The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 2 (Luke 2:25-32)

The Simeon Episode

The concluding episode of 2:22-38 brings together a number of important Lukan themes and motifs, developed throughout the Infancy narrative. Central to this episode is the encounter with Simeon (vv. 25-32). The pair of Simeon and Anna (vv. 36-38) forms a literary match with Zechariah/Elizabeth and Joseph/Mary—all three representing the righteous ones of the Old Covenant who are, with the birth of Jesus, experiencing the end of the Old and the beginning of the New Covenant. They are transitional figures, who embody the Lukan theme of continuity with the Old Covenant; in this regard, the Temple setting, as in the first episode (1:5-25, and the subsequent scene of 2:40-52), is most significant.

The Simeon episode includes a poetic oracle (vv. 29-32), one of four inspired oracles uttered by these characters in the narrative; note the pairings:

There is also a certain thematic symmetry to the oracles, in the context of the narrative:

    • Elizabeth—encounter with Mary and the infant Jesus
      • Canticles of Mary & Zechariah, expressing the coming of the New Age in terms of the Old
    • Simeon—encounter with Mary and the infant Jesus

Simeon’s encounter (with Mary and the child Jesus) parallels that of Elizabeth, but infused with much of the Messianic idiom that fills the intervening canticles by Mary (the Magnificat) and Zechariah (the Benedictus), as well as the Angels’ song in 2:10-14. A number of key Messianic themes also are expressed in this episode—themes which relate to the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit (cf. the points outlined in Part 1). These include:

    • An emphasis on holiness and purity, alluding to the specific idea of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God’s holiness. This is expressed here by: (a) the Temple location, (b) the Temple-piety of Simeon and Anna (and others like them), and (c) the fulfillment by Joseph and Mary of the Torah regulations (relating to ritual purity), vv. 22-24.
    • The coming of God’s Spirit upon prophets and gifted/chosen individuals—here, specifically Simeon, vv. 25-27. The oracle that follows represents his inspired/prophetic announcement, centered on the person of Jesus.
    • The role of the Spirit upon God’s people in the New Age. Simeon stands as a transitional figure in this regard (cf. above), fulfilling the Old and prefiguring the New. The onset of the New Age is anticipated by the Messianic expectation of Simeon and Anna, referenced in vv. 25 and 38.
    • The figure of Jesus as the Messiah, upon whom the Spirit rests, who ushers in the New Age—a theme substantially expressed in the oracle of vv. 28-32 (cf. also the words to Mary, vv. 34-35)
Luke 2:25-27

Let us now consider the three-fold description of Simeon’s experience with the Spirit in 2:25-27. Three aspects are mentioned, one in each verse:

    • “…and the holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25)
    • “and (the matter) was declared to him under [i.e. by] the Spirit…” (v. 26)
    • “and he came in the Spirit…” (v. 27)

The wording suggests that this was not a one-time event, but rather that Simeon may have had regular experiences of this sort. Two distinct modes of Spirit-experience are mentioned, both of which were introduced earlier in the Infancy narrative, and continue to be developed throughout Luke-Acts.

The first is the Spirit being upon (e)pi/) a person, just as it was said that the Holy Spirit would “come upon” (e)pe/rxomai) Mary (1:35, cf. the prior note). The second mode involves a person going about in (e)n) the Spirit, being led/guided by the Spirit. It was said of John the Baptist that he would go about in the prophetic spirit (1:17, meaning that the Spirit of God would be in/on him). The language for this mode is expressed more directly in the case of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (4:1, 14).

In the middle reference, Simeon is given special information from the Spirit; the verb xrhmati/zw is used, which here indicates a declaration of how certain business (i.e., a particular matter) will come out; it may also imply a decision (by God) regarding the matter. In this particular instance, the content of the message relates precisely to the Messianic expectation of Simeon (cf. above). Through the Spirit, God promises him that he will not die (lit. “is not to see death”) before he sees “the Lord’s Anointed (One)”. This (private) prophetic message is fulfilled by Simeon’s encounter with Jesus, which explains why the Spirit leads him into the Temple precincts at that moment.

He comes into the Temple “in the Spirit”; the expression is also important because it indicates the inspired character of the oracle that he utters in vv. 29-32. It is not said of Simeon specifically that he was filled with the Spirit, but given the parallel with the oracle of Zechariah, this may fairly be assumed. It is possible, however, that the idea of being in the Spirit is indicative of a longer-term experience, rather than a sudden and momentary burst of inspiration. Certainly, the oracle that he utters represents the culmination of a lifetime of faithfulness and devotion to God.

Luke 2:28-32

“Now you release your slave, Master,
according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes saw your Salvation,
which you made ready before the face of all peoples:
Light for the uncovering of the nations
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

With regard to the poetic oracle of Simeon (the Nunc Dimittus), it is worth noting that the Old Testament quotations and allusions in the hymn are all from the second (and third) part of the book of Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66)—so-called Deutero- (and Trito-)Isaiah. There are many themes in chapters 40-55, especially, which are appropriate to an exilic setting—a message of comfort, the hope and promise of restoration, and so forth. It is not surprising that these chapters had an enormous influence on Jewish and early Christian thought.

In terms of the Lukan Infancy narrative here in in this section (Luke 2:25-38), the Isaianic theme is established in the figures of Simeon and Anna, who are encountered within the Temple setting:

    • Simeon (vv. 25-35) who:
      (a) was righteous/just and took good care [to observe the Law, etc]
      (b) was [looking] toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel
    • Anna (vv. 36-38) who:
      (a) was in the Temple ‘day and night’, serving with fasting and prayer
      (b) was [with those looking] toward receiving the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem

The latter point (b) refers to the ‘Messianic’ hope and expectation shared by many devout Jews at the time; consider the parallel phrases in (b)—Simeon and Anna were among those looking toward receiving [i.e., waiting for]:

    • the para/klhsi$ of Israel (v. 25)
    • the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem (v. 38)

The word para/klhsi$ in this context is usually translated “comfort” or “consolation”. In the second phrase, the parallel noun lu/trwsi$ refers to the payment of ransom (and the corresponding release) for someone in bondage, etc., and is normally translated “redemption”. The phrase “comfort of Israel” probably finds its origin in the Isaian passages 40:1-2 (which also mentions Jerusalem) and 61:2, cf. also 57:18; 63:4; 66:13. “Redemption of Jerusalem” would seem to be derived from Isa 52:9, which also mentions ‘comfort’ for God’s people. This message of hope and restoration is described in terms of “good news” for Jerusalem (cf. 40:9; 41:27; 52:7). Interestingly, the phrase “redemption of Israel” and “freedom of Jerusalem” are found in documents from the Wadi Muraba’at in the context of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.).

Let us now look briefly at each of the six lines in the Song. For those interested in a more detailed study, consult my earlier series of notes on the passage.

Verse 29a: “now you [may] loose your slave from [service], Master” —the verb a)polu/w is conventionally translated in English as “release, dismiss”, etc. For similar use of the verb in the Old Testament (LXX) see Genesis 15:2; Numbers 20:29; Tobit 3:6; cf. also Gen 46:30. The use of despo/th$ in reference to God is relatively rare in the LXX (Gen 15:2,8, etc) and in the New Testament (Acts 4:24), but is occasionally used of Christ as well (2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4; Rev 6:10). The image is that of a household master releasing his slave from service; since “slave” in English often carries the connotation of abuse and mistreatment, typically dou/lo$ is translated here as “servant”.

Verse 29b: “according to your utterance, in peace” —for the comparable idiom of departing “in peace”, see of Abraham in Gen 15:15 (note also the use in context of despo/th$ and a)polu/w in Gen 15:2 LXX). r(h=ma is usually translated “word”, being roughly equivalent to lo/go$ in such contexts; however it is frequently used specifically in instances of a prophetic “utterance”, a slightly more literal translation which captures something of this sense.

Verse 30: “[now] that my eyes have seen your salvation” —this phrase is an allusion to Isaiah 40:5 and/or 52:10 (LXX); see also Psalm 98:3; Gen 49:18; Baruch 4:24; Ps Sol 17:50.

Verse 31: “which you have made ready in the sight of all the peoples” —this, along with verse 30 (above), is drawn largely from Isaiah 52:10. The use of laoi/ (“peoples”) is interesting (Isa 52:10 uses e&qnoi, “nations”); most likely it is meant to encompass both the “nations” (e&qnoi) and the “people” (laoi/) of Israel in verse 32. The italicized expression (“in the sight of”) is a more conventional rendering of the idiom, which I translated above quite literally as “according(ly) toward the eye/face of”.

Verse 32a: “a light unto uncovering [i.e. revelation] for the nations”
Verse 32b: “and glory for your people Israel”
There has been some question whether do/can is parallel to fw=$ (“light”), or is governed (along with a)poka/luyin) by the preposition ei)$; almost certainly the latter is correct—i.e., “a light unto uncovering…and (unto) glory…”. The first phrase is more or less a quotation of Isaiah 49:6b (cf. also Isa 42:6); the second may be derived from Isaiah 46:13b (for the overall image in this verse, see also Isa 60:1). The noun do/ca is actually rather difficult to translate literally into English—the original sense is of a (favorable) opinion, and so indicates the honor, esteem, etc. in which someone or something is held; but just as often it refers to the reputation, dignity, honor, etc. which someone possesses.

How closely should one treat the parallel between a)poka/luyi$ and do/ca? It is natural to think this of “revelation” in terms of the truth (the Gospel) being presented to the Gentiles; but I believe the image is rather one of uncovering (i.e. the literal sense of the word) the nations who are in darkness. So, following the parallelism, the light God brings (in the person of Jesus) has a two-fold purpose and effect:

    • It will uncover the nations who are in darkness, shining light upon them
    • It will shine light upon ‘Israel’ (i.e. God’s people), giving to them an honor and esteem which they would not otherwise have

From the standpoint of the Gospel, of course, these are two sides of the same coin, for in Christ all people—whether from Israel or the nations—are the people of God.

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 2 (Luke 1:41, 67)

ORACLES OF ELIZABETH & ZECHARIAH

The comparison of John and Jesus, in terms of their respective Messianic identities, is an important aspect of the parallelism of the two Annunciation scenes (as discussed in the previous notes on 1:15-17 and 1:35). But it also features in the poetic oracles uttered (in the narrative) by the parents of John the Baptism, Elizabeth (vv. 42-45) and Zechariah (vv. 68-79). In the narrative introduction to each oracle, the poetic and revelatory inspiration is attributed to the presence of the Holy Spirit filling the speaker.

Luke 1:41, 67

“….and Elisheba was filled with (the) holy Spirit…and she gave up a great cry (with her) voice and said…” (v. 41f)
“And Zekharyah was filled with (the) holy Spirit and he foretold [i.e. prophesied], saying…” (v. 67)

Like John the Baptist, who was filled (vb plh/qw) with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb (cf. the prior note on v. 15ff), so also his parents (Elizabeth and Zechariah) were filled by the Spirit. This Spirit-motif, introduced in the earlier episode, continues here. It will be further developed in the figure of Simeon (2:25-27), who serves as a pattern for the relationship of the Spirit to believers, and also in the person of Jesus himself (4:1ff, cf. also 10:21).

