (Acts 2:17ff; 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5ff), at least for a time.

c. Eschatological/Messianic significance of the Temple. The allusion to Malachi 3:1ff in the Zechariah episode was discussed earlier in Part 2. I mentioned there the possibility that the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) may have had this (Messianic) prophecy in mind here in 2:22-24ff—”the Lord…will come to his Temple”—i.e. Jesus (the Lord) coming to the Temple (as a child) foreshadows his future appearance (Mk 11:15-18 par). As there was Messianic/eschatological significance to his later appearance in Jerusalem (and the Temple), so there is in his first appearance as a child.

It is enough to point out the importance of the Temple in Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought, where it is often tied to the idea of the (end-time) restoration of Israel. A rebuilt/renewed Temple is part of the restored kingom/people of Israel, centered at Jerusalem; and, at the end-time, many from among the nations (Gentiles) will join Israel, worshiping and serving God in His Temple. The roots of this tradition go back to the Old Testament prophets, and, in particular, the book of Isaiah (esp. chaps 40-66, the so-called Deutero-Isaiah). Among the key passages are: Micah 4:1-5 (Isa 2:2-5); Isa 56:6-7 [cited Mk 11:17 par]; 60:4-7, 10-14; 66:20; and, in subsequent Jewish writings, cf. Tobit 14:5-6; Jubilees 1:17; 2 Macc 2:18; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 91:13; 11QTemple 29:8-10; Testament of Benjamin 9:2.

Both Simeon and Anna are specifically described in the narrative (vv. 25, 38) as being among those devout ones in Israel holding to this (Messianic) expectation for the end-time restoration/deliverance, and this is almost certainly related to the reason they have been spending time in the Temple. There are several allusions to Deutero-Isaian prophecies in the Song of Simeon (vv. 29-32) which draw upon these Messianic and eschatological themes—Isa 40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 49:6; 52:9-10. The presence of Jesus in the Temple precincts may be seen as, in a sense, fulfilling these prophecies.

d. Mary and the Temple. It is also possible that there is intended a symbolic association between Mary and the Temple. As the mother of Jesus, she bears/bore the Son of God (1:32, 35) within her, just as the presence of God would reside (or become manifest) within the confines of the Temple. There are several possible allusions which should be considered:

i. “Daughter of Zion”. Commentators have noted the similarity of language between Lk 1:28 and Zeph 3:14ff, which I cite here from the Greek (LXX) for comparison:

  • xai=re sfo/dra qu/gater Ziwnku/rio$ o( qeo/$ sou e)n soi
    Rejoice (with) eagerness, daughter of Zion…the Lord your God (is) among you” (Zeph 3:14, 17)
  • xai=re kexaritwme/nh o( ku/rio$ meta\ sou
    Rejoice, favored (one), (for) the Lord (is) with you” (Lk 1:28)

The expression “daughter of Zion” occurs numerous times in the Old Testament, including passages with a strong redemptive message and which could be read in an eschatological or Messianic sense: Isa 52:2; 62:11; Mic 4:8ff; Zech 2:10; 9:9. It is essentially a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, as with the use of “Zion” (/oYx!, ‚iyyôn) alone. However, originally, the term referred more properly to the most ancient hilltop site, i.e. the hill on which the Temple stood.

ii. The overshadowing Cloud. The use of the verb e)piskia/zw (“cast shade over, overshadow”) in Lk 1:35 brings to mind the cloud of God’s presence which overshadowed the Tabernacle (Exod 40:35 LXX; cf. also Num 9:18ff; Isa 4:5). The verb also occurs in the LXX at Psalm 91:4 in a similar sense (cf. also Ps 140:7). Three of the remaining four occurrences in the New Testament are in the versions of the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:7; Matt 17:5; Lk 9:34), where again it refers to the Divine Presence, drawing upon Old Testament traditions of the Exodus and Sinai Theophany.

iii. The Ark. The golden chest (or “ark”) in the Tabernacle/Temple served as the (symbolic) throne of God (YHWH), marking his Presence in the Sanctuary. He would become manifest, or reside, between the winged figures (“cherubim”) which decorated the top of the chest (Exod 25:20-22; 1 Chron 28:18, etc). There are two intriguing verses from the David narratives of 2 Samuel, both connected with the Ark (in different ways), where the language has a resemblance to the words of Elizabeth to Mary in Lk 1:43 (note the words in bold and italics):

