Luke Chapter 3:15-38

This will conclude Chapter 3; however, it’s going to be a very short section. The last fifteen verses or so are the genealogy of Jesus. I am not going to translate a list of names; it seems rather pointless. Of course the real question about this genealogy is why it differs from that recorded by Matthew. In particular, if Luke had read Matthew, why not just record the genealogy provided by the earlier writer? This would seem to be a telling argument against my position that Luke knew Matthew. I did bring this difficulty up in the corresponding section of Matthew, and I admitted that I do not have a truly strong argument to explain this. (As an aside, it’s less embarrassing for me than it is for proponents of a an inerrant scripture, but the point remains.) One thing I would like to use in my favour is that there is still the fact that only Matthew and Luke provide such a genealogy. Are we to assume, or simply accept, that they both had the idea independently of one another? Sure, it’s possible, but does that seem more likely than the possibility that Luke was well aware of Matthew’s list, thought it was wrong, and decided to correct it? Somehow, that seems more plausible to me. This also conforms to the fact that Luke followed Matthew in naming Joseph as the (apparent) father of Jesus.

Perhaps we will have more on this later.


15 Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός,

16 ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑπο δημάτων αὐτοῦ: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:

17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.

18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν:

The people expecting and all debating in their hearts about John, whether he might be the anointed, (16) John responded saying to all, “While I dunk you with water, but he who comes is mightier than I, nor am I worthy to loosen the strap of his shoe. He will dunk you in the sacred breath and fire. (17) Is not the winnowing fan in his hand to clear the (“threshing” is implied) floor and gather the grain into his barn, but the chaff he will burn in the unquenchable fire”. (18) For many things thus and other things calling forth he preached to the people. 

To a large extent this last verse is word-for-word from Matthew; the words rendered as “winnowing fork” and “(threshing) floor” occur here and in Matthew and nowhere else in the NT. Oh, but of course, they both copied them from Q. That is a distinct possibility. But which is more probable: that two sources copied the same source? Or that a second person writing will copy from the first? I can tell you straight out that the latter scenario is the more likely, since it only involves a single act of volition, rather than two. And it’s hard to over-stress the identity of the two passages; Matthew has an extra “and”, Luke has an extra “his”, and twice Matthew uses a future tense where Luke goes with an aorist infinitive. The verb tenses imply that one or the other deliberately chose to deviate from Q while the other chose to retain Q; IOW, two choices were made. Or, Luke chose to change Matthew; IOW, one choice. That Luke copies Matthew has a much higher level of probability than both of them mostly copying but changing the verb tenses.

I suppose we could/should get into a discussion of what the subtle differences are between the future indicative active vs the aorist infinitive. The aorist, after all, is a past-tense, while the future tense is the, well, future. And yes, there are subtle differences between the two, and why one is used rather than the other; however, I don’t think this is one of those distinctions that make a whole lot of difference. Yes, you could easily read a commentary or some other learned tome that goes into great detail about the difference, but I honestly doubt that. The obvious implication of Matthew’s future tense is that something will happen. The happening is both real, in the future, and to be expected, pretty much without fail. The aorist infinitive, OTOH, shifts the idea to the past tense, although the distinctions between the aorist and the present in literary usage is not as clear-cut as it would be in English. There is really no way to translate an infinitive into past tense in English; I’ve tried a dozen different methods, but none of them really capture the real nuance of the aorist infinitive. For example, the KJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB all render Luke’s infinitives as “he will”; that is, they all revert to Matthew’s future tense because that’s the only way to make sense of this in English. And note that I did exactly the same thing. Because it’s the only way to make this make sense in English. 

That is probably the most salient point about this passage. Mark has the disavowal of John that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal, and Luke includes Matthew’s bit about dunking in the sacred breath and fire, so there’s not much there. All three also have the idea that many, supposedly, wondered if John were the Christ. But notice how “baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire” invokes a very different set of images than “dunking in the sacred breath and fire”. The thing is, translating as “to baptise” really is no more than a transliteration. It’s as if I translated  <<καὶ>> as “kai” and left it. It means “and”; believe me when I say that the two are interchangeable inside my head; I will sometimes write the Greek word when translating, and use the English when copying the Greek. [Note, however, that there are times when “kai” can mean “also”, “or”, and even “but”. As such one does need to be vigilant; however, the context pretty much gives it away in most cases.] The point being that we are so comfortable with “baptizo”  that we don’t even consider the word as meaning anything other than “baptise”. That is really a bad way to approach the word. Same with “Holy Spirit” (especially when capitalised”) and “sacred breath”. Both are completely legitimate. It’s just that we are the heirs of Latin Christianity, in which “spirit” has come to mean something other than “breath”. The words are more or less divorced from each other, which is simply not the case in Greek.

15 Existimante autem populo et cogitantibus omnibus in cordibus suis de Ioanne, ne forte ipse esset Christus,

16 respondit Ioannes dicens omnibus: “ Ego quidem aqua baptizo vos. Venit autem fortior me, cuius non sum dignus solvere corrigiam calceamentorum eius: ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni;

17 cuius ventilabrum in manu eius ad purgandam aream suam et ad congregandum triticum in horreum suum, paleas autem comburet igni inexstinguibili ”.

18 Multa quidem et alia exhortans evangelizabat populum.

19 ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης, ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρῳδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρῴδης,

20 προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν [καὶ] κατέκλεισεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν φυλακῇ.

21 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ βαπτισθῆναι ἅπαντα τὸν λαὸν καὶ Ἰησοῦ βαπτισθέντος καὶ προσευχομένου ἀνεῳχθῆναι τὸν οὐρανὸν

22 καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν, καὶ φωνὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γενέσθαι, Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.

Herod the Tetrarch, having been exposed by him (John) regarding Herodias, the wife of his brother, and regarding all of the wicked things which Herod did, (20) he imposed upon him upon all and locked John under guard. (21) It happened in the to dunk all the people also that Jesus having been dunked and prayed to have opened the sky (22) and descended the sacred breath embodied in form like a dove upon him, and a voice from the sky became, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I am pleased.” 

The Greek for this is interesting. It tells us how the sacred breath was embodied, actually taking on a physical body as opposed to being a non-corporeal emanation taking a coherent shape. Now, what Luke says does not necessarily gainsay what 2M described; rather, it takes the description a bit further, confirming that an actual corporeal presence was…present.

However, I’ve jumped the gun a bit here. The passage tells us that John was imprisoned by Herod, for reasons apparently too well-known to need explaining. And the passage then says Jesus was baptized, but it does not specify that he was immersed by John. It’s interesting to speculate on why Luke wrote himself into a corner like this, so he had to be so vague about who did the baptizing. Just a bit too much compression? But what, we only got a first draft here? He couldn’t revise this? It’s really rather odd, don’t you think? He got the baptism and John’s arrest taken care of and out of the way pretty darn quickly.

Now, once again, think about Luke’s story in relation to that told by 2M. Does Luke compress so many things out existence because he believed that they had been adequately covered by 2M? As such, there was no need to tell the story of Salome again? Or even the whole story of the baptism? Although we do hit the highlights. This may be something to watch for as we progress: does Luke tend to syncopate material when both Mark & Matthew have provided full accounts? Wouldn’t that be an interesting observation.

However, far and away THE most interesting aspect of this passage comes via a different mss tradition. Variant manuscripts say that the voice from the sky said “You are my son, this day I have begotten you”. Whoa. That is a really serious variation. First, it totally disagrees with what 2M report, but, beyond that, it throws an entirely different light on the whole episode here. “Today I have begotten you?” This is blatant Adoptionism. As such, it hearkens back to Mark and then amplifies what Mark maybe kinda sorta implied about the heritage of Jesus and his relation to God. However, for once, I think I have to downplay the potential controversy and hold for the dominant reading and tradition. This alternative reading simply flies too flagrantly, and violently, in the face of everything Luke has told us to this point. It completely undercuts the whole virgin birth, the Annunciation, the stories of Simeon and Anna when Jesus was presented for circumcision. It just does not fit with any of that. As such, I have to believe that the alternative ending was a later interpolation, probably something that the Adoptionists, or maybe even more likely the Arians added to the text. Of course, one has to wonder why, if the Arians went to such lengths, why only this one bit of an attempted re-direction of the text remains. Or are there more? I don’t know. I did not know of this alternative text until last Sunday, when I was reading through Luke in church, before mass began. It was a footnote in the NSRV that the church as so thoughtfully placed in a number of the pews, which is wonderful for someone like me. So, perhaps there are more. I’ll have to check.

19 Herodes autem tetrarcha, cum corriperetur ab illo de Herodiade uxore fratris sui et de omnibus malis, quae fecit Herodes,

20 adiecit et hoc supra omnia et inclusit Ioannem in carcere.

21 Factum est autem, cum baptizaretur omnis populus, et Iesu baptizato et orante, apertum est caelum,

22 et descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba super ipsum; et vox de caelo facta est: “Tu es Filius meus dilectus; in te complacui mihi”.

23 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα, ὢν υἱός, ὡς ἐνομίζετο, Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ,

24τοῦ Μαθθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἰανναὶ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ…

And Jesus was leading so many as thirty years, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph son of Heli, (24) son of Matthew son of Levi son of Melchi son of Jannai son of Joseph…(etc…)

One point: I read in a commentary that 30 years was more or less the time priests came into their full duties. So it was a situation not unlike that of Hobbits; only after they had passed through their riotous tweens (teens & twenties) were they deemed to be entering into full maturity. This is when you became an elder, someone who deserved the respect of experience. Now, I won’t go into the actual math; I’ve mentioned it. If Jesus were 30 in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, then he must have been born in the year One. The problem is that Herod was four years dead at that point, and Quirinius was still lacking about six years before becoming the governor of Syria. So the math does not work. Although, Jesus could have been older than 30, if he had been born under Herod, but that messes with the census of Quirinius. There is simply no way to make all of this work.

But let’s talk about this genealogy. We’ve mentioned some of the problems it presents, all of them predicated on the fact that it does not match the one found in Matthew. I’ve been doing a bit of checking on this, and a lot of people want to claim that this is actually the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph. Obviously, if Joseph were not Jesus’ actual father–which both Matthew and Luke tell us he wasn’t–Jesus was not of the lineage of David. Or, the only way he could have been of David’s lineage would be if Mary were part of that family tree. So, presto-changeo, that’s what a lot of people have concluded. The only problem is that there is not really any evidence for this. The text simply does not say that Heli was the father of Mary. It’s supposed that this means Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli, but that’s not what the text says. I was sort of saving this genealogy of Mary business to complete the discussion of many of the stories that we have read.