As previously noted, the idea of a person being filled by the Spirit of God is an important aspect of the Lukan Spirit-theme. It is one of three primary modes of Spirit-experience featured in Luke-Acts. It is also, however, part of an ancient line of tradition regarding the manifestation of the Spirit of God (YHWH) upon chosen individuals in the Old Testament. Indeed, there was a strong tradition of charismatic (and prophetic) leadership in ancient Israel, whereby chosen individuals were gifted with the Divine Spirit, enabling them to function as inspired leaders over God’s people. This was true in the case of Moses and his successor Joshua, as well as the Judges and the early kings of Israel (Saul, David). The specific idiom of being filled, however, is only mentioned in the case of Joshua (Deut 34:9).

Mention should also be made of the references in Exodus (28:3; 31:3; 35:31), of the artisans and craftspeople who made the priestly apparel and the tent-shrine (tabernacle) furnishings. They were uniquely filled with the divine Spirit, giving them the skill and artistry to perform this work. This relates to the situation here with Elizabeth and Zechariah, where the filling by Spirit enables them to exercise a poetic art. Within the narrative context, Zechariah utters a great hymn (the Benedictus, vv. 68-79), and Elizabeth, in her own way, also gives out a short poetic exclamation (vv. 42ff). It should also be noted that the inspired hymn attributed to Mary (the Magnificat, vv. 46-55) is, in a handful of manuscripts and other witnesses, attributed to Elizabeth instead.

There are three aspects of this mode of being filled by the Spirit that I would emphasize here.

1. Ecstatic inspiration. In the ancient prophetic tradition, the divine Spirit comes upon the individual and overwhelms him/her, producing a state of ecstasy, in which the prophet begins to speak with the voice of the deity. Sometimes this is characterized by unusual (or supernatural) signs, as well as strange behavior. In the Pentecost scene in Acts, this aspect of the prophetic experience is realized primarily through the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.

More commonly, however, in both the Gospel and Acts, this ecstatic experience is manifest by a sudden exclamation, made at the spur of the moment, under the influence of the Spirit. We see this, for example, in Luke 10:21f, where the saying of Jesus is presented as an inspired exclamation. In the Lukan Infancy narrative, the ecstasy results in a poetic oracle. This is certainly true in the case of the canticles by Zechariah and Simeon (and also the Magnifcat [by Mary]), which are genuine poems, composed much in the pattern of the Scriptural Psalms. In this regard, it is worth noting the statement in Acts 4:25, how David, as the chosen servant of God, composed the Psalms (specifically Psalm 2) under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

2. The Prophetic communication of the will and purpose of God. This is the fundamental meaning of prophecy, especially as expressed by the Hebrew root abn. A ayb!n` properly denotes, in a religious context, someone who is a spokesperson for God, communicating His word and will to the people. The Greek term profh/th$ has a corresponding meaning, depending on how one understands the prepositional prefix pro/ (“before”). The prefix can mean “beforehand” (that is, predictive prophecy, announcing future events), but it can also be understood in the sense of speaking the message before (i.e., in front of) a gathered audience (such as the Christian community/congregation).

There is certainly a predictive component of the prophetic oracles by Elizabeth and Zechariah (and also Simeon). Far more important, however, and central to the place of the oracles in the Lukan narrative, is what the oracles communicate regarding what God is doing (and is about to do) through the chosen (Messianic) figures of John and Jesus. This will be discussed further in the next note (on 2:25-27ff).

3. Prefigurement of the Gospel. The prophetic oracles uttered by Elizabeth and Zechariah, etc, foreshadow the proclamation of the Gospel by the early believers. In particular, the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narratives find their parallel in the sermon-speeches of Acts. Both are Spirit-inspired utterances made publicly, presented as occurring on the spur of the moment, before an audience. In particular, the utterances by Elizabeth and Zechariah declare the Messianic identity of Jesus, which is also the fundamental message of the early Gospel preaching.

Elizabeth and Zechariah represent the faithful and devout ones under the Old Covenant; but they also, like their child John (also their relative Mary), are transitional figures who stand at the threshold of the New Covenant. Thus, it should be no surprise that, in the context of the Lukan narrative, their Spirit-inspired prophecy anticipates the Gospel preaching of the first believers.

The content of this message is also shaped according to the literary theme and structure of the Infancy narratives. This means, primarily, that it is predicated upon the relationship between John and Jesus. John was a Spirit-filled (and guided) messianic figure, but one who is surpassed by, and subservient to, the greater Messianic identity of Jesus. John himself, in the womb of Elizabeth responds to the presence of Jesus (in the womb of Mary). His ‘jumping’ (vb skirta/w) in the womb (v. 41) is a manifestation of the presence of the Spirit (v. 15). Elizabeth’s prophecy confirms, and develops this theme: Mary is declared blessed because of the “fruit of her belly” (i.e., the infant Jesus), and she is specifically declared to be “the mother of my Lord”.

In the Benedictus of Zechariah we find a much more extensive poetic development, replete with many allusions to Scripture and Old Testament/Jewish tradition. For a detailed study of these allusions, specifically with regard to their Messianic significance, cf. my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”. It is in vv. 76-79 that the traditional language (and Messianic imagery) is applied directly to the narrative context of the relationship between John and Jesus. These are examined in a separate article (in the aforementioned series).

The the traditional themes, developed by Luke, regarding the Messianic significance of Jesus, are brought together in the Simeon episode—the final episode of the Infancy narrative proper. These Messianic themes are connected with the presence and work of the Spirit, and will be discussed in the concluding note of Part 2.

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

Luke 1:35

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

This second Annunciation scene may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 26-27)—summarizing the setting for the heavenly Messenger Gabriel’s appearance to Mary
    • The Angel’s Greeting (v. 28)
      —Mary’s response: surprise and uncertainty (v. 29)
    • The Angel’s announcement (vv. 30-33), prefaced by the traditional assurance (“Do not fear…”)
      —Mary’s response: question (“How will this be so…?” v. 34)
    • The Angel’s response: the sign (vv. 35-37)
      —Mary’s response: acceptance (v. 38)
    • Narrative conclusion (v. 38b)

This follows the basic narrative pattern in the Old Testament for Angelic appearances (including birth announcements), as I have discussed in prior notes (and cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1977, 1993,  pp. 155-60, 296-8). The core announcement of verses 30-33 may further be divided:

    • Assurance (v. 30)— “Do not fear, Maryam, for you have found favor alongside [i.e. before] God”
    • Birth announcement (v. 31)— “And, see! you will take/receive together in (the) womb and you will produce a son, and you will call his name ‘Yeshua'”
    • Fivefold promise/prophecy of the child’s future (vv. 32-33)—
      • “he will be great”
      • “he will be called ‘Son of the Highest'”
      • “the Lord God will give to him the (ruling) seat of his father Dawid”
      • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Ya’aqob into the Age”
      • “there will be no completion [i.e. end] of his kingdom”

There are unquestionable Messianic phrases and concepts in the prophecy of vv. 32-33. Mary’s response (question) relates to the apparent impossibility of her having a child: “How will it be so, seeing (that) I do not know a man?” (v. 34). Here the verb “know” preserves a Semitic idiom for sexual relations, and expresses the tradition of Mary’s virginity prior to bearing Jesus (also found in Matt 1:18). In verses 35-37 the Messenger gives a three-fold sign, explaining or confirming the truthfulness of the announcement:

    • Prophecy regarding the Divine source of Jesus’ conception (v. 35)
    • The miraculous conception by Elizabeth, who (being old/barren) similarly could not naturally bear a child (v. 36)
    • A declaration of the power of God to bring about anything he has uttered, i.e. through His Messenger (v. 37)

The reference to the Holy Spirit is in the prophecy of verse 35:

“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you—therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, (the) Son of God”

The first part of the verse presents two synonymous phrases in (poetic) parallel:

    • The holy Spirit—will come upon [e)pi] you
      The power of the Highest—will cast shade upon [e)pi] you

Despite an orthodox tendency to relate these two phrases with different members of the Trinity (“power” being associated with the Son), there can be little doubt that “holy Spirit” and “power of the Highest” are more or less synonymous expressions here. In Old Testament and Israelite tradition, the Spirit was not so much a distinct person as a manifestation of the presence and (life-giving) power of God (YHWH). This is important in light of how the concept and theme of the Holy Spirit is developed throughout Luke-Acts. The Infancy narratives preserve much of the Old Testament/Jewish background from which the new Faith (Christianity) would come forth—indeed, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the important religious forms and patterns found in Old Testament tradition.

The reference in Matt 1:18, 20 (“out of the holy Spirit”) simply indicates the divine source of Jesus’ conception, without saying anything about how this takes place. By contrast, in Luke’s account, the Angel provides vivid and colorful imagery—but how exactly should we understand these two verbs (e)pe/rxomai [“come upon”], e)piskia/zw [“cast shade upon”]) as they are used here?

e)pe/rxomai (“come upon”)—of the nine New Testament occurrences of this verb, seven are in Luke-Acts, most notably a parallel reference to the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in Acts 1:8. This prophecy by Jesus, similar and with a position in Acts comparable to the prophecy of Gabriel, will be discussed in an upcoming note. The verb can have the sense of something literally (physically) coming upon a person, but more commonly in the general sense of something happening (i.e. coming near) which will dramatically affect the person. It is used several times in the Old Testament in a sense similar to that of Acts 1:8 (cf. 1 Sam 11:7; Isa 32:15 LXX).

e)piskia/zw (“cast shade upon”)—this verb really only occurs 3 times in the New Testament (with two parallel references), including twice in Luke-Acts in a context that is especially relevant to its use here:

    • Luke 9:34 par—the cloud in the Transfiguration scene is said to “cast shade/shadow upon” the three disciples; this image, of course, alludes to the Old Testament theophany of YHWH at Sinai and in the Desert (cf. Exod 13:21ff; 19:9, 16). For the verb used of the divine Cloud in the LXX, cf. Exod 40:34f.
    • Acts 5:15—it is related that Peter’s shadow was thought (by the people) to bring healing to the sick when it “cast shade/shadow upon” them. It is not clear from the context of the narrative whether this genuinely took place, or reflects a popular belief associated with Peter.