“and (from) where [po/qen] (does) this (happen) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me [e&lqh/pro/$ me]?” (Lk 1:43)

“How [pw=$] shall the box [i.e. Ark] of the Lord come in toward me [ei)seleu/setai pro/$ me]?” (2 Sam 6:9b LXX)
“(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that my Lordcomes toward [h@lqenpro/$] his servant..?” (2 Sam 24:21a LXX)

3. The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-51)

The Temple also features in the closing episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative. I discuss this passage (vv. 41-51) at length in other notes (esp. on verse 49), but it is worth considering it at least briefly here. It functions as a kind of Appendix to the Infancy narrative, set at a time when Jesus was a twelve-year old boy. Famously, this is the only (canonical) Gospel tradition regarding the childhood of Jesus. In many ways, the Temple setting—indeed, the episode itself—serves as a compendium summary of a number of themes running through the earlier narrative. These themes include:

  • The faithfulness of Jesus’ parents (Joseph/Mary) in fulfilling the religious ritual required by the Torah (cf. above and in Part 2)—here, it is the observance of the Passover in Jerusalem (vv. 41-42). As in the earlier Simeon episode, Jesus’ presence in the Temple relates to the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
  • In the setting for this episode, Jesus is among his relatives (vv. 43-44)—i.e. Israelites who live under the Covenant established with them by God (cf. Rom 15:8 and Gal 4:4 [“under the Law”]). The entire Infancy narrative involves Jesus relatives (his parents, his cousin John, and John’s parents, etc).
  • The Temple represents the heart of Israelite religion (i.e. the center of the Old Covenant), the place where God’s presence is manifest and divine revelation is set forth. The revelation in the first two Temple episodes (1:13-20; 2:26-35) involves Jesus’ identity (as Messiah and Son of God [“Lord”]).
  • Jesus’ presence in the Temple symbolically marks his identity, and, in particular, his relationship to God the Father (YHWH), as confirmed in the oracles of Simeon (vv. 29-32, 34-35).

The first two points relate to the first half of the narrative (i.e., the narrative setting/introduction in vv. 41-45), while the second two points more properly relate to the core of the narrative (vv. 46-50), centered around the saying of Jesus in v. 49. This famous saying reads as follows:

“For what [i.e. why] (is it) that you search (for) me? Had you not seen [i.e. did you not know] that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (thing)s of my Father?”

The italicized portion represents the core saying. The last portion is often translated “…in my Father’s house”, but this is rather inaccurate. The word corresponding to “house” (i.e. Grk oi@ko$) is not present, and so, we should be cautious about reading in a reference to the Temple as God’s “house” without warrant. More accurate would be the translation “…in my Father’s household“; however, the Greek literally reads e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (“in/among the [thing]s of my Father”). For more on this, cf. the earlier discussion. It is not the Temple building, as such, which is emphasized, but rather the activity taking place in the Temple (teaching and study of the Torah), and those who are engaged in this activity (those devoted to the Torah and the things of God). There is a clear contrast between “the things of God” and the “things of (his) relatives and neighbors” (v. 44)—Joseph and Mary search for Jesus among the latter, but they find him among the former:

  • e)n toi=$ suggeneu=sin kai\ toi=$ gnwstoi=$ (v. 44)
  • e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou (v. 49)

Thus, here, in this episode, the Temple setting has what we might call a Christological significance—it relates to Jesus’ unique relationship to God the Father, as the Anointed One and Son of God. In the prior Temple scene his identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) of God is confirmed (vv. 26ff); here, it is his identity as God’s Son.

January 7-8: Luke 2:49

This coming Sunday (the first Sunday after Epiphany), is traditionally the date commemorating the Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), although more recently churches have celebrated it on the Sunday after Christmas. The episode—usually considered part of the Lukan Infancy Narrative (1:5-2:52)—is the only narrative in the New Testament depicting the boyhood of Jesus. Very soon many more stories would surface, with increasingly spectacular and (no doubt) fictional details, such as can be found in the surviving extra-canonical “Infancy Gospels”—the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, and so forth. The narratives in these Gospels have perhaps more in common with Saints’ Lives from the early Medieval period than with the ancient Jesus traditions. Although the boy Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is depicted as a most precocious child, he is far from the wonder-working prodigy of later tales (see for example the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, c. 2, and throughout).