Throughout Chapters 1 & 2, we have had a lot of focus on Mary. First it was her cousin Elisabeth who gave birth to John the Dunker; then we have the Annunciation story, where the messenger tells Mary, rather than Joseph. And the stories of Jesus’ childhood pretty much focus on Mary, who treasures or ponders these things in her heart. Given this Mary-focus, one could make a definite case for putting her genealogy in here. And it’s a very attractive idea, regardless. I just wish there were something more definite about it, something a bit more concrete. But we also have the example of the baptism: did John do it or not? So here we have, is this Mary’s genealogy or not? I don’t have an answer to this, but neither does anyone else. That this is the genealogy of Mary seems to be the prevailing or consensus opinion, but that’s really all it is: an opinion based on not a whole lot. Or, perhaps it doesn’t even constitute an opinion; perhaps it should be called something closer to “wishful thinking”.  

But now for the real killer. Back when we read (or skipped) Matthew’s genealogy, I said that the fact that Luke had a different one was a real problem for my idea that Luke had read Matthew. Now, however, I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think that the different lineage actually supports my contention that Luke knew about, and and read Matthew. Think about it. We have exactly two of these. Did both the evangelists suddenly and independently get the idea for a genealogy? Perhaps. It could happen. But let’s think about why Matthew added his: because there were accusations that Jesus was a bastard. To counter these, Matthew both had to come up with a father for Jesus, and provide a lineage that traced back to David. Matthew fails on both counts. For he gives us the name of Joseph, who was Mary’s husband, but he was not Jesus’ father. And so to say that Jesus traced his ancestry back to David through Joseph pretty much just wrong. So what does Luke do? Recall, Luke is trying to be as specific as possible, by pinning John’s conception to the reign of Herod, and Jesus’ birth to the Roman governor, and John’s ministry as beginning in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. To be consistent with this, here we have Luke correcting the record by providing the accurate genealogy of Jesus. In fact, if we only had some really concrete evidence that this was supposed to be the lineage of Mary, we would have definitive proof that Q did not (have to) exist, because we would know that Luke read Matthew because Luke was very consciously trying to correct Matthew’s faulty genealogy.

If only.

It must be acknowledged, however, that this absence of definitive evidence does not torpedo my contention about Q, or the lack thereof. Not necessarily, or not completely at least. No one suggests that Q had a genealogy. The Q people absolutely cannot suggest this, because the disagreement would seriously cripple their rationale for Q. So if the idea for a genealogy didn’t come from Q, where did it come from? Did Luke arrive at the idea independently. Sure, it’s possible, but how likely is that? And if there were an independent third source, then why the discrepancy? No, the most likely explanation is that Luke was fully aware of Matthew and Matthew’s genealogy, and was fully aware that it was faulty. So Luke decided to correct the record. To do so, he decided to trace descent–not through Joseph, who had no part in Jesus’ existence–but through Mary. To bolster the reasoning for doing this, Luke came up with some stories about Mary that took place before and shortly after the birth of her son. We get her cousin as the mother of the Baptist, and the angel coming to talk to her, rather than the cipher to whom she would be married. IOW, the importance of Mary in the story has been increased. Dramatically. Because she is the vessel that carried the line all the way back, not just to David, but to Adam himself, emphasizing, as one commentary put it, that Jesus was the Second Adam. This would all be so apparent if the text only said, Joseph, son-in-law of Heli. But even this is not insuperable. After all, we saw how some mss traditions changed the words from the sky to “today I have begotten you”; how much easier is it to change the text from son-in-law to son? Even granting that the two words in Greek do not have the affinity that they do in English, this would hardly strain credulity to posit this as an emendation.

So, far from being fatal to my case, I believe that the different genealogies actually support, reinforce, and further my argument. As always, feel free to disagree.

23 Et ipse Iesus erat incipiens quasi annorum triginta, ut putabatur, filius Ioseph, qui fuit Heli,

24 qui fuit Matthat, qui fuit Levi, qui fuit Melchi, qui fuit Iannae, qui fuit Ioseph,..[ etc….]

Luke Chapter 3:1-14

From Chapter 2 we move on to Chapter 3, which is generally how the progression works. The first story is John the Baptist, leading up to his baptism of Jesus, which is followed by the temptations. All of these are in Mark; however, Matthew expands on John, and Luke has much the same expansion. But Luke did not follow Matthew; they both copied the nearly-identical passages from Q. Now, here’s the thing about that. If Luke is writing because he has things that need to be said, why does so closely replicate Matthew at so many points if he was using Matthew? That is a legitimate question, and one that I have an obligation to acknowledge and to answer. How well I respond to that question will help determine whether my insistence of Luke using Matthew, thereby relegating Q to the dustbin of history, carries any weight of conviction. Of course, we also have to ask the same question about why Matthew stuck so closely to Mark.


1 Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος, ἡγεμονεύοντος Ποντίου Πιλάτου τῆς Ἰουδαίας, καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου, Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας, καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος,

2 ἐπὶ ἀρχιερέως Αννα καὶ Καϊάφα, ἐγένετο ῥῆμα θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν Ζαχαρίου υἱὸν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, in the governorship of Judea of Pontius Pilate, and while Herod was tetrarching in Galilee, and Philipp his (Herod’s) brother was tetrarching in the territory of Ituraia and Trachontis, and Lysanias was tetrarching in Abilene, (2) in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God was upon John, son of Zacharias, in the desert.  

Luke is really pinning things down here in a very specific way. The fifteenth year of Tiberius would put us into the period 29/30 CE. This means that if Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius, he was only in his mid-twenties when these events took place. Now again, at the moment, we are talking about John and not Jesus. So this initial even could have occurred when Jesus was in his mid-twenties. It depends on whether time elapsed between the outset of the gospel and the baptism of Jesus. Now too, bear in mind that we do not exactly know how much older John was than Jesus. We know that Elisabeth was pregnant when Mary visited, but per the text Mary had not yet conceived. I think this detail frequently sort of gets lost in the shuffle of the story. Gabriel tells Mary that Elisabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy, but we are not told that Mary had actually conceived yet. The way the story was told to me as a kid in Catholic school, Mary was already pregnant, so the two boys in utero sort of had a hoedown together when Mary visited. But the text does not say that. It’s interesting that, for all his precision here, Luke is decidedly–probably deliberately–vague about the time between the visitation (The Visitation, if you’re counting Joyful Mysteries) and the birth of Jesus. And just so, he is rather vague here.

Note that we have three tetrarchs named. That’s remarkable because the “tetra” part means “four”. The kingdom of of Herod the Great, the final King of the Jews had been broken into four parts. The lesser parts were doled out to Herod’s children and grandchildren–I believe this Herod, Antipas, was the grandson of Herod the Great. But he may have been a son. In any case, the fourth part was Judea, which was retained by Rome as the seat of the Roman governor for the area, although strictly speaking Pilate was the governor of Syria, to which Judea was appended. Annas and Caiaphas were the local collaborationist puppets of the Romans. While their authority was actually religious, the secular and the religious powers had been thoroughly mixed up since the time of the Maccabees a century before. So, while his title was high priest, Caiaphas had secular authority as well. He was charged with keeping the peace. The Romans found it useful to interpose a buffer of a puppet regime between themselves and the subject population for the first period after annexing a new territory. Thus Herod the Great was what is known as a “client king”; he retained the title of king, but only at the sufferance of the Romans. Really, the time for this intermediary rule had gone past, but the Romans maintained it to some degree here. I am honestly not sure why they retained this arrangement. In the grand scheme of the Empire, Judea was sort of an afterthought, so the rationale behind the arrangement is not well explained in our sources. Josephus’ account is very Judeo-centric, so I don’t know how far it is to be trusted. The point of all this is that Annas and Caiaphas did have limited secular power, largely because Pilate spent most of his time in Caesarea. So Pilate delegated the local policing to the Jewish religious authorities with the help of  a detachment of Roman soldiers who had considerable latitude to act independently to step in and quell any sort of disturbance. One thing that is important to realize is that there was not a lot of cooperation between the high priest and any of the tetrarchs. Indeed, that was largely the point of fragmenting the area like this: to prevent cooperation between the native parties. So the idea that the high priests in Jerusalem were in communication and/or collusion with Herod about Jesus–or anything else–really doesn’t hold much water.

1 Anno autem quinto decimo im perii Tiberii Caesaris, procu rante Pontio Pilato Iudaeam, tetrarcha autem Galilaeae Herode, Philippo autem fratre eius tetrarcha Ituraeae et Trachonitidis regionis, et Lysania Abilinae tetrarcha,

2 sub principe sacerdotum Anna et Caipha, factum est verbum Dei super Ioannem Zachariae filium in deserto.

3 καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς πᾶσαν [τὴν] περίχωρον τοῦ Ἰορδάνου κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν,

4 ὡς γέγραπται ἐν βίβλῳ λόγωνἨσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

5 πᾶσα φάραγξ πληρωθήσεται καὶ πᾶν ὄρος καὶ βουνὸς ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ἔσται τὰ σκολιὰ εἰς εὐθείαν καὶ αἱ τραχεῖαι εἰς ὁδοὺς λείας:

6 καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ.

And he came to all the countryside surrounding of the Jordan (River) announcing dunking of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, (4) as is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “A voice shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the lord, make straight the paths of him. (5) Every valley will be filled and every road and hill brought low and will be the crookedness to straight, and the rough to smooth roads. (6) And all flesh will see the salvation of God.

This excerpt of Isaiah is common to all three gospels. What is unique to Luke is the last verse about salvation of the flesh. This word, in this sort of context, is not really used by Mark & Matthew (2M). In fact, Luke only uses the word twice himself. in 2M, it occurs only in the apocalyptic prophecies of Jesus (Mk 13; Mt 24) combined with the idea of salvation. The one who does use this word frequently is Paul, but he doesn’t necessarily use it combined with salvation. So the salvation of the flesh shows up once in each of the Synoptics; 2M use it by saying it is good that the times of tribulation will be cut short, else no flesh would be saved. Luke uses it here.