These two occurrences inform its use in Lk 1:35; the basic meaning is two-fold, as a vivid expression for the manifestation to human beings of (a) the presence of God (i.e. the Cloud), and (b) the power of God. It is unwise to read anything further than this into the text. The result of this divine “overshadowing”, of course, is declared in the last portion of verse 35: “therefore the (child) coming to be (born) also will be called Holy, the Son of God”. It is probably best to read the adjective a%gio$ (“holy”) as a substantive in apposition to “Son of God”, both being predicate to the verb “will be called”; in other words, we have here two names or titles which (will) belong to Jesus:

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

The Spirit in the Lukan Infancy Narrative

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

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

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

The Angelic Announcements

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

Luke 1:15-17

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

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

The second declaration involves the Holy Spirit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 1

For this Christmas season—from Christmas Day through Epiphany—I will be presenting a series of articles on the relationship between the Spirit and the Birth of Jesus. I have discussed this topic in two prior series— “The Birth of the Son of God” and “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition”. However, here I wish to examine the subject in more detail, with a special focus on the development of the early Christian idea of (and belief in) the Holy Spirit. This is intimately connected with the wider view of the relationship between the Spirit and the person of Jesus Christ. It thus is an important component of the early Christology, as it developed during the first century.

This study is predicated upon two critical principles (and presuppositions): (1) that the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives represent a relatively late layer of the Gospel narrative, and (2) that the tradition of Jesus’ miraculous conception (and birth) itself is older, having gained relatively wide acceptance a number of years before either Infancy narrative was composed.

The Spirit in the Matthean Infancy Narrative

As noted above, 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).

Before turning to the Matthean account, it is worth considering the main lines of Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition, regarding the Holy Spirit, which influenced the Infancy narratives (and the Gospel Tradition as a whole). The representative citations from the Old Testament, and other Jewish writings, have been discussed in my earlier series on the Spirit in the Old Testament, and links are provided to the relevant notes (for further reading and study):

    • The role of God’s Spirit in the Creation of humankind—Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4, etc [note]
    • The coming of God’s Spirit upon prophets and other gifted/chosen leaders—Numbers 11:10-30; 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:6ff; 16:13-15, etc [note 1, 2, 3]
    • The Holy Spirit is fundamentally identical with the Spirit of God, focused specifically on the attribute of God’s holiness and purity—cf. on the expression “Spirit of [His/your] holiness” (= “holy Spirit”) in Psalm 51:11 [note]
    • A new presence and work of the Spirit among God’s people (poured out on them) will occur in the New Age, with the establishment of a New (and/or renewed) Covenant between God and His people. This was an important theme in the writings of the exilic and post-exilic Prophets—Isa 32:15; 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Zech 12:10 [note 1, 2, 3, 4]
    • Following upon several of the above lines of tradition, the presence of the Spirit was thought to be specially present upon the Messiah (i.e., the Messianic figure-types in Judaism during the 1st centuries B.C./A.D.)—cf. especially the Isaian references, 11:2; 28:6; 42:1ff; 59:21; 61:1ff [note 1, 2]

All of these lines of tradition can be found in Jewish writings of the first-century B.C./A.D., most notably in the texts of the Qumran scrolls. There are many interesting and significant parallels between the Qumran Community and the Early Christian Community—including the way that their respective views of the Holy Spirit developed from the earlier Old Testament traditions. The expression “Spirit of [God’s] Holiness” (= “Holy Spirit”) occurs more frequently in the Qumran texts. I have discussed this subject in an earlier article. This January, I will also be presenting a series of daily notes on references to the Spirit in the Qumran texts.

Let us now turn to the Matthean Infancy narrative.

Matthew 1:18ff

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 (in Part 2), 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.

How does the Matthean narrative relate to the lines of tradition (regarding the Holy Spirit) outlined above? Four of the five bulleted points may be seen as applicable to the Matthean Infancy narrative (reduced here to three thematic points):

    • The coming of God’s Spirit upon prophets and other gifted/chosen leaders—specifically, Moses (cf. Numbers 11:10-30). The narrative clearly is shaped to bring out parallels with the birth/childhood of Moses, implying that Jesus is a ‘new Moses,’ almost certainly in the sense of a Messianic prophet—i.e., the “prophet like Moses” who is to come (Deut 18:15-19). For more, cf. Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed,” and, on the Moses parallels in Matthew 2, cf. the relevant articles in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.
    • The Holy Spirit as an attribute of God’s holiness and purity—this is implied in the very tradition regarding Jesus’ virginal conception; however the theme of purity is much more prominent in the Lukan Infancy narrative.
    • The presence and work of the Spirit among God’s people that will occur in the (Messianic) New Age (cf. 1:21)this theme, too, is featured much more prominently in the Lukan narrative. Jesus, in this regard, is clearly identified as the Messiah (spec. the royal/Davidic Messiah) in Matthew’s narrative, no less than in Luke; cf. the Scriptures cited in 1:23 [note], 2:6 [note], 2:23 [note], and again in 4:14-16 [note].

Early Christian Use of Isaiah 7:14

It is hard to know just when early Christians began to view Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth, as we see in Matthew 1:22-23; it is possible, though quite uncertain, that the Gospel writer was the first to make the connection. Here I place side-by-side, the Hebrew (MT), the Greek (LXX) and Matthew, in a rather literal translation, with the Hebrew/Greek given below:

As explained in the main note, “virgin” is not particularly appropriate for translating hm*l=u^; nor exactly is “young girl/woman”. As no English word or phrase entirely fits, I have somewhat reluctantly opted for “maiden” as the least unsatisfactory solution.

For my Lord Him(self) will give for you a sign: See—the maiden (is [becoming]) pregnant and (is) bearing a son, and (she) will call his name “God-with-us”
toa <k#l* aWh yn`d)a& /T@y] /k@l* /B@ td#l#y)w+ hr*h* hm*l=u^h* hN@h! la@ WnM*u! ov= tar*q*w+
Through this (the) Lord Him(self) will give you a sign: See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and she will call his name ±Immanû¢l
dia\ tou=to dw/sei ku/rio$ au)to\$ u(mi=n shmei=on i)dou\ h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri\ e&cei kai\ te/cetai ui(o/n kai\ kale/sei$ to\ o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl
{first part of the verse is not cited} See—the virgin will have in womb and will bring forth a son, and they will call his name ±Immanû¢l, which is being explained across [i.e. translated] (as) “God with us”

The LXX is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew (MT), the difficulties surrounding the use of parqe/no$ notwithstanding, and apart from the very different idiom used for conception and childbirth. The citation in Matthew is identical to the LXX, but for one difference (indicated in italics above): “they will call” instead of “you will call”. The MT has regularly been understood as a 2nd person form, but most scholars today read it as a 3rd person feminine. Manuscript 1QIsaa reads arqw (“and he will call”), apparently in an indefinite sense, which may be reflected in the Syriac )rQtNw (wntqr°, “and he will be called”), and possibly is the basis for the rendering in Matthew (“they will call”). The Gospel writer also provides an explanation of the Hebrew term.

This citation in the Gospel is one of a number which occur especially in the Infancy narrative (1:18-2:23):

With the possible exception of 2:5-6 (Micah 5:2), these Scripture passages were taken and applied in a sense altogether different from the original context. This was discussed already for Isaiah 7:14; I will treat the remaining verses in upcoming notes.

It is interesting to see how (and where) the Gospel writer introduces the prophecy: it follows directly after the heavenly Messenger’s announcement to Joseph. Note the similarity in language in v. 21: “she will bring forth a son and you will call his name Yeshua± [Jesus]”, which is nearly identical to that of Isa 7:14 (cf. the similar pronouncements in Gen 16:11 and Judg 13:5). Many critical scholars would hold that Matthew has shaped the angelic announcement to fit Isa 7:14; however, it is certainly possible that, seeing the similarity in language, the writer was led to include the Isaiah prophecy at this point. Indeed, this sort of “catch-phrase bonding” abounds in the New Testament, and was a prime technique used by early Christians to join Scriptures and traditions together. The writer is also careful to distinguish the two passages: while “call his name Jesus” and “call his name Immanuel” are parallel, they are not identical—this is probably why the third person plural “they shall call” is used in the citation; it is a small adaptation, but it has an interesting effect. Joseph (the “you” of v. 21) calls him “Jesus” (v. 25), but “they” (people of Israel, believers, those who encounter Jesus) will call him “Immanuel”.  This is indeed what has happened: for believers, who ‘find’ Jesus in the Scriptures, apply those texts to him—whether or not the original context truly warrants it!

Even in the early years of the Church there were questions (by both Jews and Greco-Roman ‘skeptics’) about such use of the Old Testament, and even about the Isaian passage in particular. Isa 7:14 is not cited in the New Testament outside of Matt 1:22-23, but then the birth of Jesus in general is scarcely mentioned apart from the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Nor is it used by the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the late-first and early/mid-second century (except for the ‘long’ form of Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians §18). By the late-second and into the third-century it appears more frequently, corresponding both with an increased interest in traditions regarding Jesus’ birth, as well as more ‘systematic’ attempts to defend (proto-)orthodox Christian beliefs in the face of Jewish and pagan objections. Justin Martyr gives perhaps the earliest [c. 140-160], and most noteworthy, surviving treatments of Isa 7:14: in his First Apology §33, and especially in the Dialogue (with Trypho) §§43, 66-67. The Jewish interlocutor “Trypho” in §67 (at first) offers an interpretation of Isa 7:14 similar to that of modern scholars (that is, according to the original historical sense); Justin has no interest in responding to this view, but rather reacts to the notion that beliefs such as the Virgin Birth are derived in imitation of pagan myths, provoking a lengthy discussion. While earlier generations of critical scholars occasionally posited similar explanations for the “origin” of the Virgin Birth, they have been almost entirely abandoned by serious commentators today.

In conclusion, let me return to the interpretive crux—believers, including the earliest Christians (and the inspired Gospel writer), have applied Isaiah 7:14 to the (virgin) birth of Jesus, even though the original context of the passage relates to the Syrian-Ephraimite crisis facing Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah in c. 735-4 B.C. I regard this as one of the great wonders and beauties of the sacred Writings: that prophet and people, author and hearer (or reader) alike respond to the word[s] of God and the work of the Holy Spirit as part of a profound creative process. The eternal Word, stretching from the 8th-century crisis facing the people of Israel, touching those who experience the miracle and mystery of Jesus’ birth, reaching all the way down to us today—all who are united in the Spirit of God and Christ—speaks that remakable, nearly unexplainable phrase, that one name: la@ WnM*u! “God-with-us”.

SS Christmas Studies: Matthew 2:13-23

Matthew 2:13-23

This study looks at the third (and final) section of the Matthean Infancy narrative—2:13-23. It has a clear structure comprised of three episodes:

    • Angelic Appearance—Call to go into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
      —Joseph’s Response
      —Scripture (Hos 11:1)
    • Slaughter of the Children by Herod (vv. 16-18)
      —Scripture (Jer 31:15)
    • Angelic Appearance—Call to come out of Egypt (vv. 19-23)
      —Joseph’s Response—with added detail
      —Scripture (Isa 4:3 ?)

(On the use of the Angelic appearances and Scripture citations to structure the Infancy narrative as a whole, see the outline in the previous study.)

The section is framed by the two Angelic appearances to Joseph, each narrated in nearly identical wording, and parallel to the earlier appearance in 1:18-25. As in the first appearance scene, Joseph’s faithfulness is indicated by his obedience to the Angel’s message (v. 24). Here, however, this is enhanced by having the description of Joseph’s act match precisely the words of the Angel (2:14-15a, 21f).