In fact, there is very little in the Lukan Infancy Narratives which would suggest that Jesus experienced anything other than normal growth and development (in his human nature)—cf. Luke 2:40 and the parallel/doublet of 2:52. Whether, or to what extent, Jesus actively possessed (and exercised) the Divine Attributes (such as omniscience, et al.) as a child is probably an unsolvable Christological question. One is reminded of the Kenosis/Krypsis debate among Lutheran theologians—whether the incarnate Christ ’emptied’ himself (kenosis) of the divine attributes, or ‘hid’ (krypsis) their use through most of his life. It is a fascinating, but highly speculative area of study, and should be approached with caution.

With regard to this particular narrative, it is best to pay attention to what Luke records Jesus himself as saying about his identity. When his parents (and relatives) left Jerusalem to return home from the feast, Jesus remained behind, somehow without his parents knowing it. When they do find him at last, in the Temple, Mary says to him:

te/knon, ti/ e)poi/hsa$ h(mi=n ou%tw$; i)dou o( path/r sou k)agw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se.
“Child, what [i.e. why] have you done thus to us? See, your father and I, being in pain, search [for] you”

This passage raises all sorts of questions for modern readers—logistical (‘how could Mary and Joseph set off on such a long journey not knowing Jesus was missing?’), psychological (‘how did Mary and Joseph feel when their son was missing?’), and ethical (‘how could Jesus let his parents worry about him that way?’)—which are far removed from Luke’s purpose: he says nothing at all about such matters. The entire story, as Luke tells it, leads up to a profound revelatory moment—Jesus’ pronouncement in response to his mother’s question:

ti/ o%ti e)zhtei=te me; ou)k h&|deite o%ti e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou dei= ei@nai/ me;
“(For) what (is it) that [i.e. why do] you search [for] me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$?”

The precise meaning of the portion I have left untranslated is still disputed. Literally, it reads: “in [i.e. among] the [ones/things] of my father”. There are three main possibilities for interpretation (see J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke V1 [Anchor Bible 28], pp. 443-444, for a more detailed summary):

  1. “among the people of [i.e., belonging to] my father”—presumably referring to the teachers of the law, temple personnel, or perhaps more generally to those studying and expounding the Scriptures. This would seem to be the most literal rendering, and is certainly possible, though, I think, unlikely.
  2. “in the affairs of my father”—that is, the things in an abstract sense, again referring, one would assume, to the teaching of the Torah and temple activity. Sometimes cited supporting this basic meaning is Luke 20:25, but better Mark 8:33/Matthew 16:23. Again, this is possible, but I would prefer a more concrete sense of the expression (see below).
  3. “in the house(-hold) of my father”—the expression e)n toi=$ tou= {person} (“in/among the things/people of {so-and-so}”) can have the wider sense of “in/among the possessions of …”, translated conventionally as “in the house(-hold) of…”. Such a basic meaning is attested in the Greek version of the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 41:51), and elsewhere in Greek texts of the period; a close parallel is found in Josephus (Against Apion I.118: e)n toi=$ tou= Dio$ “in the house-(hold) [i.e. temple] of Zeus”).

This last meaning is certainly close to the mark; however, I would say that the standard translation “in my Father’s house”, is still somewhat inappropriate. If Luke (or Jesus as the speaker) had wanted to emphasize the Temple building as God’s house, he could have used oi@ko$, where the Temple is commonly referred to as God’s house (oi@ko$ qeou). I rather prefer a more general (literal) translation: “in/among the things of my Father”; this, for two reasons:

1) the translation emphasizes “my Father” rather than “house” (the Temple), which better preserves the (intentional) juxtaposition between Joseph and God as Jesus’ “father”. In her address to Jesus, Mary specifically states “your father and I…search for you”, to which Jesus responds “it is necessary for me… things of my father“. Interestingly, in the manuscript tradition, a number of scribes modified “your father” to read “Joseph” or “your relatives”, presumably in an effort to safeguard the idea of the Virgin Birth (on this, see the earlier article on textual variants in the Infancy narratives); however, this is a prime example of misguided orthodoxy at work, for the change completely ruins the parallel (and the actual Christological point!).