But now we need to ask if what Luke is saying here is actually the same concept of saving the flesh, in the sense of saving a physical life. This is very difficult to assess, because there really is no explanation for this, no elaboration, nothing to give us any real sense of what John might mean.Two things strike me. First, the words of V6 are not in Isaiah; they have been added by Luke. The second thing is that it occurred to me that this might relate to whether the kingdom John was preaching was of this world, in which case “saving the flesh” could and probably should be taken quite literally. But then I noticed that John does not preach about the coming kingdom. At least, not in those terms, using that word. Both of these concepts, the salvation of the flesh and the kingdom of God are very ambiguous throughout the gospels; does salvation mean eternal? is the kingdom of this world, or the next? The use of salvation in this spot does not help us clarify the answer to that question. But then, by later Christian usage and understanding, “salvation of the flesh” almost has to refer to the physical life, since the belief developed that it is the soul, not the body, that is saved. Except in Paul, we all have a resurrection body, but that is probably a red herring. So why is this term inserted–deliberately–here? What does it mean? These questions are difficult to answer, especially since this is one of only two times that Luke uses the word “sarx”.

Just to note, each time I read this, my take changes a little bit. On this last iteration, I feel pretty certain that Luke is indeed talking about salvation in the later Christian, and Pauline, sense of the term, especially in Rom 11:11 and 13:11. I realize this is cheating a bit, since we haven’t covered Romans in this blog, but it’s also present in 1 Thess 5:8-9. Since we know that Luke was aware of Paul’s career, and probably some of Paul’s writings–Romans among the most likely–we are probably justified in this understanding.  

3 Et venit in omnem regionem circa Iordanem praedicans baptismum paenitentiae in remissionem peccatorum,

4 sicut scriptum est in libro sermonum Isaiae prophetae:

“Vox clamantis in deserto: / ‘Parate viam Domini, / rectas facite semitas eius.

5 Omnis vallis implebitur, / et omnis mons et collis humiliabitur; / et erunt prava in directa, / et aspera in vias planas:

6 et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei’ ”.

7 Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;

He said to those crowds having come to be dunked by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the intended destined wrath?   

Have to stop here. I used the same translation “brood of vipers” for this passage in Matthew. Apologies, but “offspring of serpents” doesn’t pack nearly the emotional wallop of my preferred phrase. Although after taking a peek, it appears that “brood of vipers” is the preferred translation in my three modern crib translations (NIV, ESV, NASB). The KJV is the sole dissenting vote, giving us “generation of vipers”. Regardless, I’m reasonably certain that I’ve heard this as “offspring of serpents”. But apparently, the base meaning of the Greek”echidna” is, actually, “viper”. And the “dunked” is a pretentious reminder that the Greek word/verb for “baptize” is not a special word. It’s is a common word, used for many different, ordinary, quotidian affairs. It pays to remember that; otherwise we get caught up in this sense of Christianity, and start thinking of “baptize” in terms that are wholly anachronistic. We start to assume that the word meant the same for John as it does for us. This is emphatically not true, and must be borne in mind.

But the really juicy part of this verse is the “intended“, as in “intended destined wrath”. No doubt we touched on this when discussing Matthew, but the verb “mellow” has several layers of nuance to it. First and foremost, it means “destined”, rather than intended, in the sense of “I intend to do…” No doubt that the two meanings merged, or split from the idea that something happened because Zeus intended it to happen, or it was destined because Zeus intended it to happen. (Editor’s note: this is not exactly proper Greek theology; destiny was the province of the Fates, rather than Zeus, and there is a real question about whether Zeus was bound by destiny/fate or not.) My four crib translations, three modern & KJV, render this as “coming” wrath. This simply will not do. I hate to say a translation is wrong, but “coming” completely obscures the idea of some sort of will, whether it’s the will of Fate, or of a god, or even of God. This has to happen, and “coming” merely states that it will happen. Interesting, this translation as “coming” starts with the Vulgate, for it renders this as “coming wrath”.

Now, the reason for this fudging is very clear. The Christians were very sensitive to the idea of pagan fatalism, and they took pains to deny this, which is why they invented the concept of Free Will. In this way they sought to escape from things like astrology. Or from astrology. The problem is that a British monk named Pelagius took this a little too far, and said that Free Will meant we could merit our own salvation. To which Augustine took great exception, which led him to interpret certain sections (but by no means all) of Romans to entail Predestination. Of course, that is simply another word for “fate”. And so the circle comes complete and we’re back at pagan fatalism, except we won’t admit it, so even St Jerome starts to weasel by rendering this as “coming” wrath. And the NT Greek dictionary I use gives the base meaning of “shall”, with “coming” as the third definition. This is what happens when you start to believe that there is such an animal as “NT Greek”. This goes along with translating “baptizo” as “to baptize”. The circle becomes closed and self-referential and we end up thinking we know more than we actually do. It’s really another example of epistemic closure, self-reinforcing and cut off from outside points of view. This is what I’m doing my very small part to change.

Now, it’s very interesting because in 1 Thess 1:10, Paul talks about the “coming wrath”, and that is exactly the verb he uses: coming. It would really be useful to know where Paul got this. Was this the general expectation for all the communities following Jesus? Or was this part of Paul’s personal revelation. From reading something like the Didache, one gets the impression that this idea of coming wrath may not have been universal to all the various assemblies around the Eastern Mediterranean. There were, after all, other gospels. OTOH, Mark had picked it up in Chapter 13. Here’s an interesting thought: Paul talks about the coming wrath, as if it’s imminent at any given moment. What if the transition to “intended”, or even “destined” represents a stepping back from this immediacy? Yes, the wrath is coming, it’s been scheduled, but for some point in the indeterminate future, rather than hanging there, waiting to spring like, RIGHT NOW. 

7 Dicebat ergo ad turbas, quae exibant, ut baptizarentur ab ipso: “ Genimina viperarum, quis ostendit vobis fugere a ventura ira?

8 ποιήσατε οὖν καρποὺς ἀξίους τῆς μετανοίας: καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεντὸν Ἀβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ.

9 ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται.

“So produce fruit worthy of repentance; and do not start to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, for I tell you that God can from these stones raise up children to Abraham. (9) Indeed the axe lies at the root of the trees. All trees not making good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 

This whole section of John’s rant is supposed to be from Q. Which means it dates from a period very early in the time after Jesus. Except this little tidbit does not really fit into that timeframe. Here we have a piece of rhetoric the aim of which is to explain why the Jews did not convert to become followers of Jesus. Here we see that John is warning the Jews that they will be superseded in the succession to the kingdom (a term that John does not use in Luke.) That they are the descendants of Abraham will avail them naught. As such, it most likely does not date to the 30s or even the 50s; rather it’s more like it dates from the 70s, or even the 80s. Considerations like this are why I get so frustrated with the Q “argument”; in their epistemically closed world, they just consider the overlapping content, and not whether this content is anachronistic to the 50s, when Q was supposedly written. And attributing this to John makes the early date even less likely.

Now it occurs to me that the image of the axe already lying at the root of the tree does make it sound like the wrath is coming soon. However, Luke got this from Matthew, and Matthew did also describe the wrath as “destined”, rather than “coming”. This means we have to look at this in the context of Matthew’s time, rather than Luke’s.  Part of the problem is trying to push the meanings of some of these words too hard, and this may be an excellent example of me trying to do this. It’s a question of how carefully did the evangelists choose their words, and how did each of them understand and use specific words. Given this, I probably should back down from my position about the transition to “scheduled at some non-specific time in the indeterminate future”. That did happen; it’s still happening as groups continue to predict the coming of the Beast and all the other imagery found in Revelation. It’s just a question of when this attitude became the norm. Was it the 70s? 90s? Sometime in the Second Century? The answer is probably “yes”; it happened a little bit, and bit-by-bit probably starting with Mark. After all, why write a gospel if the world is coming to an end any moment?

One other point of interest here is the fire. This is not a word Luke uses very much at all. In fact, this is more or less the only time he uses it in conjunction with the idea of hellfire. And it appears that John uses some form of the word only once. IOW, the whole bit about burning in hell becomes de-emphasized with time. But then another check shows that it doesn’t appear frequently in Paul, either. It does reappear in Revelation. This ties in with the discussion we had above about sarx and salvation. If we are not being saved from hellfire, what are we being saved from? It’s situations like this that demonstrate the layers of the NT. This idea of the fire is vestigial, preserved from an earlier account. Most biblicists would say thus earlier account is Q; I say it’s Matthew. Either way, it has been retained when some of the surrounding theology has sort of slipped between the cracks. Does this mean Luke doesn’t believe in hellfire? No, we cannot draw that inference safely. It may just mean he doesn’t feel it necessary to stress the point, that it’s become well enough ensconced in the message, perhaps because both Mark and Matthew deal with the topic. Here, perhaps, is another point at which the absence in Luke may be seen to result from Luke’s understanding of, rather than ignorance of, Matthew.

No doubt I’ve brought up this analogy before, but it’s worth repeating. Ernest Hemingway was famous for his very short stories; he would write ten pages and then cut it down to three. His theory was that as long as the author knew what was missing, the story would reflect, would imply the parts that had been removed. It’s only when the author doesn’t know what is in those other seven pages that the readers feels there is a hole in the story. That is how Luke feels so far: there are no real holes because he is aware of what parts of Matthew he’s leaving out. Unfortunately, this is a very subjective “argument”, but I think it’s less so than saying that “Luke would never have messed up Matthew’s ‘masterful’ arrangement of the Q material”. That’s more than subjective; it’s speculative, with no real basis in anything other than the conviction that Q existed because…because we want it to exist. 

8 Facite ergo fructus dignos paenitentiae et ne coeperitis dicere in vobis ipsis: “Patrem habemus Abraham”; dico enim vobis quia potest Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare Abrahae filios.

9 Iam enim et securis ad radicem arborum posita est; omnis ergo arbor non faciens fructum bonum exciditur et in ignem mittitur ”.

10 Καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι λέγοντες, Τί οὖν ποιήσωμεν;

11 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὁ ἔχων δύο χιτῶνας μεταδότω τῷ μὴ ἔχοντι, καὶ ὁ ἔχων βρώματα ὁμοίως ποιείτω.

12 ἦλθον δὲ καὶ τελῶναι βαπτισθῆναι καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσωμεν;

13 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Μηδὲν πλέον παρὰ τὸ διατεταγμένον ὑμῖν πράσσετε.