Each of the episodes in this section contain a Scripture quotation illustrating how the events were the fulfillment of prophecy. Both of the Angelic appearances relate most directly to the first Scripture cited (Hos 11:1; v. 15)—that is, both episodes, taken together, fulfill the prophecy. The historical and narrative context is established in the central scene, involving the danger posed by Herod (v. 13b) which continues into the last scene in the person of Herod’s son (v. 22).

The narrative itself is clearly patterned after, and corresponds to, the story of Israel’s entry into Egypt (Joseph Narratives) and Exodus out of it (Moses Narratives). The events narrated fulfill Scripture, not only through the specific passages cited, but in their typology and correspondence with the Old Testament narratives. Note the essential structure:

    • Israel goes down into Egypt—Joseph Narratives, with the motif of communication/revelation through dreams
    • Slaughter of the children by the wicked King—Moses’ childhood (Infancy Narrative: Exod 1:15-2:10)
    • Israel comes up out of Egypt—the Exodus under Moses’ leadership

The central Scripture narrative is prominent—the birth of Moses parallel with the birth of Jesus. The correspondence is even more definite and closer if we take into consideration details from later Jewish tradition (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 2.205-223). Beyond this, it is also possible to glimpse in the Matthean episodes three additional scenes from Israel’s history, indicated by the specific Scriptures cited in each:

    • The Exodus—Hos 11:1
    • The Exile—Jer 31:15
    • The Messianic Age and redemption for the faithful Remnant—Isa 4:3 (?), etc

The first theme can be further divided into two main lines of tradition, parallels that are at work in relation to Matthew 2:13-23:

    1. The Birth and early Life of Moses
    2. The theme of the Exodus
1. The Birth and early Life of Moses

Three elements from the narratives in Exodus 1-4 (and related Jewish tradition) can be isolated, each of which relates to the three sections in Matt 2:13-23 and help to define the structure of the passage:

    • A wicked king who seeks to destroy a divine/chosen child who is prophecied to become ruler/savior, and the rescue/escape of the child (vv. 13-15, also vv. 1-9)
    • Newborn children killed by the wicked king (vv. 16-18)
    • Death of the wicked king, which allows the chosen child to return (vv. 19-21[23])

As should be clear from the points above, this narrative structure not only draws from the Exodus stories but reflects an archetypal narrative found in traditional tales (myth/folklore) around the world. This has caused many commentators naturally to question the historicity of the narrative in Matthew. In passing, it may be helpful here to summarize the basic positions which have been taken (in relation to the Exodus/Matthew parallels):

1) They reflect a special historical synchronicity between (entirely factual) events
2) Historical events (in general) have been shaped (by the author or earlier tradition) under the influence of the Exodus stories (in literary detail)
3) The Gospel writer records/adapts an original tradition (of uncertain/questionable historicity) which draws from the Exodus stories
4) The Gospel writer has essentially created an episode of historical fiction, in imitation of the Exodus stories (and related traditions)

Many traditional-conservative scholars would opt for #1, while at least some critical scholars suspect #4; the majority of moderate commentators (on all sides) probably would adopt some form of #2 or 3. On purely objective grounds, #2 would seem the most plausible, but I will leave it to thoughtful and informed readers (believers) in humility to judge the matter for themselves.

a. The Wicked King and Chosen Child (Matt 2:13-15, and vv. 1-9)

Exodus 1:8-22 records that the new Pharaoh feared the increasing Israelite population and eventually sought to cut down their numbers by killing the newborn males (attempts are made by two different means, vv. 15-19 and 20-22). On the face of it, this does not seem to be an especially close parallel to Matthew’s narrative; however, at the time of the New Testament, several details had been added to the Exodus story within Jewish tradition (attested earliest by Josephus):

    • Pharaoh is warned by his “(sacred) scribes” that a child was about to be born who would deliver Israel and bring low the kingdom of Egypt (see Josephus Antiquities II.205)—in subsequent Rabbinic tradition, astrologers advise Pharaoh to drown the Hebrew children (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus I.18, cf. also b.Sanh. 101a); also in some versions of the story, the warning/prophecy is foreseen by Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ (see b.Sotah 12b), or in a dream which they interpret.
    • The prophecy of this child caused fear and dread for Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Jos. Ant. II.206, 215), a possible parallel to Matt. 2:3. See a second attempt to kill the child Moses, instigated by Pharaoh’s scribes in Ant. II.234ff (cf. also II.255).
    • There is also a legend of a light which appeared at Moses’ birth (Midrash Rabbah on Exodus I.20), and that the stars above gave homage to the ‘light’ of Moses’ birth (cf. Sefer ha-Yashar [67]).

These details bring the Exodus story closer to Matthew’s narrative, and may have been familiar to the Gospel writer and/or its original audience. For more on the Moses story, see my article on the passage in the series “The Birth of the Messiah”.

The escape/rescue of the child (vv. 13-15)—This is narrated in Exodus 2:1-4ff, but note the version as recorded in Josephus (Ant. II.212-216, 219ff), whereby Moses’ father (Amram) is warned and encouraged by God in a dream, after which he takes steps to protect the child (in Ex 2:2-3, Moses’ mother initiates the hiding); all of this, again, brings the story closer to Matthew.

There is a second “escape” of Moses (as an adult) recorded in Exodus 2:15. Note in particular the phrase “he [Pharaoh] sought [ez¢¡tei] to take away [i.e. kill] Moses” (LXX), compared with the angel’s message to Joseph: “Herod is seeking [z¢teín] the child to destroy it” (v. 13). Again Josephus’ narrative is a bit closer overall to that of Matthew, cf. Ant. II.255-256.

b. Newborn children killed by the wicked king (vv. 16-18)

There is here only a general parallel between v. 16 and Exodus 2:22; the lack of corresponding detail could be seen as confirmation of the historicity of vv. 16-18. There is conceivably a faint correspondence between Pharaoh being ‘tricked’ as it were by the midwives (Ex 2:17ff) and Herod provoked to anger at being ‘tricked’ [lit. played with] by the Magi (v. 16). The narrative here is so brief (a single verse) that it is difficult to make a meaningful comparison.

c. Death of the wicked king (vv. 19-21[23])

This provides perhaps the closest parallel between the Exodus and Matthean narratives (precise or close verbal and syntactical parallels are indicated with italics):

Exodus 4:19-20 (LXX)

19But with [i.e. after] these many days the king of Egypt was finished [e)teleu/thsen], and (the) Lord said to Moses in Midan: “Walk! Go from (here) into Egypt! For all the (ones) seeking your soul have died“.

Matthew 2:19-21

19But (at) Herod’s being finished [teleuth/santo$ i.e. having died], see—a Messenger of the Lord shone forth [i.e. appeared] by a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20saying: “Rising, take along the child and his mother and travel into (the) land of Israel, for the (ones) seeking the soul of the child have died.”

20And taking up the woman and the child, Moses put them up upon a (beast) under-yoke [i.e. beast-of-burden] and turned about [i.e. returned] into Egypt… 21And rising, the (man) [i.e. Joseph] took along the child and his mother and came into (the) land of Israel.

Especially noteworthy is the virtually identical Greek phrase in Ex 4:19/Matt 2:20: “for the ones seeking the soul” … “have died” (see below).

2. The theme of the Exodus

This is applied very simply to the narrative of Matt 2:13-23, interwoven through the Moses/Pharaoh paradigm, as can be illustrated by the following chiastic outline:

    • The wicked king seeks to destroy the chosen child (divine announcement [in a dream]), and the rescue/escape of the child—v. 13
      • Entrance into Egypt—v. 14-15
        • Newborn children killed by the wicked king—v. 16-18
      • Return (Exodus) from Egypt—v. 21ff
    • Death of the wicked king (divine announcement [in a dream]), allowing the return of the child—v. 19-20

To emphasize the symmetry here, I have taken the liberty of reversing vv. 19-20 and 21ff above.

It should be noted, of course, that the Exodus theme appears specifically in the Scripture citation in verse 15; indeed, the original context of Hosea 11:1 is simply a reference to the Exodus, with Israel as God’s “son” (in a symbolic/covenantal sense). A common idiom for the Israelites (people of Israel) is “sons of Israel” —almost certainly we should understand a correspondence here between the child Jesus and the sons [children] of Israel (as much as between Jesus and Moses) in the Gospel narrative. For more on this Scripture as it is used here in the Infancy narrative, see my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.

The Slaughter of the Children (Exile theme)

The central scene in this episode (vv. 16-18), the second Herod scene of the narrative (the first being in vv. 1-12, cf. the previous study), deals with an historical tradition—the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem—that many critical commentators have questioned. Their skepticism is based on two points: (a) the lack of any other reference (in Josephus, etc) to the event, and (b) the obvious parallel with the Moses Infancy narrative (see above). There can be no denying the literary parallel, the type-scene of which can be found in literature and folklore worldwide. For more on this subject, and for an examination of the Moses narrative itself, see my earlier article in the series “The Birth of the Messiah”.

At the root of the scene, in the context of the Matthean narrative, is the conflict between the child Jesus as the “King of the Jews” and Herod (the reigning king). This is part of the wider theme of Jesus’ Messianic identity (i.e., as the royal Messiah from the line of David), which I have discussed at length in the earlier studies (cf. the previous study on vv. 1-12).

The Scripture citation for this episode (see above) is Jeremiah 31:15. In applying this Scripture to events surrounding the birth of Jesus, the Gospel writer (as in the case of Isa 7:14, etc) has taken the passage out of its original context. While Matthew treats it as a prophecy of future events, the original passage is an evocation of the prophet’s own time. It is part of a larger section (30:1-33:26) promising future restoration for the people of Israel, with messages specifically directed at the exiled Northern tribes (“Ephraim”) in 30:1-31:40. Even in these two chapters one also finds the message being applied to the Southern kingdom (Judah), by Jeremiah himself or a later (exilic) editor. In any event, the theme of a reunited Israel is prominent, culminating in the famous passage of Jer 31:31-34, where God promises to make a new covenant with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Rachel, as the mother of Benjamin and Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh), represents the Northern tribes (closest to Judah); her weeping and mourning is a dramatic and evocative depiction of the (Assyrian) Exile, but it may be an echo (or foreshadowing) of the (Babylonian) exile of Judah (cf. the association of “Ramah” in Jer 40:1). According to Gen 35:16, Rachel died somewhere between Bethel and Ephrath and Jacob set up a pillar at that location, which is confirmed by the reference to “Rachel’s tomb” in 1 Sam 10:2-3. Gen 35:20 has a parenthetical statement (presumably an editor’s gloss) that “Ephrath” is (near) Bethlehem, representing either an scribal mistake or a competing tradition. The Gospel writer clearly identifies this Ramah with Bethlehem.