2) I think it possible that here with e)n toi=$ tou=… there may be a reference relevant to the historical context, which Luke preserves. Travel in the Ancient Near East, such as from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, would have involved a caravan (sunodi/a, “[those] together [on the] way”)—groups of persons, often relatives, travelling together (for safety and protection), along with any necessary possessions for the journey, pack/travel animals, and the like. It is not straying too far from Luke’s narrative context to imagine, in his parents “anxious searching” (to which Mary refers), they would first begin searching among the people and possessions in the caravan train. In essence, Jesus might be saying—by an expanded paraphrase—”why were you searching for me [among the things in the caravan], didn’t you know you would find me among my Father’s things?”

In any event, the comparison between the possessions of his (legal human) father Joseph, and those of his (Divine heavenly) Father God, would seem to be at the center of the Christological message, which is the point of the story. At the same time, the Temple setting, the teachers of the Law/Scripture (didaskaloi), the Passover feast, all retain the Old Testament connection so prominent to the setting of the Lukan Infancy Narrative. The central (self-)revelation of the Incarnate Christ as being the Son of God (even as a youth) takes place right in the middle of (e)n me/sw|) the history and religion of Israel, symbolized appropriately by the Temple (and the teaching therein) as e)n toi=$ tou= qeou=.

The traditional image of the Boy Jesus teaching the Scribes, so familiar from Christian art and commentary, is a pious interpretation (or exaggeration), influenced in part, it would seem, from the extra-canonical legends mentioned above (see the Infancy Gospel of Thomas [chap. 19] for an amplified version of the same narrative).  Luke, however (2:46-47), describes nothing of of the sort: it is merely stated that Jesus was in the temple e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn (“in the middle of the teachers”) and a)kou/onta au)tw=n kai e)perwtw=nta au)tou/$ (“he gave ear [i.e. listened] to them and inquired after them”), much as would any young pupil to a Rabbi. The teachers were “astonished” (e)ci/stanto) by young Jesus’ understanding (su/nesi$) and responses (a)po/krisi$); but nowhere is it stated, or even really suggested, that Jesus acted as their teacher.

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: The Temple (Part 2)

In an earlier article, I discussed the Temple in relation to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 (in commemoration of the 2nd day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day). The references to the Temple, and use of the Temple theme in that sermon-speech, reflect, in various ways, early Christian views of the Jerusalem Temple and how it relates to the new religious identity of believers in Christ. This second article will look at the Temple as it appears in the Infancy narratives, more directly related to the birth of Jesus. The Temple is mentioned only in the Lukan narrative(s), as the setting/locale for three different episodes:

    1. The Angelic Appearance to Zechariah (1:8-23)
    2. The Encounter with Simeon (2:25-38)
    3. The Boy Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51)

Each of these episodes is discussed in considerable detail in other Christmas season notes and articles. Here I will focus specifically on the role and significance of the Temple in the Lukan narrative.

1. The Angelic Appearance to Zechariah (Lk 1:8-23)

To begin with, it is importance to notice the close connection between the Temple setting and John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were of priestly lineage. In particular, Zechariah was an active priest assigned to periodic service in the Temple (vv. 5, 8-9, 23). The events which occur in the Temple in this episode take place during Zechariah’s time of service. Thus, here the Temple ritual itself plays an important role in the narrative. This leads to an important thematic (and theological) observation, which is essential to the message of Luke-Acts as a whole. The Gospel records divine revelation manifest in the midst of the Temple ritual. From an early Christian standpoint, this theme can be stated more generally:

The New Covenant is manifest in the midst of the Old, the New being the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Let us see how the details of the narrative relate to this thematic principle.