14 ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ στρατευόμενοι λέγοντες, Τί ποιήσωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς; καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Μηδένα διασείσητε μηδὲ συκοφαντήσητε, καὶ ἀρκεῖσθε τοῖς ὀψωνίοις ὑμῶν.

And the crowd answered him, saying, “So what shall we do?” (11)  Answering he said to them “Let the one having two tunics give to the one not having, and let the one having victuals do likewise.” (12) There came also tax collectors to be dunked and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” (13) And he said to them, “Not more beside the designated amount keep”. (14) And also asked him soldiers, saying, “What shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do you nothing violent nor make accusations, and be content with your wages”.

I have heard–but cannot specify where, exactly, that Luke is particularly concerned with the poor. I cannot verify this, but the change of “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “blessed are the poor” would seem to support this contention. Assuming this observation to be true, the passage here would be the first example of theme in Luke. Here’s the odd part: the injunction that the person with two coats, or having should share with the person having none seems to be unique to Luke. I was certain that this was also found in Matthew, at least; apparently, that is not true. So what we have here is a situation where Luke is using Q material, but is adding to it. So it’s another instance of Q material being defined so broadly that it becomes difficult to know what, exactly, is supposed to be in Q, and to know what, exactly, the Q material is supposed to represent. Q is supposed to be sayings of Jesus; well, here we have stuff said by John in the Q material. Then we have stuff in Luke that’s not in Matthew in a section that’s supposed to be from Q, and the stuff in Luke is supposed to be an angle that is peculiar to Luke, and it comes hard on the heels of something that really seems anachronistic to the time when Q was supposedly written. Given all this, it gets to be very hard to find a consistent definition of what Q is supposed to represent, which makes it difficult to assess the likelihood of Q’s existence. In short, Q seems to be whatever it is required to be at any given moment. In fact, not only does the previous section seem anachronistic; in the last verse we supposedly have soldiers asking about how they should behave. It’s probably worth pointing out that soldiers, by and large, were pagans rather than Jews. So again we have an outreach to the pagan crowd, which is more likely to be appropriate to the 70s or 80s than to the 50s, when Q supposedly was recorded.

But wait, there’s more! It appears that the questions posed by the tax collectors and the soldiers are also unique to Luke. Thematically, it’s very important and very significant that this is John saying these things. Thematically, these injunctions fit in very nicely with things Jesus has said in previous gospels (and presumably will say later in this gospel). This has at least a couple of implications. First, this is yet more indication of how, far from being embarrassed about the connexion to John, this connexion became more and more important as time went on. Each subsequent evangelist tied Jesus and John closer together, to the point that here in Luke they are first cousins. The idea that John was an embarrassment to the later church. Perhaps maybe by the Second Century some of this set in, but to this point, from Mark to Luke the connexion has become stronger and more prominent. 

The next aspect is to ask if these are not political statements? Tax collectors and soldiers represent the apparatus of oppression of the Empire. As such, is John not telling them to stop oppressing the subject population? To govern fairly rather than viciously? This is possible. Since it’s possibly a political statement, then is it best to put this in the mouth of John? Or, OTOH, had the political situation de-pressurized from the period in which Mark wrote, so that this sort of mild chiding would be tolerated by the Roman authorities? This would also give a later date for this particular passage, being set at a point more than a generation removed from the Troubles of the late 60s.

Finally, let’s think about this in terms of the “brood of vipers” & trees with bad fruit. Those were directed towards Jews; here he has shifted to pagans. And the pagans are asking what they must do, whereas the Jews are condemned more or less out-of-hand, and without any redeeming aspects. This really reinforces the date of the 80s, or to the period when the assemblies had more or less given up on converting Jews. Now, this part of Luke does not appear in reconstructions of Q, so this largely a moot point. 

10 Et interrogabant eum turbae dicentes: “Quid ergo faciemus?”.

11 Respondens autem dicebat illis: “Qui habet duas tunicas, det non habenti; et, qui habet escas, similiter faciat”.

12 Venerunt autem et publicani, ut baptizarentur, et dixerunt ad illum: “Magister, quid faciemus?”.

13 At ille dixit ad eos: “Nihil amplius quam constitutum est vobis, faciatis”.

14 Interrogabant autem eum et milites dicentes: “Quid faciemus et nos? ”. Et ait illis: “ Neminem concutiatis neque calumniam faciatis et contenti estote stipendiis vestris”.

Summary Luke Chapter 2

This chapter includes the birth narrative, the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus’ adventure in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The birth narrative is the more famous of the two, with most of the details that we think of as surrounding the birth of Jesus: the journey of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, the shepherds who were sore afraid, and the heavenly host. The only details missing from the popular iconography of Christmas are the star and the Magoi; the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt do not play a large role in Christmas pageants around the country. In fact, we are told that all of Matthew’s themes are completely absent from Luke, so obviously Luke never read Matthew.

Or did he?

This bears repeating: thematically, Luke is very, very closely tied to the elements that Matthew added. To list them once again, Luke accepts the idea of a virgin giving birth, that the child conceived to the virgin was by way of the sacred breath, the announcement of this news came by angel-messenger, that Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even the timing of the birth is correlated to Matthew by putting the story of the birth of the Baptist in the reign of Herod, even though Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius. All of these details are found ony in Matthew. But it goes beyond even these details. Matthew is very keen to tell us that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was a world-historical event, heralded by a star. Well, Luke says that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was heralded by a heavenly host. And what is a star if not a different sort of heavenly host? Instead of magoi from the East, Luke gives us prophets in the Temple of Jerusalem. It is in this way that Luke conveys the prophecy of Jesus’ birth, but to the Jews rather than pagans. The shepherds in Luke fill the role of the Magoi in another way: in Matthew, people travel great distances, but the locals pretty much ignored the event. In Luke, both the locals (the shepherds) and the prophets (in Jerusalem) were aware of Jesus’ birth. So in both accounts it’s clear that the coming of Jesus was a world-historical event, presaged, foretold, and recognized and having been fulfilled.

In fact, if you tally up the different aspects of the story, pretty well all of them are found in Luke, but in altered form. But the alterations seem to dovetail very nicely and in complement, like a very well-crafted piece of furniture, with joints that are precise to the point of being invisible. What I am saying is that it feels, like Luke took the story of Matthew, digested the elements, took a step back, and then reconstituted these elements in a way that they carry the implication–and much of the fine detail–of Matthew and convey the message while providing an entirely different context for the different elements. The apparently complete lack of overlap between the two is more apparent than real, which, to my mind, signifies deliberate intent rather than creating an account that is wholly unaware of its predecessor. This is a very crucial point.

Much of the minimal argument that is put forth for Q rests on two things. The first is that Luke is completely unaware of places that Matthew added to Mark. Second is that Luke never, not once (well, except the “brood of vipers” thing from the Baptist) puts a story from Mark in the same context as Matthew does. Well, if Luke did follow Matthew in adding to, or changing Mark, that becomes Q material pretty much by definition; after all, Q is exactly that stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t. So strike #1. As for #2, just by sheer dumb probability, Luke should have put at least one story from Mark in the same context that Matthew did. That this did not happen at all defies probability. If Luke’s choices were made completely independently of Matthew, there should be at least a couple of places where Luke used the same context as Matthew. The implication then becomes that, since he did not make the same placement, it’s because Luke chose not to make the same placement because he knew exactly where Matthew put the same stories. This fits in very nicely with what I’m saying about the nativity story, and Chapter 2 as a whole: Luke very nicely works around Matthew, he supplements and complements Matthew, but he also knows exactly where not to go. Matthew has pagan Magoi; Luke has Jewish prophecies. Matthew has a star; Luke has a multitude of the heavenly host. In each case, they announce the birth of Jesus. Luke’s placement, so far, has been very strategic.

There is one further aspect of this that needs to be mentioned. It has been pointed out numerous times that the story of Paul’s conversion that he provides in Galatians is very different from the more familiar version we find in Acts. The latter has the whole Road to Damascus immediacy and flamboyance. However, if you think about the experience being described, and think about what Paul says and take it allegorically, with a large dollop of drama added, the two descriptions are not dissimilar in their fundamentals. Yes, the outward appearance is very different, but the interior experience…maybe not so much. Both describe a revelation, a sudden and violent shift in perception; that one occurs while Paul is riding a horse and involves a blinding light, both of which are external events, or events perceived through the outward-facing senses, doesn’t change the inner experience. A sudden insight of life-changing proportions can certainly seem like a blinding flash of light; or, perhaps that’s a particularly effective way to describe the sensation to someone else.

Whether or not this is convincing or not will depend, I believe and to some extent, on whether one is willing to concede that a host of angels in the sky is another metaphor for the sudden appearance of a star. Both are miraculous; at least, the sudden appearance of a star would seem miraculous to someone unfamiliar with the concept of a supernova, which can cause a star to appear quite suddenly. And so the angels came and went. Suddenly. I believe there is a connexion, how each is a metaphor describing a celestial phenomenon meant to herald the occurrence of an event of great significance. If we notice that Luke does this on a consistent basis, then we have at least the potential for an argument that this is, indeed, what Luke was doing. And if he’s doing this, then he was bloody damn well aware of Matthew. And if Luke does this to Paul as well, then the case becomes stronger. In each case, I think, what Luke adds is the element of drama, in the sense of both stage direction and character development, but also heightened expectations and even dramatic tension. That is certainly true about Paul’s conversion.

So, in short, Chapter 2 is the backstory of Jesus. It’s about his birth in some detail, it adds episodes from Jesus’ early life. It also expands the role of Mary, something that I’ve been meaning to mention, but the time has not seemed ripe. Joseph remains a cipher; for whatever reasons, the cult of Joseph did not start to blossom until much later, to the point that he ended up the patron saint of Italy. But even then, he was not a truly popular figure who attracted tales and adventures. I suspect this is because he disappears so early in the story. He appears only in Chapter 1 of Matthew, and then only at the beginning. In Luke he makes it to Chapter 2, but that’s only after being wholly absent from Chapter 1. And it also occurs to me that Luke was very careful to tell his audience about the divine conception even before Joseph makes an appearance. Here is yet another way that Luke continues the story, retaining the character of Joseph, but also supplementing the story introduced by Matthew, smoothing out the rough edge of Joseph considering divorce. Matthew “corrected” the “problem” of Jesus having no father, leaving him open to charges of being illegitimate. Then Luke “corrects” the account of Matthew, eliminating completely the whole illegitimate thing. After all, Mary was pregnant when she was betrothed to/married to Joseph; the presumption was that the child had been fathered by another man, which was grounds for “putting her aside”. With Luke, that whole possibility of embarrassment is proactively eliminated by having the messenger Gabriel announce her impending conception before it happens. We do not know how the news was broken to Joseph, but that’s not really important; remember, Luke is not writing an account that he expects people to take seriously in all the details.