Rachel’s weeping is actually just the opening setting of this oracle of hope, for vv. 16-17 exhort the mother to cease weeping—her sons will return to their own land. There is no indication that the Gospel writer means to infer the wider context of the prophecy; he rather narrowly applies it to the “massacre” of the newborn males in Bethlehem.

However, it should be noted that he does narrate a return—that of the infant Jesus and his parents out of Egypt back into their own land (2:14-15, 19-21, see below). Consider also the quotation of Isaiah 9:1-2 [8:23-9:1] in Matt 4:14-16: the original prophecy offers the promise of deliverance to the people of the Northern kingdom, now being fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Isaiah 9:6-7 [5-6] are the concluding words of the section 6:1-9:7, and, traditionally, one of the most famous ‘Messianic prophecies’ applied to the birth of Jesus.
(For a text-critical examination of the use of Jer 31:15 in context, see my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”.)

The Return from Egypt—the Messianic Age and Redemption

The final scene of the narrative (vv. 19-23)—the third (and final) Angelic appearance to Joseph—draws upon both of the earlier themes noted above (Exodus and Exile), combining them into a narration of Jesus’ return from Egypt.

The parallels with the Moses Infancy narrative have been noted above. Perhaps the clearest example of literary dependence on the Moses narratives is how closely the wording in Matt 2:20 resembles that of Exod 4:19 LXX:

“And after those many days, the king of Egypt completed (his life) [i.e. died], and the Lord said toward Moshe in Midian, ‘You must walk (and) go (away) from (here) into Egypt, for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died‘. And Moshe took up his wife and the children…” (Exod 4:19-20)
“And (with) Herod (hav)ing completed (his life) [i.e. died], see! a Messenger of the Lord appeared by a dream to Yosef in Egypt, saying, ‘Rising…you must travel into the land of Yisrael, for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died. And, rising, he took along the child and his mother…” (Matt 2:19-21)

The italicized words above are nearly identical:

teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte/$ sou th\n yuxh/n
“for all the (one)s seeking your soul have died”
teqnh/kasin ga\r pa/nte$ oi( zhtou=nte$ th\n yuxh/n tou= paidi/ou
“for all the (one)s seeking the soul of the child have died”

Moreover, in both narratives we have the common location of Egypt—traveling into and out of the land, though in different directions. Verses 22-23 serve as an additional climactic notice to the return from Egypt:

22but having heard that “‘Chief-of-the-People’ {Archelaus} is king against [i.e. in place of] Herod his father”, he [i.e. Joseph] was afraid to go from (where he was and return) there; but being advised (in the matter) by a dream, he made space again [i.e. turned away/aside] into the parts of Galîl {Galilee}, 23and having come (there) he put down house [i.e. dwelt] in a city counted as [i.e. called/named] Nazaret, so that the (word) uttered by the foretellers might be fulfilled that “he will be called a ‘Nazarean'”.

The Scripture Citation

The quotation “he will be called a ‘Nazarean'” is problematic, in terms of the Scripture-citation pattern of the narrative, since it does not correspond precisely to any specific verse in the Prophets (or the rest of the Old Testament for that matter). This being the case, there are several possibilities:

    • The author (or his source) is citing from a book or passage otherwise unknown to us today. While this is conceivable, it is not especially likely, and should be considered only as a last resort.
    • He is citing a specific (canonical) passage, but in a form quite different from any surviving (Hebrew or Greek) version. Certainly there are a number of quotations in the New Testament (even in Matthew, see Micah 5:2/Matt 2:6) where the wording departs significantly from any known version.
    • It is a free citation, combining more than one passage. Again, this is fairly common in the New Testament, and could be suggested by use of the plural “foretellers [i.e. prophets]”. The references need not be limited to the Prophetic books as we understand them, for conventionally the Psalms and Historical books could come under the general label “Prophets”.
    • The citation is taken from a compendium of ‘Messianic’ prophetic passages (drawn up by early Christians), which the author accepted, but which does not correspond to any specific Scripture. Again, this ought to be considered only as a last resort.

The third option is, I think, fairly close to the mark. The Gospel writer (or an earlier source) has taken a particular verse (probably Isaiah 4:3) and, it would seem, adapted it by means of some subtle and clever wordplay. For detailed discussion of the matter, consult my earlier article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus” and another in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”.

Given the importance of the theme of Jesus’ Messianic identity, throughout the narrative (and continuing in 4:12-17), it seems likely that there is an intentional wordplay here, relating the place-name designation (“Nazorean/Nazareth”) with similar word-forms. Two, in particular, are worth noting:

    •  n¹zîr (ryz]n`)—The Hebrew means “[one] dedicated/set-apart”, and is often transliterated in English (as a technical term), “Nazirite” —that is, one dedicated or set apart [nzr] to God by a vow [related word ndr]. The legal prescription and details of the Nazirite vow are recorded in Numbers 6:1-21. The most famous Nazirites in the Old Testament are Samuel (1 Sam 1:11) and Samson (Judg 13:4-14), so dedicated from birth; according the Gospel of Luke (Lk 1:15), John the Baptist also seems to have been a Nazirite (from birth).
      The Greek adjective hágios (“holy”) generally corresponds to the Hebrew; and the phrase hágios kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called holy”, Isa 4:3, see above) could be given an interpretive translation back into Hebrew as “he will be called a holy (one) [n¹zîr]”. Moreover, n¹zîr could also be transliterated in Greek by Naziraíos, and thus the phrase in question as Naziraíos kl¢th¢¡setai (“he will be called a Nazirite” ), which is reasonably close in form to “he will be called a Nazorean“.

    • n¢ƒer (rx#n@)— “[new] shoot, sprout” (also rendered “root”, “branch”), a word partly synonymous with ƒemaµ (jm^x#, in Isa 4:3, see above). Now n¢ƒer came to be a designation for the Messiah, largely due to Isaiah 11:1ff, which begins: “and a (small) branch will come forth from the stump of Jesse, and a (new) shoot [n¢ƒer] will grow [lit. bear fruit] from his roots; and the spirit of YHWH will rest upon him…”.
      Isaiah 11:1ff was one of several key Messianic passages current in Jewish literature at the time the New Testament was written—see especially the Qumran texts 4QpIsaa, 4Q252, 4Q285, 1QSb 5; cf. also Psalms of Solomon 17-18, Testament of Levi 18, and 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 13. The shoot/branch of Isa 11:1 was closely identified with the expression “branch [ƒemaµ] of David” (see esp. Jer 23:5-6; Zech 3:8), a key Messianic designation. It is an intriguing parallel, but it is hard to say whether (or to what extent) the Gospel writer may have had this in mind.

Note—beginning next week, the Saturday Series will return to its weekly (Saturday) format.

SS Christmas Studies: Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

The second episode in the Matthean Infancy narrative—2:1-12—records the visit of the Magoi (ma/goi, i.e. “Magi, Wise Men”) and the homage they pay to the newborn child in Bethlehem. We examined the first episode (1:18-25) in the initial study of this series. The source-critical question was considered, regarding the nature and origin of the Matthean material—whether or not one or more source documents were used. In my view, dependence on written documents is highly questionable. However, a number of commentators have put forth more (or less) plausible theories regarding a ‘pre-Matthean’ narrative that the Gospel writer has developed (see Brown, Birth, pp. 96-119).

I am more inclined to see the Matthean narrative as an original composition, drawing upon several key lines of historical and narrative tradition. There are a range of historical traditions that may be isolated, especially here in the episode of 2:1-12, all of which have been subject to penetrating historical criticism by scholars over the years. We may note:

    • The Star (vv. 2, 7, 9-10). Various attempts have been made to identify this detail which an actual, observable astronomical phenomenon (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 170-3); one possibility, which would well fit the timeframe of the narrative (i.e., the end of Herod’s reign), is a planetary conjunction (of Jupiter and Saturn), in 7-6 B.C., which may have appeared even brighter to due the passing of a third planet (Mars)
    • The Magi (mágoi). Who are they, and from whence did they come? Again, there have been a number of theories, which I discuss briefly in an earlier article. Many commentators have questioned the historicity of the Magi, but there is nothing particularly implausible in the scene of oriental dignitaries visiting a king such as Herod (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 167-70).
    • The Role of Herod. The historical veracity of both episodes in chapter 2, in terms of Herod’s presence and role in these events, has been questioned/doubted by commentators. Josephus writes extensively on Herod’s reign, but gives no hint of such notable events in chapter 2 as having occurred. However, as scholars have pointed out, the events here in the Matthean narrative do represent things that easily could have taken place during Herod’s reign, given what we know of his rule and his personal conduct/behavior as king.
    • The reason why Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem. Contrary to the Lukan narrative, Joseph and Mary, it seems, were already living in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and only came to reside in Nazareth after their return from Egypt. This apparent discrepancy is only significant for those who wish to harmonize the Matthean and Lukan accounts.

While these historical-critical issues are of genuine interest, of far greater importance for an understanding of the passage is a study of how the particular historical traditions have been developed by the Gospel writer. This is the literary-critical aspect at the heart of our study.

We begin with the two primary features that define the structure of the Matthean Infancy narrative:

    • The Angelic appearances to Joseph
    • The Scripture citations that punctuate each scene

A simple outline shows how these two elements structure the narrative:

Two episodes involving king Herod are interwoven between a series of three Angelic appearances to Joseph. A featured Scripture citation follows each scene, demonstrating how the (historical) events were foretold by the Old Testament Prophets, and now find their (true) fulfillment in Jesus. Joseph responds in perfect obedience each time the Angel appears to him (in a dream), a fact indicated by the way that the narration (describing Joseph’s action) very nearly repeats verbatim the words of the Angel.

The theme of Jesus’ Messianic identity (that is, the royal Messiah from the line of David) runs through the entire narrative, but it takes on special prominence in the two Herod scenes, of which the first occurs here in 2:1-12. As king of Judea, Herod would naturally feel threatened by the idea of another royal figure (called by the title “King of the Jews,” see below), one whose coming had been prophesied in the sacred Writings, and who might very well come to supplant his rule. This point of conflict gives to the narrative its literary power and strength, and has resulted in a pair of truly memorable scenes, read and visualized every Christmas season.