a. The ritual setting. As mentioned above, Zechariah was a priest, and a member of a long-established priestly tradition and lineage whose duties included service in the Temple; on this, cf. 1 Chron 23:6; 24:1ff; Neh 12:1-7; 13:30; Josephus Antiquities 7.365-6; Against Apion 2.108. The particular service Zechariah performs here in the narrative involves the daily sacrifice, and, in particular, the burning of incense at the altar in the sanctuary and tending to the related matters within the sanctuary (vv. 8-9). This duty goes back to the Torah regulations and the tradition of the Tabernacle (Exod 30:7-8; cf. also Mishnah tractate Tamid 5:2-6:3). This detail relates not only to Zechariah’s priestly service, but also to the more important motif that John’s parents were among the faithful ones in Israel, being di/kaio$ (“just, right[eous]”)—which means, primarily, being faithful in observing/performing the regulations of the Torah (v. 6). In addition to the offering of incense, as an officiating priest, Zechariah would also have delivered the priestly blessing to the people as part of his duty (Num 6:24-26; m. Tamid 7:2). This would have taken place upon his leaving the sanctuary and entering into the outer precincts of the Temple, as the setting of vv. 10, 21-22 indicates. Note, then, how this all is expressed clearly in the outline of the narrative:

    • Ritual Duty: Offering incense at the altar within the Sanctuary (vv. 8-10)
      • The Divine Revelation (vv. 11-20)
    • Ritual Duty: The Blessing to the people outside the Sanctuary (vv. 21-22)

b. The offering of incense. The particular sacrificial offering performed by Zechariah in the sanctuary also has a special significance in the Lukan narrative, and for early Christians as a whole. The burning of incense takes on a symbolic meaning for Christians which is twofold: (i) an association with prayer, and (ii) as a form of sacrifice entirely separate from that of animal offerings (with the shedding of blood, etc). The first point—the association of incense with prayer—goes back to Old Testament and Jewish tradition, most notably the statement in Psalm 141:2. Moreover, the time of the evening (afternoon) sacrifice, was traditionally regarded as a time/hour for prayer—cf. Dan 9:21; Josephus Antiquities 13.282; Acts 3:1, etc. That is certainly the setting indicated in verse 10; and there is likely a conscious allusion to Daniel 9:20-21ff (cf. below). The identification of burning incense with prayer is perhaps strongest in the visions of the book of Revelation (5:8; 8:3-4).

In Jewish and early Christian thought, prayer begins to take the place of the ritual offering, taking on the characteristics of sacrifice. We see that they occur simultaneously at the hour of sacrifice/prayer (v. 10). God is also said to respond favorably to the prayer of the righteous, in a manner similar to the divine response to the ritual offering; this is reflected in the idea of a person’s prayer ascending (like smoke) up to God (Psalm 141:2; Lk 1:13; Acts 10:4 etc). This first level of separation—i.e. prayer from the concrete ritual of sacrifice—takes on greater meaning for early Christians, who themselves began to view the entire role of the Temple in a new light. This rethinking of the Temple goes back to Gospel tradition and the sayings of Jesus (see esp. Matt 12:6-7; Mk 11:17 par [Isa 56:7]). With the exception of the episode in Acts 21, neither Jesus, the disciples, nor other early Christians are depicted in the New Testament participating in the sacrificial ritual of the Temple. Rather, the Temple serves primarily as a place for teaching and prayer, or for worship generally—cf. Lk 2:46-47; 18:10-11ff; 19:46 par; 24:53; Acts 2:46; 5:20ff, 42; 22:17; Rev 11:1. The spiritualization of the Temple and the sacrificial offerings can be seen vividly in Paul’s letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; also Eph 2:21), for example, and definitely precedes the destruction of the Temple building itself.

At times, the Christian view of the Temple turned toward actual opposition of the cultus and the ritual apparatus, as we examined in the case of Stephen’s sermon-speech (Part 1). Again, this can be seen as going back to Jesus and the Gospel tradition—i.e., the Temple action and saying of Jesus (Mk 11:12-17; 13:1-2; 14:58 pars; Jn 2:18-21). At the very least, we see a contrast between the ritual purpose of the Temple and the new purpose revealed in the person and work of Christ. With the destruction of the Temple building in 70 A.D., its role for Christians became increasingly spiritualized, existing as a symbol of God’s presence, holiness (i.e. the Holy Spirit) and the religious devotion of believers.