The point is, much is made of how different the birth stories are; why would Luke change Matthew? Answer: I’m not sure he did. He adds to Matthew, but nothing he says contradicts Matthew. He even retains most of Matthew’s additions to Mark: Joseph, virgin birth, annunciation by angels, reign of Herod, the birth heralded by celestial phenomena, Jesus’ identity understood by wise people, and probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten. Personally, I believe that I’m building a pretty decent case that Luke was very well aware of Matthew.

Luke Chapter 2:39-52

Chapter Two concludes with yet another story that is unique to Luke. Apparently, all of these stories transmitted in the “oral tradition” managed to bypass both Mark and Matthew. Or, Luke created them. This is the only story of Jesus between his birth and his public ministry. Here is yet another instance of Luke feeling the need to sort of round out the character of his personnae by providing background, which then gives insights into who these people were.

This story involves another trip to Jerusalem. It’s virtually impossible to know whether Jesus and his family would have made such trips. All Jews tried to go to Jerusalem for Passover; perhaps the idea of a family traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem was plausible enough on the surface. But then, by this point, is Luke even trying to be plausible to a Jewish audience?

39 Καὶ ὡς ἐτέλεσαν πάντα τὰ κατὰ τὸν νόμον κυρίου, ἐπέστρεψαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς πόλιν ἑαυτῶν Ναζαρέθ.

40 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πληρούμενον σοφίᾳ, καὶ χάρις θεοῦ ἦν ἐπ’αὐτό.

And as they finished all the matters according to the law of the lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. (40) The boy grew and strengthened and became filled by wisdom, and the favour of God was on him. 

First of all, this really should have been tacked onto the end of the previous section. At least, Verse 39 should have been. But I was trying to end that one ASAP, given the length.

As for content, there is no need to talk about Nazareth again. At the point by which Luke is writing, the tradition has been fixed, and Jesus was from Nazareth and the discussion was over. More interesting is how the author sort of breezily says they returned to their own city. After all, he contrived the whole story about everyone having to go to their home town. So maybe they traveled there, registered, and then returned. Of course, Mary had the baby, and they took a side trip to Jerusalem, but we are told that they finished their business in Jerusalem, but not that they had completed the whole registration process. That appears simply to have been forgotten.

And the Greek word “charis”, < χάρις >, does not mean “grace”*. Well, it does, but not in the Christian sense of the word. By the time the Vulgate was translated, the Latin word “gratia” was probably well on the way to our understanding of the word “grace”, but it simply did not mean that in Greek at the time Luke wrote. That would be an interesting investigation: to compare & contrast how the Greek patristic thinkers thought of “charis” vs. the way the Latin patristic thinkers thought of “gratia”. Were there differences? Did these differences cause problems? I don’t recall this being an issue. Why not? Because the concept of “charis” had been written about in Greek for a long enough time that it came to have some sense of the Latin word? That strikes me as an interesting question. 

*Yes, if you look it up in the Great Scott, “grace” is provided as a translation. But it is not the Christian concept of grace. 

39 Et ut perfecerunt omnia secundum legem Domini, reversi sunt in Galilaeam in civitatem suam Nazareth.

40 Puer autem crescebat et confortabatur plenus sapientia; et gratia Dei erat super illum.

41 Καὶ ἐπορεύοντο οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ κατ’ ἔτος εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ τῇ ἑορτῇ τοῦ πάσχα.

42 καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο ἐτῶν δώδεκα, ἀναβαινόντων αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸ ἔθος τῆς ἑορτῆς  

43 καὶ τελειωσάντων τὰς ἡμέρας, ἐν τῷ ὑποστρέφειν αὐτοὺς ὑπέμεινεν Ἰησοῦς ὁ παῖς ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ, καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ.

44 νομίσαντεςδὲ αὐτὸν εἶναι ἐν τῇ συνοδίᾳ ἦλθον ἡμέρας ὁδὸν καὶ ἀνεζήτουν αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς συγγενεῦσιν καὶ τοῖς γνωστοῖς,

45 καὶ μὴ εὑρόντες ὑπέστρεψαν εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἀναζητοῦντες αὐτόν.

46 καὶ ἐγένετο μετὰ ἡμέρας τρεῖς εὗρον αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ καθεζόμενον ἐν μέσῳ τῶν διδασκάλων καὶ ἀκούοντα αὐτῶν καὶ ἐπερωτῶντα αὐτούς:

And his parents went away every year to Jerusalem on the feast of the Passover. (42) And when he was twelve years, they were making their trip according to custom of the festival. (43) And the days having been completed, in the their returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parent did not know of him. (44) Thinking him to be in the traveling group they went on the road for a day, and they sought him among their relatives and their acquaintances, (45) and not finding him they returned to Jerusalem seeking him. (46) And three days later they found him in the Temple seated in the midst of the teacher and listening to them and asking (questions) of them.

Of course, the first thing a modern-day parent thinks is “OMG! They LEFT him!”, which is followed by the impulse to run out and file charges against Mary and Joseph. Apparently, the parenting frame of mind was a bit more relaxed back then. Or, anyone hearing this would instantly understand that the story is not factually accurate; rather, it’s intended to convey a greater Truth. In a word, it’s a myth. As such, the audience would possibly not have given the way it happened much thought. Of course it’s not factually accurate. Get with the program already!

As an aside, I had the idea that they didn’t notice him missing until three days later. Misremembered that one.

Here we are told that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year. This is certainly not impossible; Nazareth is not that far from Jerusalem. Or again, does Luke even care? Is this of a piece with them not noticing? If he’s writing for pagans in Rome, they aren’t going to have a really clear idea of how long the trip was, whether it was possible, or practicable for the Holy Family to make the trip. Once again, that was simply not the point. The point is to show that Jesus was not just a country bumpkin, that he was connected in a real way to the centre of Jewish life. In fact, much of this chapter seems to be devoted to this theme. 

41 Et ibant parentes eius per omnes annos in Ierusalem in die festo Paschae.

42 Et cum factus esset annorum duodecim, ascendentibus illis secundum consuetudinem diei festi,

43 consummatisque diebus, cum redirent, remansit puer Iesus in Ierusalem, et non cognoverunt parentes eius.

44 Existimantes autem illum esse in comitatu, venerunt iter diei et requirebant eum inter cognatos et notos;

45 et non invenientes regressi sunt in Ierusalem requirentes eum.

47 ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες οἱ ἀκούοντες αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῇ συνέσει καὶ ταῖς ἀποκρίσεσιν αὐτοῦ.

48 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν ἐξεπλάγησαν, καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡμήτηρ αὐτοῦ, Τέκνον, τί ἐποίησας ἡμῖν οὕτως; ἰδοὺ ὁ πατήρ σου κἀγὼ ὀδυνώμενοι ἐζητοῦμέν σε.  

49 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί ὅτι ἐζητεῖτέ με; οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με;

All were astounded those hearing him in the comprehension of him. (48) And seeing him they were amazed, and said to him his mother, “Son, why did you do thus to us? Look, your father and I were worried sick looking for you”. (49) And he said to them, “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that among my those of my father it is necessary for me to be?”

I have to stop here for a moment. As the father of a seventeen and an eleven-year old, I can so hear the tone of voice Jesus used here. “What? How dense are you two? Jeez, get a clue already.” in the condescension of utter contempt. This is possibly the most human moment in the entire NT. And I broke my rule about literal translation with “worried sick”, but it just fits. And I’m not even sure if people say that any more. It was big, at least on TV, when I was a kid.   

46 Et factum est, post triduum invenerunt illum in templo sedentem in medio doctorum, audientem illos et interrogantem eos;

47 stupebant autem omnes, qui eum audiebant, super prudentia et responsis eius.

48 Et videntes eum admirati sunt, et dixit Mater eius ad illum: “Fili, quid fecisti nobis sic? Ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te”.

49 Et ait ad illos: “Quid est quod me quaerebatis? Nesciebatis quia in his, quae Patris mei sunt, oportet me esse?”.

50 καὶ αὐτοὶ οὐ συνῆκαν τὸ ῥῆμα ὃ ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς.

51 καὶ κατέβη μετ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρέθ, καὶ ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος αὐτοῖς. καὶ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ διετήρει πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.

52 Καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν [ἐν τῇ] σοφίᾳ καὶ ἡλικίᾳ καὶ χάριτι παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις.

And they did not understand the words he spoke to them. (51) And they went down and came to Nazareth and he was subjected to them, and his mother observed all his words in her heart. (52) And Jesus progressed [in] wisdom and age and favour from God and men.

50 Et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum, quod locutus est ad illos.

51 Et descendit cum eis et venit Nazareth et erat subditus illis. Et mater eius conservabat omnia verba in corde suo.

52 Et Iesus proficiebat sapientia et aetate et gratia apud Deum et homines.

Didn’t I say that his parents were dense? I mean, really? They don’t get it? The part they don’t get, of course, is the idea of the “things of my father” (not my father’s house. My father’s business would really work, too). Greek allows one to use just the demonstrative adjective without an actual noun, which the hearer supplies for herself. But it’s the ‘father’ part that they, apparently, don’t get. Again, this is probably not meant to be looked at too closely from an actual literal/practical perspective; it’s all so obviously allegory, or myth, that discussing it as if it were an actual event is really to miss the point. And something about the writing tells me that Luke had this tone in mind, that it was to be understood, as he wrote the words. This is not history. This is not biography. Any attempt to read it as such seriously distorts the message. Mark and Matthew did not have this same sort of tone, but we have to wonder if Luke–and most others–didn’t understand it in that manner? Did Mark and Matthew intend for their words to be taken as a literal description of an actual event? That is a serious judgement call, that should only be made after a really close reading of both texts. As such, it’s beyond me. I suspect that…I’m not actually sure what I expect about the other two evangelists that we’ve read. They definitely had a tone much more in ernest than Luke has, but I can’t say that means they expected to be taken literally.