The Messianic motif is expressed through two important names, or titles, in this episode, which are the subject of two questions—each centered on the basic question “where?” (poú), i.e. “where will we find…?”:

    • By the Magoi: “Where is the one brought forth (as) king of the Yehudeans [i.e. Jews]?” (v. 2)
    • By Herod: “Where (is) the Anointed (one) coming to be (born)?” (v. 4)

“King of the Jews” —In the historical-cultural context of Greek and Roman control over Syria-Palestine, there was a strong nationalistic aspect and significance to the use of this title—as, for example, by the Hasmonean rulers (priest-kings) of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. (Josephus, Antiquities 14.36, etc). As a semi-independent ruler, under Roman oversight, Herod himself was known by this title (Antiquities 16.311, etc). By the time of Jesus, the Messianic sense of this title would have been recognized and emphasized; consider these two basic elements of its meaning:

    • David‘s kingdom centered in Judah (Jerusalem)
    • The Jewish character of the Messianic king/ruler figure-type—rule centered in Judah/Jerusalem, and spreading/extending to all of Israel and the surrounding nations

This conceptual framework is central to the narrative (in Luke-Acts) of the early Christian mission (cf. Luke 24:46-49ff; Acts 1:4, 8, 12ff; 2:1-12ff, and the overall structure of the book of Acts). There are two passages quoted (or alluded to) in this section (Matt 2:1-12) which were unquestionably given a Messianic interpretation by the time of Jesus and the Gospels:

    • Micah 5:2ff—cited within the action of the narrative (cf. my earlier article for more detail); three main points are brought out in this passage:
      • a ruler is to come out of Bethlehem
      • he will rule over (all) Judah
      • he will shepherd the people of Israel (cf. 2 Sam 5:2)
    • Numbers 24:17—the image of the star and the rod/sceptre (of rule) that will come out of Jacob/Israel. For the use of the star image in Matt 2:1-12 (vv. 2, 7, 9-10), see my detailed discussion in the earlier series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus” and also below. It is interesting that Philo (Life of Moses I.276) refers to Balaam as a Magos (mágos).

The presence of the Magoi offering gifts and coming to Jerusalem to find the “King” may also reflect Psalm 72:10f and Isa 60:6, whereby the wealth of the nations comes to Jerusalem as homage to God (and his Anointed Ruler).

“The Anointed (One)” —This was already featured as the name/title of Jesus in Matt 1:1, 18, very much reflecting the common early Christian usage. I discuss the important title [ho] Christós (“Anointed [One]”)—its background, interpretation and application to Jesus—at considerable length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. See also on Luke 2:11 in the prior study.

The star/sceptre in Num 24:17 was especially prominent as a Messianic symbol (and prophecy) at the time of Jesus. This is best seen in the Qumran texts (CD 7:18-20; 1QM 11:5-7; 1QSb 5:27, etc), but also in other literature of the period, such as the Jewish (or Jewish/Christian) Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Levi 18, Judah 24). Mention should also be made of the early-2nd century A.D. Jewish revolutionary ben Kosiba, who was known as bar Kochba (“son of the Star”)—cf. Justin, First Apology 31.6; j. Ta’anit 4:8, etc—as well as the Aramaic versions (Targums) of the Old Testament (Onkelos, Neofiti I, pseudo-Jonathan, Jerusalem II). Even though Num 24:17 is not cited as such in the New Testament, it is likely that early (Jewish) Christians would have recognized an allusion to it in Matt 2:1-12.

The two titles— “King of the Jews” and “Anointed (One)” —are combined again, at the end of Jesus’ life, during the episodes of his “trial” and death. In the Gospel of Matthew, the references are Matt 26:63; 27:11, 17, 22, 29, 37 (also 42), but there are parallels in all of the Synoptic Gospels, as well as the Gospel of John. These titles, taken together, identify Jesus in no uncertain terms as the Davidic-ruler figure type, otherwise expressed in Gospel tradition by the separate title “Son of David” (cf. Matt 1:1, 20, also 12:23; 21:9, 15; 22:42, etc & par).

The Setting of Bethlehem

The Messianic significance of Bethlehem relates to its association with David, as the “city of David”. This title normally applies to the original citadel of Jerusalem, as taken over and developed by David and his successors; however, in the New Testament, it refers to Bethlehem as David’s hometown (Lk 2:4; cf. Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam 17:12ff). The tradition of Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birthplace, presumably based on a similar interpretation of Micah 5:2ff as in Matt 2:4-6, is attested in John 7:40-42, where certain people express doubt that Jesus, coming out of Galilee, could be the Messiah:

“Does not the (sacred) Writing say that (it is) out of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem the town where David was, (that) the Anointed (One) comes?” (v. 42)

Matt 2:4-6ff sets the stage for the dramatic scene of the slaughter of the children (vv. 16-18) which functions as a parallel to the Moses Infancy narrative (to be discussed in the next study). The connection is much more obvious when we consider elements added to the Exodus narrative (1:8-22) in later Jewish tradition. In Josephus’ Antiquities (2.205) the scribes make known to Pharaoh a prophecy regarding an Israelite leader/deliverer who was about to be born:

“One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events, truly told the king, that about this time there would be born a child to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages” [LOEB translation]

In Matthew’s version of the Micah quotation, the Messianic implications are heightened by every one of the changes made to the text:

    • “land of Judah” instead of “Ephrathah” —this second reference to Judah widens the scope of the scene to the (entire) territory of Judah/Judea; David’s kingdom was centered in Judah and Jerusalem, from which it extended its influence and authority. The coming Messianic rule would follow a similar pattern.
    • “not in one thing least among” instead of “(too) small to be among” —as noted above, the reference to Bethlehem’s ‘smallness’ has been eliminated; the adaptation (or reading) instead emphasizes Bethlehem’s greatness
    • “among the leaders of Judah” instead of “among the clans/thousands of Judah” —the comparison has shifted from clan and territory to the ruler of the territory. The ruler who comes from Bethlehem (i.e. the Davidic Messiah) will be greater than the other rulers of Judah.
    • “who will shepherd by people Israel” —this citation from 2 Sam 5:2 brings in another Messianic association with David: that of shepherd. David had been a shepherd, and, in the ancient Near East, kings and rulers were often referred to as a shepherd over the people, along with relevant symbolism (cf. Isa 44:28, etc). These two elements come together in passages such as Jer 23:1-6; Ezek 34 (esp. vv. 23-24); 37:24ff, which were influential in the development of Messianic thought.

In emphasizing the connection with Judah, one is reminded of the title earlier in v. 2 (“King of the Jews”). We are clearly dealing with the Messianic figure-type of a future ruler from the line of David. Let us consider how this has been brought out in the Matthean Infancy narrative:

    • The genealogy of Joseph (1:1-17), who is descended from David—vv. 1, 5-6, 17. In verse 20, the Angel addresses Joseph as “Son of David”, a (Messianic) title which would be applied to Jesus during his ministry.
      It occurs much more frequently in Matthew than the other Gospels (cf. Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42). That this is an authentic historical (Gospel) tradition is confirmed by the fact that the title appears nowhere else in the New Testament outside of the Synoptic Gospels. For the earliest (Messianic) use of the title, cf. Psalms of Solomon 17:23(21) (mid-1st century B.C.)
    • Joseph is established as Jesus’ (legal) father. This occurs through the completion of the marriage and his naming of the child (vv. 18, 20-21, 24-25). As a result, Joseph’s genealogy becomes that of Jesus as well (vv. 1, 16).
    • The birth in Bethlehem (2:1, cf. above)
    • Jesus’ identification as “King of the Jews” (v. 2) and “Anointed One” (v. 4)
    • The Star marking his birth (vv. 2, 7, 9-10)

For more on this Messianic figure-type, and the title “Son of David”, as related to Jesus, cf. Parts 68 of my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993).

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 2:21-38 (continued)

Luke 2:21-38, continued

This final episode of the Lukan Infancy narrative was examined in the previous study. Here I will be looking specifically at the Song of Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis, vv. 29-32ff), in addition to touching briefly on the closing verses of the Infancy narrative (vv. 39-40), with their parallel in 1:80.

The Song of Simeon (vv. 29-32), known by its Latin title (Nunc Dimittis) is usually regarded as one of the Lukan canticles, parallel with the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus, 1:67-79). As such, the same source-critical and historical-critical issues apply—those which were addressed in the studies on the other Lukan hymns. The Song of Simeon appears less viable as an independent hymn, taken out of its narrative context, and so arguments for the adaptation of an existing Jewish (or Jewish Christian) hymn are, in this instance, not as strong.

“Now you release your slave, Master,
according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes saw your Salvation,
which you made ready before the face of all peoples:
Light for the uncovering of the nations
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

Compared with the Magnificat (Song of Mary) and Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), the Nunc Dimittis has a much simpler and more straightforward structure, with three stichoi (lines) or couplets. Only in the third line (v. 32) is there any syntactical difficulty.

Before examining each of the six half-lines, it is worth noting that the Old Testament quotations and allusions in the hymn are all from the second (and third) part of the book of Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66)—so-called Deutero- (and Trito-)Isaiah. There are many themes in chapters 40-55, especially, which are appropriate to an exilic setting—a message of comfort, the hope and promise of restoration, and so forth. It is not surprising that these chapters had an enormous influence on Jewish and early Christian thought. Both the Community of the Qumran texts and early Christians of the Synoptic Gospels used Isaiah 40:3 as a central thematic passage (cf. Mark 1:3 par.). The so-called Servant Songs (esp. Isa 52:13-53:12) were applied to Jesus early on and helped to shape the Passion narratives. Dozens of smaller points of contact and influence could be cited.

In terms of the Lukan Infancy narrative here in in this section (Luke 2:25-38), the Isaianic theme is established in the two aged figures which are encountered within the Temple setting:

    • Simeon (vv. 25-35) who: (a) was righteous/just and took good care [to observe the Law, etc] (b) was [looking] toward receiving the parakl¢sis of Israel
    • Anna (vv. 36-38) who: (a) was in the Temple ‘day and night’, serving with fasting and prayer (b) was [with those looking] toward receiving the lytrœsis of Jerusalem

Point (a) speaks to their faithfulness and obedience regarding religious duty and service to God; point (b) to the ‘Messianic’ hope and expectation shared by many devout Jews at the time. Consider the two parallel phrases in (b)—they were among those looking toward receiving [i.e., waiting for]:

    • the parakl¢sis of Israel (v. 25)
    • the lytrœsis of Jerusalem (v. 38)

These phrases form an inclusio to the section. On the meaning of these two terms, see the discussion in the previous study. The word parakl¢sis in this context is usually translated “comfort” or “consolation”. In the second phrase, the parallel noun lytrœsis refers to the payment of ransom (and the corresponding release) for someone in bondage, etc., and is normally translated “redemption”.

The phrase “comfort of Israel” probably finds its origin in the Isaian passages 40:1-2 (which also mentions Jerusalem) and 61:2, cf. also 57:18; 63:4; 66:13. “Redemption of Jerusalem” would seem to be derived from Isa 52:9, which also mentions ‘comfort’ for God’s people. This message of hope and restoration is described in terms of “good news” for Jerusalem (cf. 40:9; 41:27; 52:7). Interestingly, the phrase “redemption of Israel” and “freedom of Jerusalem” are found in documents from the Wadi Muraba’at in the context of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.).

Let us now look briefly at each of the six lines in the Song. For those interested in a more detailed study, consult my earlier series of notes on the passage.

Verse 29a: “now you [may] loose your slave from [service], Master” —the verb apolýœ is conventionally translated in English as “release, dismiss”, etc. For similar use of the verb in the Old Testament (LXX) see Genesis 15:2; Numbers 20:29; Tobit 3:6; cf. also Gen 46:30. The use of despót¢s in reference to God is relatively rare in the LXX (Gen 15:2,8, etc) and in the New Testament (Acts 4:24), but is occasionally used of Christ as well (2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4; Rev 6:10). The image is that of a household master releasing his slave from service; since “slave” in English often carries the connotation of abuse and mistreatment, typically doúlos is translated here as “servant”.