c. The Temple as a place of vision and revelation. The Angelic appearance to Zechariah is in accordance with Old Testament and Jewish tradition, in which the Temple, representing the presence of God and meeting-place for God and His people, is a suitable location for the experience of visions and divine revelation. This idea goes back to the early traditions related to the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting, where Moses (and others) had a direct experience of the Divine Presence. Perhaps the most famous visionary scene set in the Temple is that of Isaiah in 6:1-4ff. For other references to visionary/revelatory experiences in the Temple, see e.g., Acts 22:17ff; Josephus Antiquities 13.282-3. Even more relevant to the Lukan narrative here is the occurrence of Divine (Angelic) revelation at the afternoon time of sacrifice/prayer—Dan 9:20-21; Acts 10:3ff. For the possible influence of Daniel on the Lukan narrative, cf. my earlier article in this series.

d. The specific location of the revelation. In verse 11, we read that

“…the Messenger of the Lord was seen by him [i.e. Zechariah] standing out of the giving (side) [i.e. on the right side] of the place of (ritual) sacrifice [i.e. altar] of smoking (incense)”

The right hand side is the “good” and favored side (lit. the giving [decio/$] side), i.e. a propitious sign of God’s favor. Moreover, the sanctuary and the altar mark the presence of God—the place where human beings encounter the Divine Presence. These images and associations reflect a parallel to the Throne/Temple of God in heaven, surrounded by heavenly beings (Isa 6; Rev 4-5; 7:9ff; 11:1ff, 19, etc). In the New Testament and early Christian tradition, the exalted Jesus is seen as standing at the right hand of God on His throne (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34, et al). In early Old Testament tradition, the “Messenger of the Lord” was essentially a way of referring to the presence of God (YHWH) himself, as manifest to his people in history. By the time of the New Testament, the expression “Messenger of the Lord” typically referred to a distinct heavenly/angelic being, here identified as Gabriel.

The location of the altar is especially important in light of the theme discussed above, suggesting the idea of ritual sacrifice being replaced by vision/revelation for believers in the New Covenant of Christ.

e. The Old Testament Context of the Revelation. The revelation given to Zechariah by the Messenger Gabriel is Messianic and eschatological. It refers primarily to the role that the child John will play in the end-time redemption God has prepared for his people. As discussed in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”, the name Yôµanan ( )Iwa/nnh$, “John” v. 13) literally means “God (Yahweh) has shown favor”, alluding to the favor God will show to his people in bring salvation for them, an idea also implied in v. 14. The delight people will have at John’s birth is a foreshadowing of the role he will play (vv. 15-17) in the coming redemption.

The key phrase is found in verse 17:

“and he [i.e. John] will travel before in His [i.e. God’s] sight, in the spirit and power of °Eliyyah {Elijah}…”

It is an allusion to Malachi 3:1ff, a passage of profound eschatological/Messianic significance for Jews of the time. Already in the book of Malachi itself, the “Messenger” is identified as “Elijah” (4:5-6), an association which was highly influential in development of the belief that Elijah would appear at the end-time, before the coming Judgment, to lead God’s people to repentance, as stated here in v. 17b (cf. also Sirach 48:10, for an earlier occurrence of the tradition). I discuss the Messianic figure-type of Elijah at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (soon to be posted here).

Early Christian tradition came to identify John the Baptist with “Elijah” who will appear at the end time, and this identification is expressed several times in the Infancy narrative—both here and in 1:76-77—and, of course is essential to the early Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2, 6-7 par [but note Jn 1:21]; 9:12-13 par; Matt 11:14). Early Christians gave to Mal 3:1ff a distinct interpretation: John (the Messenger/Elijah) prepares the way for the coming of Jesus (the Lord). According to this line of interpretation, the words in Mal 3:1 (“the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple“) would similarly refer to Jesus coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. This idea would, of course, be fulfilled in Mk 11:15-18 par, but it may also be in the Gospel writer’s mind in Luke 2:22-27ff. I will discuss this episode, along with that of Lk 2:41-51, in the concluding portion (Part 3) of this article.