The other possibility is that Luke expected his audience to be slightly more sophisticated, and slightly more literary than the people Mark and Matthew were addressing. This would allow Luke a bit more latitude in how he approached his subject. Not ironically, but with sort of a tacit understanding that, ‘yes, this is a myth. Don’t take it literally. Don’t pay attention to the actual details and setting. They aren’t the point here.’ The question then becomes whether my assessment of Luke as a novelist is affected by this. The answer is yes and no. When I say Luke is a novelist, I mean that he approaches his subject as a novelist would, and uses techniques that a novelist would: the Annunciation, the birth, the Circumcision, the episode here, all of them create a more fully human  character, especially in the case of Mary. But at the same time, he expects his audience to understand that these are just that, techniques, rather than the telling of a real event. In that, Luke would more accurately be said to be writing allegory, or maybe fables.

That isn’t said to raise eyebrows, but to drive home the point–much too frequently forgotten–that the gospels are not even biography, let alone history. As for the former, Plutarch is rightly famous for his lives; they are perhaps what a movie would call “based on a true story”. They are factual to a point, but there is also a high degree of moral instruction involved. A very high degree. And as I’ve mentioned–no doubt countless times–even the supposedly “scientific” historian Thucydides selected his material to convey a certain moral lesson; it is only by telling Truth that one can create a “possession for all time” as he describes his purpose. And I’ve been re-reading Tacitus’ Annales; for someone who claims to write “without flattery or anger”, he sure manages to do a hatchet job on Tiberius. Thus, given that even methodical historians had a different approach to facts than we do, trying to read the gospels as reliably factual is just missing the point. Luke had no illusions about what he was doing, and I would guess that he expected his audience to take much the same approach and share much the same attitude.

Luke Chapter 2:21-38

Again we have another long section. This time, it’s the adventures of the Holy Family in Jerusalem. This episode is completely unique to Luke. None of the material here appears anywhere else in any form. So it must–simply must!–have been part of the oral tradition, so for sure this can be traced back to the time of Jesus! IOW, this is all another way of saying, it’s stuff that “they say”, and we all know how that works. Honestly, given that Luke adds this after coming up with the backstory of John, the Annunciation, and reworking the birth narrative, and that he will add a number of stories like the Prodigal Son, and provide the only account of the Ascension, which is the only explanation of what happened to Jesus after he was raised from the dead, doesn’t it make sense to conclude that Luke created all of these stories? I’m not a textual analyst, I haven’t much expertise in examining word usage and such and determining thereby whether different pieces are the work of the same author. But it is much more economical, and much simpler–which makes it much more likely–to assume that Luke wrote them all.

The appeal of ascribing thing to the oral tradition is that, by squinting really hard and sticking ones’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “la-la-la, I can’t hear you”, one can fool oneself that there is some possibility that these stories trace back to Jesus, or at least his time. But think about the implications of having these stories come from different sources. Does that really help the case? Think about how adamantly scholars cling to Q; part of the reason they do so because they understand that having one source increases the likelihood of an uninterrupted line of transmission. Multiple sources telling different stories likely indicate that different people were making up different stories, which increases the likelihood that some of them are just that: made up. And no doubt people did make up stories, things that, if they weren’t true, they should have been; this is called a myth in the real sense of that word. The situation changed dramatically when the evangelists started writing the stories down, thereby helping to set a reasonably cohesive, if not terribly internally consistent set of beliefs. None of this really proves that Luke is actually the author of all this new material, but let’s keep going back to motivation. Why does someone sit down to write a new gospel? Because he or she believes he or she has something to say. As it turns out, the author of Luke had a lot to say. The author of John did, too.

In any case, these sections seem to go by pretty quickly. They are really difficult to break into pieces, but that means that truly microscopic analysis isn’t often required. This is more like gross anatomy than molecular biology.

21 Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ τοῦ περιτεμεῖν αὐτόν, καὶ ἐκλήθη τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦς, τὸ κληθὲν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀγγέλου πρὸ τοῦ συλλημφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ.

22 Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωϋσέως, ἀνήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα παραστῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ,

23 καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν νόμῳ κυρίου ὅτι Πᾶν ἄρσεν διανοῖγον μήτραν ἅγιον τῷ κυρίῳ κληθήσεται,

24 καὶ τοῦ δοῦναι θυσίαν κατὰ τὸ εἰρημένον ἐν τῷ νόμῳ κυρίου, ζεῦγος τρυγόνων ἢ δύο νοσσοὺς περιστερῶν.

And then the eighth day of cutting around (basically an exact translation, Latin form = circumcision) and they called his name Jesus, the name from the messenger before the conception in the womb. (22) And then days of purification according to the law of Moses having been fulfilled, they carried him (Jesus) to Jerusalem to be stood before/beside the lord. (23) according as it was written in the law of the lord that “All male children opening the womb (i.e., the firstborn being a son) will be called holy by the lord, (24) and the one giving sacrifice according to the thing that has been said in the law of the lord, a yoke of turtledoves or two young doves.

Not being an ornithologist (I converted), I won’t pretend to know the difference between two turtledoves and two young doves. Apparently, they are of approximate value. And these are the sort of things that were sold in the Temple itself, so it would have been things like this that Jesus upset when he (allegedly) cleansed the Temple.

Firstborn children that are males are the best. That’s the lesson that we have from part of this. The bit about “opening” the womb is a bit poetic, indicating the desirability of numerous children. OK, the womb’s open! Come on down! sort of thing. Also in here is the idea of purification of the mother; the whole menstrual/childbirth thing was really sort of mysterious and frightening and was decidedly not something that men back then wanted to deal with. I suspect that there is some connexion to the idea of the circumcision taking place eight days later. Many of these sorts of religious traditions do have some basis in medical practice; sheer trial and error may have told the Jews to wait eight days for whatever reasons. I really don’t know, never having had male children, the issue never came up for me.

Perhaps the most interesting, and uncommented aspect of this is that the family’s connexion to Jerusalem is much stronger here in Luke than it was even in Matthew. In both the latter and Mark, the trip to Jerusalem that resulted in Jesus’ death is the only time we are told he went to Jerusalem. But here we have him going as a babe, and then we will get a second when he is twelve; that one is coming up shortly. And in John, Jesus travels to Jerusalem at least twice, and I believe more often. After all, in John he cleanses the Temple twice. Jerusalem, of course, was the centre of the Jewish cult, and, indeed, the Jewish world. Jesus, in the eyes of pagan converts came to be seen as superseding (that is spelled correctly) the Temple authorities, especially as they faded from memory in the second and third decade after its destruction. As such, we get Luke and later John putting Jesus in Jerusalem more frequently in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the successor of the Temple authorities in the eyes of what we can now call Christians. These are the sorts of  progressions that are not discussed overmuch in the Q debates. The situation has changed decidedly from the world of Mark, and even from the world of Matthew; Luke is telling us this. Jesus is not a marginalised Jew stuck in the hinterlands of Galilee, but someone who is at home in the very focus of Jewish life. This will be made even more clear in the next section, or the one after that.

We assume that the Jesus of Mark and Matthew was circumcised; it was, rather a sine qua non for Jewish males. We just aren’t told if it was done in Jerusalem. Nor do I know whether it was done outside the Temple; it must have been. Many Jews live more than an eight-day journey from the Temple, so many Jews were simply unable to make that trip. But what about Jews living in Galilee? Did one bundle up a newborn and schlep him to Jerusalem? I don’t know. One thing about the birth story is that Bethlehem is closer to Jerusalem than Caphernaum is; the trip would have been much more practicable. So this trip to Jerusalem is another way in which Luke builds on Matthew. The latter put Jesus’ birth in the hometown of David, the founder of the state of Judah, even if he did not found Israel. Luke continues that tradition, keeping Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and then amplifies it by adding the extra trips to Jerusalem to indicate how integrated Jesus was into the whole of Jewish cult and life. So again, it seems that Luke does follow Matthew, implicitly if not explicitly. And the latest connexion is the use of Herod the Great as a terminus post quem. 

21 Et postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur, vocatum est nomen eius Iesus, quod vocatum est ab angelo, priusquam in utero conciperetur.

22 Et postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis eorum secundum legem Moysis, tulerunt illum in Hierosolymam, ut sisterent Domino,

23 sicut scriptum est in lege Domini: “ Omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam sanctum Domino vocabitur ”,

24 et ut darent hostiam secundum quod dictum est in lege Domini: par turturum aut duos pullos columbarum.

25 Καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος ἦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ ᾧ ὄνομα Συμεών, καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος δίκαιος καὶ εὐλαβής, προσδεχόμενος παράκλησιν τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, καὶ πνεῦμα ἦν ἅγιον ἐπ’ αὐτόν:

26 καὶ ἦν αὐτῷ κεχρηματισμένον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου μὴ ἰδεῖν θάνατον πρὶν [ἢ] ἂν ἴδῃ τὸν Χριστὸν κυρίου.

27 καὶ ἦλθεν ἐν τῷ πνεύματι εἰς τὸ ἱερόν: καὶ ἐν τῷ εἰσαγαγεῖν τοὺς γονεῖς τὸ παιδίον Ἰησοῦν τοῦ ποιῆσαι αὐτοὺς κατὰ τὸ εἰθισμένον τοῦ νόμου περὶ αὐτοῦ

28 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδέξατο αὐτὸ εἰς τὰς ἀγκάλας καὶ εὐλόγησεν τὸν θεὸν καὶ εἶπεν,

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem by the name Simeon, and this man was just and holding fast (to his faith; i.e., devout), awaiting the <consolation> of Israel, and the sacred breath was in him. (26) And the was to him an oracular response from the sacred breath that he would not die before he might see the anointed of the lord. (27) And he came in the breath to the Temple, and in the to have come in the parents of the child Jesus of the making according to the custom of the law about him (Jesus), and he (Simeon) saw him (Jesus) in the arms (of the parents) and (Simeon) praised God and said:

[ Here is a more readable translation of the last verse: (27) And he came into the Temple in the spirit, and Simeon saw Jesus in the arms of his parents as they entered (the Temple) to fulfill the custom of the Law regarding their firstborn son. Then Simeon praised God and said, ... ]

We are going to freeze frame leaving Simeon with his mouth open and ready to praise God. What follows is the second famous prayer from the early pages of Luke, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

There are several things to note here. First, let me mention that Verse 26 provides a bit of a challenge to my insistance on rendering the phrase “sacred breath”. The idea hear is that it was revealed to Simeon via an inspiration (breathing into) of the sacred breath that he would not die before seeing the anointed. The translation “oracular response” is how the word was used in Classical Greek. My crib translations use “revealed”, for which the Greek is “apocalypsos”; as such, I think that puts the wrong shade on the idea, but this may just be me being pedantic. It wasn’t a revelation so much as an inspiration; however, one can certainly argue that this is a distinction without a difference. To that I would say that the concept of the Holy Spirit revealing to him is rather different from my idea of Simeon being inspired via the sacred breath being breathed into him. It’s a subtle difference, IMO. Regardless, I have written what I have written. This insistence on my part may become a bit more problematic when we see Simeon entering the Temple “in the breath”. However, this is due more to my too-literal rendering of “en pneumati”; this does, literally, mean “in the breath”, but it could–and probably should–be rendered as “the breath in him”. The participles in Greek are very flexible’; they have to be since there aren’t as many of them in Greek as there are in English, and getting them correct can be one of the bigger challenges in getting the meaning of a segment of text. It requires being flexible, in trying out several possible meanings before settling on the one felt to be “best”. 