Verse 29b: “according to your utterance, in peace” —for the comparable idiom of departing “in peace”, see of Abraham in Gen 15:15 (note also the use in context of despót¢s and apolýœ in Gen 15:2 LXX). r(hma is usually translated “word”, being roughly equivalent to lógos in such contexts; however it is frequently used specifically in instances of a prophetic “utterance”, a slightly more literal translation which captures something of this sense.

Verse 30: “[now] that my eyes have seen your salvation” —this phrase is an allusion to Isaiah 40:5 and/or 52:10 (LXX); see also Psalm 98:3; Gen 49:18; Baruch 4:24; Ps Sol 17:50.

Verse 31: “which you have made ready in the sight of all the peoples” —this, along with verse 30 (above), is drawn largely from Isaiah 52:10. The use of laoi (“peoples”) is interesting (Isa 52:10 uses ethnoi, “nations”); most likely it is meant to encompass both the “nations” (ethnoi) and the “people” (laoi) of Israel in verse 32. The italicized expression (“in the sight of”) is a more conventional rendering of the idiom, which I translated above quite literally as “according(ly) toward the eye/face of”.

Verse 32a: “a light unto uncovering [i.e. revelation] for the nations”
Verse 32b: “and glory for your people Israel”
There has been some question whether do/can is parallel to phœ¡s, or is governed (along with apokálypsin) by the preposition eis; almost certainly the latter is correct—i.e., “a light unto uncovering…and (unto) glory…”. The first phrase is more or less a quotation of Isaiah 49:6b (cf. also Isa 42:6); the second may be derived from Isaiah 46:13b (for the overall image in this verse, see also Isa 60:1). The noun dóxa is actually rather difficult to translate literally into English—the original sense is of a (favorable) opinion, and so indicates the honor, esteem, etc. in which someone or something is held; but just as often it refers to the reputation, dignity, honor, etc. which someone possesses.

How closely should one treat the parallel between apokálypsis and dóxa? It is natural to think this of “revelation” in terms of the truth (the Gospel) being presented to the Gentiles; but I believe the image is rather one of uncovering (i.e. the literal sense of the word) the nations who are in darkness. So, following the parallelism, the light God brings (in the person of Jesus) has a two-fold purpose and effect:

    • It will uncover the nations who are in darkness, shining light upon them
    • It will shine light upon ‘Israel’ (i.e. God’s people), giving to them an honor and esteem which they would not otherwise have

From the standpoint of the Gospel, of course, these are two sides of the same coin, for in Christ all people—whether from Israel or the nations—are the people of God.

The Remainder of the Scene (2:33-38)

The prophetic oracle uttered by Simeon continues in verses 34-35:

“See, this (child) is laid out unto the falling and rising-up of many in Israel, and unto a sign being counted [i.e. spoken] against {…} so that the counting through [i.e. thoughts, reasoning] out of many hearts will be uncovered.”

While it is possible to render this as poetry, it should not be considered part of the hymn in vv. 29-32. It presumably derives from a distinct tradition, the authenticity of which would seem to be guaranteed by the difficulty and apparent obscurity of the utterance (especially difficult to interpret is the prophecy directed to Mary, indicated by the ellipsis and brackets above).

The substance of the prophecy is fairly clear: Christ’s life and presence is set toward (and will lead to) the “falling down and standing up” of “many” in Israel. Are these separate groups of people, or separate conditions in which the same person may find him/herself? Or both? That there is some sort of division intended, I think is certain. And, indeed, throughout Jesus’ ministry, up to his death and resurrection, and for all the centuries thereafter, this prophecy seems to hold. Jesus himself speaks of bringing a “sword” (Matthew 10:34)—his life and teachings, indeed, his very presence, will cause division even between members of a family.

There is a two-fold aspect to the second stanza as well: (a) a sign spoken against, (b) thoughts of many hearts uncovered. The adverb hópœs (used as a conjunction), links the two phrases into a purpose clause—i.e., the sign is spoken against “so as” or “so that” the reckonings of many hearts will be revealed. In other words, speaking against Christ (and what he signifies) is for the purpose of (and results in) the revealing of what is inside the human heart. Why “many” and not “all”? It is possible that the primary emphasis is directed toward believers, not all the people; that is, it is not a blanket expression of judgment, but of the sifting through and revealing of those who will come to believe.

We have come a long way here from the traditional Messianic figure-types (cf. above); the concept of salvation has even shifted from the idea of repentance and salvation from sin to something subtler and more universal—the very thought-process, the mind and thinking, of human beings. The light of Christ reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of the person. The faithful ones, the believers, will respond to that light (Jn 3:19-21), and so become the true people of God in Christ.

A word on the parenthetical prophecy regarding Mary in verse 35a, which I temporarily left out of the translation of the oracle above (its place is marked by the bracketed ellipsis). It reads as follows:

“and (for you) a sword will come through your own soul”

I have discussed this difficult saying in an earlier note, and will not go into detail on it here. What is important to remember, in terms of the Lukan narrative, is the significance of Mary as a typological or symbolic figure. She embodies a point of contact, and continuity, between the Old and New Covenant. On the one hand, she is among those characters who represent the faithful ones of Israel (under the Old Covenant). At the same time, she stands on the threshold of the New Covenant; and, within the overall framework of the Lukan narrative, she is counted among the first believers in Christ (Acts 1:14). At several points in the Infancy narrative, she is depicted as grappling with the reality (and the revelation) of who Jesus is. The saying in v. 35a, and the image of the “sword” that “comes through her soul”, must be interpreted in light of this thematic emphasis.

On the figure of Anna in vv. 36-38, see the discussion above and in the prior study. Together with Simeon she forms a pair, along with Zechariah/Elizabeth and Joseph/Mary—all representing the righteous ones of Israel, faithful to the (Old) Covenant, who also respond in trust to the revelation that marks the beginning of the New Covenant.

Luke 2:39-40

In the concluding note to the main Lukan Infancy narrative (2:39-40), we find summarized a primary theme which occurs throughout the narrative, but is especially emphasized in 2:21ff (see the previous study):

“And as they [i.e. Jesus’ parents] completed all the (thing)s according to the Law of the Lord, they turned back into the Galîl {Galilee} into their own city Nazaret.” (v. 39)

The fulfillment of the Law is characteristic of the faithful ones of Israel (see above), and Jesus is born into this environment. Verse 40 provides an initial narrative summary of the child’s growth and development; as such, it is the first indication of his fulfilling the destiny marked by his name (and naming). It also concludes the John/Jesus parallel in the narrative (note the comparison with 1:80):

    • John: “And the child grew and (became) strong in (the) spirit…” (1:80)
    • Jesus: “And the child grew and (became) strong…” (2:40)

Lk 2:40 adds the following detail: “…filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him”. There is very much an echo here of the statements of the child Samuel’s growth in 1 Sam 2:21, 26 (cf. also with regard to Moses, in Josephus’ Antiquities 2.228-31). The statement that “the favor of God was upon him” is similar to that regarding John in 1:66— “the hand of the Lord was with him”. There is some question whether the “spirit” (pneúma) in 1:80 refers to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit, or to “spirit” generally. In verse 15, there is a reference to John being filled with the Holy Spirit, but the expression e)n pneúmati (“in [the] spirit”) in verse 16 refers to a special prophetic spirit— “in (the) spirit and power of Elijah“. Most likely, the latter is intended in v. 80, especially in light of the concluding statement: “…and he was in the desert (place)s until the day of his showing up toward Israel”.

In the case of Jesus, there is greater likelihood that the Spirit (of God) is in view. There is often a close connection between Wisdom and the Spirit; note the similarity of language:

    • “he will be filled by the holy Spirit” (1:15)
    • “being filled with wisdom” (2:40)

The two are brought together in the famous Messianic passage of Isa 11:1-4ff (verse 2):

“And the Spirit of YHWH will rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding…”

Thus the wisdom characteristic of Jesus even as a young child is a sign of the presence of the Spirit of God. This is also true, it would seem, with regard to the word “favor” (cháris), which has served as a kind of keyword in the narrative. It is part of the name Yôµ¹n¹n (John), and its meaning: “Yah(weh) has shown favor” (cf. my earlier note on 1:3-17 in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”). The Greek word cháris (“favor”) is especially prominent in the scene of the Angelic annunciation to Mary (1:32-35). The favor (of God) extends to those touched by Jesus’ birth, beginning with Mary—1:28, 30, and note the underlying idea expressed in vv. 42-43, 45, 48ff; 2:14, etc. It hardly need be pointed out, that the use of cháris (usually translated “grace”) by Paul in his letters reflects a specialized theological understanding of the term. Here we see it used in the wider, more general sense of favor shown by God to human beings.

The concluding notice in Lk 2:40 is repeated in verse 52, following the additional episode from Jesus’ childhood (vv. 41-50):

“And Yeshua cut forward in wisdom and growth, and favor alongside God and men.”

This statement again brings together the keywords “wisdom” (sophia) and “favor” (charis), only now this “favor” is divided into two aspects—before God, and before human beings (i.e. from God and men). It is possible that this is an allusion to Prov 3:1-4ff (verse 4): “And you will find favor…in the eyes of God and man”. Wisdom is emphasized in this chapter of Proverbs, especially beginning in verse 13. Even more than in Lk 2:40, there is a clear allusion to the Samuel narrative (1 Sam 2:26) in verse 52, the birth and childhood of Samuel serving as a pattern for that of Jesus in this Gospel.

The idea that Jesus grew and progressed in wisdom and favor/grace has proven somewhat problematic for Christians accustomed to emphasizing his deity—often to the exclusion of his (full/true) humanity. However, the notices in Lk 2:40, 52 must be taken seriously, as the language used by the author leaves no doubt that he is referring to ordinary (and natural) human growth and development.

SS Christmas Studies: Luke 2:21-38

Luke 2:21-38

This episode is the last of six in the Lukan Infancy narrative. It is essentially parallel with 1:57-79, representing the Jesus-scene corresponding to the John-scene of that earlier episode. There is a strong structural parallelism that runs throughout the passages, even if the individual scenes may differ substantially in form or length:

Birth of John (1:57-58)

    • The surrounding people hear the news and rejoice (v. 58)
Birth of Jesus (2:1-7)

    • The Shepherds in the surrounding fields hear the news, etc (2:8-20)
Circumcision and naming of John (1:59-63) Circumcision and naming of Jesus (2:21)
Scene with Zechariah (1:64-66), and his inspiration (v. 67)

    • Song of Zechariah prophesying John’s future destiny (vv. 68-79)
Scene with Simeon, who is inspired by the Spirit (2:22-28)

    • Song of Simeon prophesying Jesus’ future destiny (vv. 29-32ff)

There is little to note in this passage from a text-critical standpoint. And much of the source- and historical-criticism that would relate to it has more or less been discussed in the prior studies. One of the main historical-critical issues involves the author’s treatment of the Torah regulations (in vv. 22-24); in particular: (a) whether he accurately understands the detail of the regulations, and (b) whether the presence of Joseph and Mary (with Jesus) in the Temple precincts is historically reliable on this basis, or simply represents a literary device. The latter question is impossible to answer on purely objective grounds. The Torah regulations certainly function within the narrative as a ‘literary device’, establishing the reason why they would be in the Temple precincts at that particular time. However, the detail could be historically reliable and still function as a literary device.