Birth of the Son of God: Matthew 2:2

Matthew 2:2

Today, for the eve of Epiphany, I will be looking at one phrase in the narrative of Matthew 2:1-12—in verse 2, where the child Jesus is described as “the one produced/brought-forth (as) King of the Jews” (o( texqei\$ basileu\$ tw=n  )Ioudai=wn). The Magi ask the question “Where is [pou= e)stin] (this child)…?” This is glossed by Herod’s similar question in verse 4:

“Where is the Anointed (One) coming to be (born)?”
pou= o( xristo\$ genna=tai

Here “King of the Jews” is generally synonymous with “Anointed” (Messiah/Christ). We should note the setting in verse 1, of Jesus’ coming to be born in Bethlehem (the city of David, cf. Luke 2:4, 11). The association with David is stronger in the Lukan Infancy narrative (Lk 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4, 11), but the citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:5-6 does include a reference (or allusion) to 2 Sam 5:2. Also there is a connection to David in the traditional image of the king as a shepherd over his people (v. 6).

By Jesus’ time—following the exile and during Greek/Roman rule—there was a strong nationalistic connotation to the title “king of the Jews”, as indicated in its early use by the Hasmoneans (Josephus, Antiquities XIV.36) and by Herod (Antiquities XVI.311). In all likelihood, early Christians would also have understood the star (Matt 2:2, 7, 9-10) in a “Messianic” sense; at the very least, there were ancient and well-established traditions (and/or superstitions) of stars (and other celestial phenomena) marking the birth (or death) of a great person—such as a king or ruler. Of many references from the Greco-Roman world, see Pliny, Natural History II.6.28; Virgil, Aeneid II.694; Cicero, De Divinat. I.23.47; Suetonius, Augustus §94, Nero §36. Within a specific Jewish context, see Josephus, Jewish War VI.310-12, and also Tacitus, Histories V.13. Cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1993, p. 170. Within the narrative, clearly the Magi pay homage to Jesus as to a king (v. 11).

“King of the Jews” appears in (older) Gospel tradition in the Passion narratives, in two main locations:

The Triumphal Entry

  • Zechariah 9 (cited by Matthew and John)—the oracle declares to Jerusalem: “see! your king comes to you!”
  • The similar context of Psalm 118—entry of the victorious king into Jerusalem (v. 26, cited by all four Gospel [cf. the earlier note])

Each Gospel adds a detail to the citation of Ps 118:26:

  • Mark 11:10—”the coming kingdom of our father David
  • Luke 19:38—”the one coming, the king…”
  • John 12:13—”…the king of Israel
  • Matt 21:9—”Hosanna to the Son of David!” (no specific mention of “king/kingdom”, but see verse 15)

The crowd’s greeting expresses Messianic expectation—that is, for a king who will restore the Davidic kingdom of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6ff).

The ‘Trial’ and Crucifixion

First we have the scene (in the Synoptics) where the High Priest in the Council (Sanhedrin) questions Jesus:

Second, the scene (in all four Gospels) where Pilate questions Jesus:

And note also:

Most notable, of course, is the use of the title “King of the Jews” in the sign attached to the cross overhead, which likewise is present in all four Gospel accounts (with slight variation):

  • Mark 15:26: “The King of the Jews”—this is the simplest form
  • Luke 23:38: “This (is) the King of the Jews”
  • Matt 27:37: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”
  • John 19:19: “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”

There is an important connection between the titles “King of the Jews” and “Son of God”, as indicated above. The first of these is central to the Roman scene (before Pilate), the second to the Jewish scene (before the Sanhedrin). As already noted, “King of the Jews” is primarily a political title, “Son of God” a religious/theological title. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they both come together in a unique way in the Gospel of John; indeed, within the fourth Gospel, Jesus as the “Son of God” (or “the Son”) has a special place and function, as well as Christological significance. Consider here the two episodes where Pilate speaks with Jesus:

  • John 18:33-38—specifically related to the title “King of the Jews” (v. 33)
  • John 19:9-11—the context of the title “Son of God” (v. 7), dealing with the question of power and (divine) authority

It is Pilate’s question to Jesus—”are you the king of the Jews?” (v. 33, repeated in v. 37 “are you not then a king?”)—which brings forth Jesus’ response, referring to his birth:

“unto this have I come to be (born), and unto this have I come into the world: that I should witness to the truth—every one being out of [i.e. who is of] the truth hears my voice”

See the earlier note and previous discussion on this remarkable saying, which brings together so beautifully the birth and the death of the Son of God.