And–spoiler alert!–this is not the only old, wise Jew who understands the ways of the lord. I think I will leave my comment on this until after the second encounter with which this section closes.

25 Et ecce homo erat in Ierusalem, cui nomen Simeon, et homo iste iustus et timoratus, exspectans consolationem Israel, et Spiritus Sanctus erat super eum;

26 et responsum acceperat ab Spiritu Sancto non visurum se mortem nisi prius videret Christum Domini.

27 Et venit in Spiritu in templum. Et cum inducerent puerum Iesum parentes eius, ut facerent secundum consuetudinem legis pro eo,

28 et ipse accepit eum in ulnas suas et benedixit Deum et dixit:

29 Νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ:

30 ὅτι εἶδον οἱ ὀφθαλμοί μου τὸ σωτήριόν σου

31 ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν,

32 φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ.

33 καὶ ἦν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ θαυμάζοντες ἐπὶ τοῖς λαλουμένοις περὶ αὐτοῦ.

34 καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτοὺς Συμεὼν καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς Μαριὰμ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ, Ἰδοὺ οὗτος κεῖται εἰς πτῶσιν καὶ ἀνάστασιν πολλῶν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ εἰς σημεῖον ἀντιλεγόμενον

35 {καὶ σοῦ [δὲ] αὐτῆς τὴν ψυχὴν διελεύσεται ῥομφαία}, ὅπως ἂν ἀποκαλυφθῶσιν ἐκ πολλῶν καρδιῶν διαλογισμοί.

“Now you dismiss your slave in peace, Master, according to your writings; (30) that my eyes have seen your salvation, (31) which you have made ready before the faces of all the people, (32) a light to reveal to the nations and show your people Israel”. (33) And there was his (Jesus) father and his mother marveling upon the things having been spoken about him (Jesus). (34) And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold he is ordained to the fall and the standing up of many in Israel and to be a sign having been contradicted (35)  {and your soul a sword will pass through} as how the considerations may have been revealed from the hearts of many.” 

Note that the part about the sword is not in all the textual traditions. That means it may not have been included in the original text as written by the author. Based on my rather poor understanding of the grammar, it is my considered opinion that this is an interpolation that was added later. The syntax gave me some problems, and it wasn’t until I disregarded the {bracketed} insertion that it unravelled in a comprehensible manner. However, this observation is not something that should be given very much credence. I’m not expert enough to have an opinion that is worth heeding. That being said, I also think that the sense of the passage works better without the insertion. This is a prophecy about the people of Israel and the peoples of the world–the non-Jews. As such, I don’t think that something so personal about Mary is really appropriate for the context and the general sense of the passage. But again, this is the sort of textual criticism about which the opinions of the Q people would be more valueable than mine; this is, after all, the sort of thing that they are trained to do. It’s their area of expertise. 

Back to the main thread, this prayer of Simeon is the Nunc Dimittis. If you glance down at the Latin below, you will see that these are the first two words of Verse 29. The literal meaning of this, and the Greek, is “now you dismiss”. It is an indicative, not an imperative, so it’s not “now dismiss”. This, like the Magnificat, is a prayer that has been recited and sung and chanted for two millennia; I personally have heard it sung countless times in the eight years since my oldest daughter joined the church choir. Given that both of these prayers have lodged so firmly in the mind of the subsequent church, does this make it more, or less, likely that the same hand composed them both?

As for the content of the prayer, I don’t think a lot of comment is required. The promise of YHWH has been fulfilled and that fulfillment is Jesus. Now, the thing is, I’m not entirely sure when or where that promise was made, nor exactly what the promise entailed, but that’s largely because I’m not versed enough in the HS. Or is it? One thing that I’ve been noticing is that not infrequently when the “scriptures are fulfilled”, there is no specific cite involved. And a lot of the cites that are there refer to very late prophets like Malachi. The implication of this is that whatever messianic expectations actually existed, they did not run all that deeply into Jewish tradition. Rather, a good deal of this probably arose with the coming of the Seleucids, especially the later Seleucids. We are told, frequently, of the “messianic fervor” of the times in which Jesus lived, but I’m not all that sure that Josephus really bears this out. In particular, the period covered by the reign of Tiberius seemed to be fairly quiescent. There were disturbances after the death of Herod the great, but that was, presumably, before Jesus was born. Then came the problem with Caligula, but that was, traditionally, some years after Jesus was already dead. For the period in between, Josephus doesn’t describe much more than garden-variety restiveness. The Jews had not been subject to the Romans all that long; people alive when Jesus was alive would have had parents, or certainly grandparent who remembered the time before the coming of Pompeius Magnus in the 60s BCE, so they had yet to settle into the reality of being occupied–which they did after the bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE. But this is a bit off-the-cuff; I really need to read Josephus again to make sure that I’m correct–or more likely to be correct than to be wrong–about this.

The “salvation” that Simeon has seen is also interesting. As we have seen, this word often means the saving of one’s corporeal life, rather than salvation in later, standard Christian usage. What does it mean here? That is hard to pin down, I think. But it is probably closer to our understanding of the word than it is to “saving one’s life”. That’s how it feels to me.

The last point I want to mention concerns the interpolation. The word used is “psyche”; Mary’s psyche will be pierced by a sword. If you will recall, the word sort of vacillates between “soul” and “life”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is intended. In this case, I have rendered it as “soul”, which agrees with all four of my crib translations. I tried to use “life”, but it just doesn’t work. The Latin is “anima”, which became the standard word for “soul” in Western Christianity; in English, of course, our word “soul” is derived from German, “seele”. But if you think about it, “soul”, in the later, standard, Christian sense doesn’t really fit here, either. In English, we would say something more on the lines of “your heart will be pierced”, referring to the seat of the emotions rather than the immortal soul that will go to Heaven or Hell. So here we get a fairly subtle use of the word “psyche” by Luke, a usage that conveys the ambiguity in the Greek term. This comes hard on the heels of the ambiguous “psyche”, so Luke seems to have a native speaker’s comfort with multiple senses of a single word. Luke’s Greek is, by far, the most sophisticated that we have encountered. 

29 “Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, / secundum verbum tuum in pace,

30 quia viderunt oculi mei / salutare tuum,

31 quod parasti / ante faciem omnium populorum,

32 lumen ad revelationem gentium / et gloriam plebis tuae Israel”.

33 Et erat pater eius et mater mirantes super his, quae dicebantur de illo.

34 Et benedixit illis Simeon et dixit ad Mariam matrem eius: “ Ecce positus est hic in ruinam et resurrectionem multorum in Israel et in signum, cui contradicetur

35 — et tuam ipsius animam pertransiet gladius — ut revelentur ex multis cordibus cogitationes”.

36 Καὶ ἦν Αννα προφῆτις, θυγάτηρ Φανουήλ, ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσήρ: αὕτη προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ἡμέραις πολλαῖς, ζήσασα μετὰ ἀνδρὸς ἔτη ἑπτὰ ἀπὸ τῆς παρθενίας αὐτῆς,

37 καὶ αὐτὴ χήρα ἕως ἐτῶν ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων, ἣ οὐκ ἀφίστατο τοῦ ἱεροῦ νηστείαις καὶ δεήσεσιν λατρεύουσα νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν.

38 καὶ αὐτῇ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐπιστᾶσα ἀνθωμολογεῖτο τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐλάλει περὶ αὐτοῦ πᾶσιν τοῖς προσδεχομένοις λύτρωσιν Ἰερουσαλήμ.

And there was a prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. She had proceeded in many days (was older), living with her husband seven years after her being a virgin. (37) And she was a widow of eighty-four years, who did not leave the Temple, fasting and praying and worshipping night and day. (38) And at the hour having stood upon, she praised God and spoke about him to all those waiting of the redemption of Israel.  

There is quite a bit of stuff packed into three fairly short verses. First note that we get her lineage, which is a bit rare where women are concerned. In some ways, that Luke tells us this is more remarkable than that she is a prophetess. [Note: I’m a bit on the fence with the -ess endings, like “actress”. But in gender-specific languages, which is most of the Indo-European languages except English, it really is appropriate since the words have gender-specific endings.] Then he tells us about her marriage and subsequent long widowhood. We didn’t get anything like either of these details about Simeon; so why her? Part of it, of course, is that Luke has been interested in filling in the backstories of his characters, so we get that here. It’s part of the novelist’s impulse.