As far as the Torah regulations themselves are concerned, they have a thematic significance within the narrative that goes beyond any question of historicity. If we include the reference to the circumcision in verse 21, then there are three specific regulations and traditions in the Old Testament Law (of Moses), which the Gospel (of Luke) narrates together in just four verses (Luke 2:21-24). These are as follows:

    1. The Circumcision of Jesus
    2. The Purification of Mary
    3. The Presentation/Redemption of the firstborn Jesus

I have examined these in some detail in an earlier article, and will here summarize the matter more briefly.

1. The Circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

“And when (the) eight days were filled up for his being cut-around [i.e. circumcised], (then) also his name was called Yeshua {Jesus}, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his being received together [i.e. conceived] in the womb”.

In more conventional English, the verse would be:

“and when (a period of) eight days were completed, he was circumcised and he was given the name ‘Jesus’, the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb”.

I have already discussed how the Lukan narrative develops the theme of continuity between the Old and New Covenant, and how Jesus represents the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, even as he ushers in the New. Circumcision is the sign of the Covenant between God and His people Israel, and thus the circumcision of Jesus is of genuine significance here and is not merely an incidental detail. We may further define the the birth and coming of Jesus (prefigured by that of John) as representing a three-fold fulfillment, of:

(a) the Old Testament law
(b) the promises of God to His people
(c) the (Messianic) hopes and expectations of Israel

We can see this presented in the thematic structure of the narrative:

    • Fulfillment of the Law by Jesus’ parents—v. [21], 22-24, 27
      cf. also the same faithfulness prefigured in John’s parents (1:6, 59, etc)

      • Simeon—was (v. 25-26)
        (a) just and took good care [to observe the law, etc]
        (b) [looking] toward receiving the ‘comfort’ [parakl¢sis] of Israel

        • The song of Simeon (vv. 29-32) reflecting the promise of salvation (and revelation) to Israel (and the nations)
          —uttered as he held the child Jesus in his arms (as fulfillment of the promise, v. 28)
        • A prophecy of Simeon for the child in relation to Israel (vv. 33-35)
      • Anna—was (vv. 36-38)
        (a) in the Temple precincts, worshiping, praying and praising God day and night
        (b) [was with those looking] toward receiving the ‘redemption’ [lutrœsis] of Jerusalem
    • Fulfillment of the Law by Jesus’ parents—v. 39

2. The Purification of Mary &
3. The Presentation/Redemption of the Firstborn (Luke 2:22-24)

“And when the days of their cleansing were filled up according to the Law of Moses, they led him up into Jerusalem” (verse 22)

Note the similar formula as in verse 21. Then follows a pair of phrases governed by infinitives of purpose, after each of which is a citation from Scripture:

    • to stand (him) alongside the Lord” (parast¢¡sai tœ kyríœ)
      • “even as it is written in the Law of the Lord…”
    • “and to give sacrifice” (kai tou doúnai thysían)
      • “according to what has been said in the Law of the Lord…”

There are several difficulties in the passage, most notably:

  • The plural pronoun (“their cleansing”), which is the best reading. There are three possible interpretations:
      • The purification applies to both parents (Joseph and Mary), contrary to the regulation, which applies only to the mother; however, this seems to be the most straightforward (and best) sense of the phrase.
      • The purification applies to Mary and Jesus; this, again, is contrary to the regulation, and results in extremely confusing syntax, since the subsequent they clearly refers to Mary and Joseph.
      • The pronoun functions as a subject—i.e., their (his parents) bringing the child for cleansing, etc. This seems most unlikely.

The best explanation is that the author simply anticipates the main clause “they (Joseph and Mary) led him up…”, and by attraction, the plural extends to the earlier phrase—in other words, the presence of the plural pronoun is literary-grammatical rather than historical.

  • While the initial religious concept underlying the law of the ‘redemption’ of the firstborn did involve offering the child to God, it was acted out in practice by purchasing the child back (symbolically) with a payment to the Sanctuary. There is no indication that the child had to be brought to the sanctuary, and this certainly does not seem to have been a normal practice. Also, though the Scripture passage refers to the ‘redemption’, no mention is made of any payment at the Temple. It is sometimes been thought that the author here is confused on the details of the Law.

The two regulations involved are: Leviticus 12:1-8 and Exodus 13:1-2, 11-12 (see also Numbers 18:15-16). It is this latter law which is at issue in Luke 2:22-24. I suggest that there are likely three strands at work in the narrative:

    1. Fulfillment of the ‘redemption’ regulation by Joseph and Mary (historical); this would not need to have taken place at the Temple.
    2. Interpretation of the ‘redemption’ regulation in terms of the (original) idea of consecration of the firstborn to God; this would occur at the level of tradition and/or the author of the Gospel, but may also be connected with a (historical) visit to the Temple (more or less as narrated in 2:22ff).
    3. Application of this sort of interpretation in light of the birth/childhood narratives of Samuel—see 1 Sam 1:21-28; given the many echoes of 1 Sam 1-2 in the Lukan Infancy narrative, it is likely that the author has it in mind here as well. The child Samuel was offered by his mother (Hannah) to serve God always in the Temple.

There are additional theological and literary reasons why the infant Jesus should be in the Temple, apart from historical considerations in the narrative:

    • The Temple is the setting for the encounters with Simeon and Anna which follow; there is every reason for the author to keep Jesus (and his parents) there, combining together what may have been separate events as though they all took place at the same time.
    • The Infancy Narrative concludes with the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51), climaxing with the famous words: “did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in/among the (things) of my Father?” This ties back powerfully to the earlier ‘presentation’ to the Lord in verse 22, and to the idea that the child is dedicated (consecrated) entirely to God.

The Scene with Simeon (2:25-28ff)

Verses 25-26 introduce the Simeon episode, following vv. 22-24 and also continuing the important Temple-setting of the Lukan narrative. With regard to the figure of Simeon, there is a definite parallel with Zechariah, as there is between the hymn of Zechariah (Benedictus, 1:67-79) and the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis, 2:29-32). Here are the main points in common:

    • Devout, aged men who serve in the Temple or frequent it (1:8-9ff; 2:25-27)
    • Each is specifically referred to as “just/righteous” (díkaios) (1:6; 2:25)
    • Each man is touched/filled by the Spirit and utters an inspired oracle (1:67; 2:27)
    • Each oracle includes a prophecy regarding the destiny of the respective child (John/Jesus) and the role he will play in God’s deliverance of His people (1:76-79; 2:30ff, 34-35)
    • In the narrative, each man is associated with a corresponding female figure (Elizabeth/Anna) who also is inspired or functions as a prophet (1:5, 41ff; 2:36ff)
    • Linguistically, their names have a similar meaning:
      • Z§½aryâ[hû]— “Yah(weh) has remembered”
      • Šim®±ôn, presumably shortened for Š§ma±-°E~l or Š§ma±-Yah— “El/Yah has heard”

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises (see above). Looking more closely at verse 25, we find three significant characteristics of Simeon:

    • “just/righteous [díkaios] and taking good (care) [eulab¢¡s] (i.e. in religious matters)”
    • “(look)ing toward receiving the parákl¢sis of Israel”
    • “the holy Spirit was upon him”

These three phrases may be further explained or summarized:

    • Faithfulness to the Torah and the religion of Israel—the Old Covenant
    • Expectation of the coming Anointed One (Messiah) and the restoration of Israel—the Messianic Age
    • Foreshadowing of the new Age of the Spirit—the New Covenant in Christ

These are then three aspects—past, present and future—of God’s saving work and relationship with his people. Simeon stands at a transition point between the old (Torah) and new (Christ), a meeting which takes places as he holds the child Jesus in his arms, in the precincts of the Temple.

The word parákl¢sis, which literally means “calling [someone] alongside”, is parallel to the word lýtrœsis in v. 38; note how this fills out the Simeon/Anna parallel (cp. with Zechariah/Elizabeth):

    • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the parákl¢sis of Israel”
    • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lýtrœsis of Jerusalem”

Both terms refer to a belief in God’s coming (future/end-time) deliverance of his people—parákl¢sis meaning “help, aid, assistance” more generally, and lýtrœsis specifically as the “redemption” (payment, etc) made to free his people from debt/bondage (the word literally refers to a “loosing” from bondage). Both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. The Song of Simeon likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

The Messianic context of the scene here in Luke comes clearly into view in verse 26:

“And the matter was made (known) to him, under the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death until he should see the Anointed of the Lord.”

This is the second occurrence in Luke of the title “Anointed (One)” (Christós), the first being in the Angel’s annunciation to the shepherds in 2:11 (cf. the note on 2:10-14). Each word of that brief declaration carries Messianic significance, especially the names and titles involved. The titles “Anointed One” and “Lord” are combined also here in v. 26, but in the more traditional genitive/construct expression “Anointed (One) of the Lord” (Christos [tou] Kyriou). As previously discussed, early Christians could use the title Kýrios (“Lord”) equally of God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus. Such usage, in and of itself, does not necessarily indicate a specific view of Jesus’ deity, which was understood by early Christians in a variety of ways. In the early preaching of Acts (2:36), for example, the titles Christós and Kýrios are applied to Jesus in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God. Eventually, both titles virtually became second names of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 15:26; 20:21; 28:31, et al), reflecting both his identity as the Messiah (Christ) and his (divine) nature and status as the Son of God.

The use of Christós here in Lk 2:26 should be understood strictly in the sense of the expected ruler (from the line of David) who would deliver God’s people and bring about the restoration of Israel. Many Jews at the time would have viewed this in terms of a socio-political and cultural restoration (cf. Acts 1:6; Ps Sol 17-18), much as we see expressed in the hymn of Zechariah. There the Messiah (to be identified with Jesus) is referred to as a “horn of salvation” raised up by God, by which God has “made redemption [lýtrœsis, see above]” for his people (vv. 68-69). This deliverance is described first in terms of rescue from human enemies (vv. 71ff), but, by the end of the hymn, this has shifted to the idea of salvation from sin (vv. 77ff).

Based on the Zechariah-Simeon parallel, I am inclined to see the Song of Simeon (2:29-32) as corresponding generally with the last strophe (vv. 76-79) of the Benedictus. In particular, verses 78-79 have a good deal in common with 2:30-32. The Song of Simeon will be examined in the next study.