But here is the real significance. One of the “arguments” used by Q people to “prove” that Luke hadn’t read Matthew is the absence of the Magoi in Luke. The latter, we are assured, is very Gentile-friendly, so of course he would never, ever, possibly leave out the recognition of Jesus by the Gentile Magoi. So, there you go, iron-clad, smoking-gun proof. Or not. The thing is, the addition of Simeon and Anna sort of take the place of the Magoi. No, they aren’t pagans the way the astrologers were; they are both Jews. But once again, Luke has mimicked Matthew, thereby reinforcing Matthew’s account without repeating it. Luke throughout has reinforced what Matthew has said by using the same themes–Joseph, angels, Bethlehem, virgin–but in a complementary fashion. He follows Matthew’s lead, but doesn’t just parrot what he finds. He fills it out, provides sort of an alternative version that does not contradict Matthew in any significant way (we have one of those coming up, however). So here. Simeon and Anna replicate the role of the Magoi while providing a distinct take on the theme. And that they are Jews, I think, is important. Think ahead to the the Road to Emmaus story, where Jesus is discussing the HS, describing the passages that foretell the coming of the anointed; it would really be nice to have the cites, but, alas, it’s not to be. As mentioned earlier, the cites don’t come all that often. So here, too, Luke is tying Jesus more securely into the Jewish tradition. He did the same with the story of the Visitation, setting Mary into a kinship relationship with a priest of the Temple. It may be that, by the time of Luke, the ties to Judaism had been weakened considerably, so Luke found it necessary, or at least expedient, to re-establish these connexions to fix Jesus more firmly into that ancient tradition. So here, two aged individuals, both wise, one a prophetess no less, see Jesus and recognize him for what he is: the ransom of Israel

Which is the last point: we get that word again. As a reminder, the base meaning is ransom, the fee paid to free someone captured by enemies, or bandits, or kidnappers. It has become blandly ‘redemption’, but the soteriological connotations have overborne the more practical ones, so that we forget the actual meaning. Jesus, essentially, got us out of hock by paying back the loan, thereby redeeming the pawn ticket given to…God…by…the Devil? Yes, the concept causes some problems.

36 Et erat Anna prophetissa, filia Phanuel, de tribu Aser. Haec processerat in diebus multis et vixerat cum viro annis septem a virginitate sua;

37 et haec vidua usque ad annos octoginta quattuor, quae non discedebat de templo, ieiuniis et obsecrationibus serviens nocte ac die.

38 Et haec ipsa hora superveniens confitebatur Deo et loquebatur de illo omnibus, qui exspectabant redemptionem Ierusalem.

Luke, Matthew, and Q: addendum to Summary Luke Chapter 1

In going back over the opening verses of Luke, something struck me that I hadn’t noticed the first time around. At the very beginning of Chapter 1, in Verse 5, which initiates the story after the introduction to Theophilos,, Luke places the story of Zacharias in historical context. “In the days of Herod, king of Judea” is how he starts. Later, of course, we are told that Jesus’ birth occurred when Quirinius was governor of Syria. It has been noted that these two events, the days of King Herod and the days of Quirinius did not overlap. King Herod died in what we would deem 4 BCE, and Quirinius became governor of Syria in 6 CE. More, we apparently know that a census of Judea was taken in the years 6/7 CE.

My point is this: given the ten-year gap between Herod and Quirinius, it is hard to reconcile the chronology of the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. Elisabeth is pregnant when Mary goes to visit. Given the flow of the story, we are led to assume that this pregnancy occurred not too long after Zacharias had his encounter with the angel. And we know that Mary was told of her coming pregnancy before she went to visit Elisabeth, the implication being that Mary’s pregnancy occurred with only a relatively short interval between the Annunciation and the conception. So we have the sense that Zacharias encountered the messenger of the lord in the days of Herod, that soon after Elisabeth conceived, that Mary got annunciated (that’s actually a word?) and then conceived, John was born and Jesus was born all in the period of perhaps two years. We are not given that time frame; there is nothing in the narrative to indicate how much time passed in between events, except we know that that something less than nine months elapsed between Mary’s visit and John’s birth because that is human physiology. We are not told, but nowhere do we get the sense that some ten years elapsed between Zacharias’ encounter and the announcement of the census. Yet, this is what would be necessary for the chronology to work, wherein Zacharias was told of his wife’s impending conception in the days of Herod and the birth of Jesus in the census of 6-7 CE.

It is also worth noting that we are told it was in the days of King Herod. This is important because, although there was a succession of Herods, and sometimes more than one at a time, the last King Herod was Herod the Great, who died in 4 BCE. The others bore the title of ethnarch, or tetrarch, or something such. I just wanted to make that very clear, since Jesus was sent to see Herod Antipater. He was, IIRC, a son or grandson of King Herod, but Antipater was a tetrarch, one of four men among whom what had once been King Herod’s kingdom was divided.

Why is this important? Because I believe it very clearly indicates that Luke read Matthew’s version of the birth narrative. It’s entirely possible that Luke was simply confused on dates for King Herod. Now, I’ve heard it said that Luke is concerned with moving the center of gravity of the Christian world to Rome, which is why he ends with Paul heading to Rome as a prisoner. More, he is, and has been considered a pagan, and I would suggest he’s writing primarily for pagans; as such, why bother with trying to set this in the time of a Jewish king who’d been dead for close to a hundred years? Yes, there are reasons why he might have done this; I just can’t think of any that really compelling. Yes, it could be a sop to Jewish sensibility, an attempt to be exotic, or something such. But really, it’s such a throwaway line, right at the beginning of the story, before the reader is even fully engaged. We have the references to Jerusalem coming up which should, or at least could, satisfy that by stressing the connexions of Jesus to Judaism and all of that.

To my mind, the best reason to include this is because it’s in Matthew. In this way, Luke creates another connexion between him and Matthew. This is important for Luke, I think, because Luke realizes that he’s telling a completely different birth story than what Matthew told. So to assuage the concerns of those in the audience familiar with Matthew, Luke plants these little hooks throughout his own narrative, all of them designed to feel familiar, to make his very different narrative feel familiar to those who had heard Matthew’s version. So Luke starts us off with Herod, the Herod that had played such a prominent role in Matthew. Then Luke adds the angels coming and going and announcing miraculous births, and keeps the action in Bethlehem, throws in Joseph for good measure, all capped off with the virgin birth.

Herod provides one more link between the two evangelists. Based on the list just given, we’re up to almost half-a-dozen such links. That seems like a pretty good chain of ideas. It’s way too many to be coincidence. And this deliberate skirting of Matthew’s narrative, all the while simultaneously making sure that there are echoes of Matthew throughout may show itself again, later in the gospel.

Luke Chapter 2:1-20

Here we begin Chapter 2. There is a lot of text here; it’s the entire Nativity story. I tried finding a place to break it, but that destroyed the continuity too much, so I left it intact. But, because it’s so familiar, there may not be much to say about it. Or, the comment will come on chunks at a time, as it did with much of Chapter 1.

1Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.

αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου.

3 καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν.

4 Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ,

5 ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ.

It occurred in those days there came a thing having been written from Caesar Augustus that all the inhabited world to be recorded. (2) This first thing having been written came in the governorship of Syria of Quirinius. (3) And everyone went out to be recorded, each to his own city. (4) And Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David which was called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and lineage of David, (5) to be recorded with Mariam, to whom he was married, she being pregnant.

This section is sort of a ‘fun facts to know and tell’ sort of thing. First, there was a Quirinius, and he was governor of Syria. The problem, as most everyone knows, is that his governorship did not overlap with the reign of Herod the Great. The latter died in 4 BCE, and Quirinius didn’t become governor until several years after that. So, right off the bat we have Matthew and Luke giving conflicting evidence. How can this be? Doesn’t this indicate that Luke didn’t use Matthew, since the former got this wrong? This one is actually pretty easy to explain. Assuming that Matthew wrote in the East, he would be more likely to be aware of Herod’s reign; Luke, OTOH, was probably writing in Rome, where Herod was a nonentity, so using a Roman official would be more meaningful to a western audience. Bottom line is that there was no general consensus on when Jesus was born; from the distance of seventy years, the discrepancy in dates between the two gospels would scarcely have been noticed.

The second point is that the idea of having people return to their home cities for a census count is preposterous. It’s even more preposterous to have them return to the home of an ancestor dead for nearly a millennium. The disruption to commerce and life would have been much too great, and would have served so little purpose as to make the idea of commanding such a thing seem nonsensical. The Romans took a census for the tax records; there is no reason to have people wandering hither and thither when they could be taxed just as–or more–efficiently and effectively where they were living when the census was announced. So, just as Matthew comes up with a gross fabrication with the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents, so Luke comes up with his own whopper of having everyone returning to their home town to get registered. And note that the text seems to indicate that Joseph was born in Bethlehem, not that he was going there because his long-ago ancestor had hailed from Bethlehem, which is how I had always heard it presented. The point of all of this is to drive home that Joseph, and so Jesus, was of the house of David. More on that later.

The most important things in these five verses, however, are: Joseph, Bethlehem, and Mary being pregnant. Those are all from Matthew. Jesus’ father is not named in Mark. Nor does Mark say anything about Bethlehem. And notice how Mary is pregnant here, at the outset of the story, just as she was in Matthew. And both Joseph and Bethlehem, like the conception by a virgin, only occur in Matthew and Luke, and only in conjunction with the Nativity story, and only in the first few chapters of these two gospels, and none of this is said to be in Q. So where did Luke get all of this? None of it is in the larger tradition, it occurs nowhere else, and yet we are to believe that Luke got this from…where, exactly? The ambient air? That is pretty much what the Q people would argue, that it was from the amorphous, undefined, and undefinable “oral tradition”. Now, it is completely possible that it was part of the oral tradition. But which one? Which one carried it from Antioch, where Matthew supposedly wrote, to Rome, where Luke supposedly wrote. Yes, it could happen, but it requires a chain of events that is complex, even if it’s not impossible. The much, very much simpler explanation is that Luke got these things from Matthew. One of the big (ahem) “arguments” against Luke using Matthew is that Luke is totally unaware of Matthew’s additions to Mark. Well, that’s convenient. The stuff that Matthew adds to Mark that Luke also adds is ascribed to Q.  And things like the themes we have here are simply ignored in the debate about Q; instead, we get blather about the placement of Mark’s pericopae, which is doubly ridiculous. First and foremost, it ignore chunks of text, and secondly it completely ignores the actual historical development of the legend. This latter aspect is what we see here in the birth narrative: Luke embellishing Matthew’s bare-bones account of the birth of Jesus.

1 Factum est autem, in diebus il lis exiit edictum a Caesare Au gusto, ut describeretur universus orbis.

2 Haec descriptio prima facta est praeside Syriae Quirino.

3 Et ibant omnes, ut profiterentur, singuli in suam civitatem.

4 Ascendit autem et Ioseph a Galilaea de civitate Nazareth in Iudaeam in civitatem David, quae vocatur Bethlehem, eo quod esset de domo et familia David,

5 ut profiteretur cum Maria desponsata sibi, uxore praegnante.

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν,

καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον: καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι.

It became in their being there the days were fulfilled of her giving birth, (7) and she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she swaddled him and laid him in a manger because there was not for them a place in the lodging.

It has always struck me as odd that Luke sort of tosses this off, that Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger (French, manger, to eat; took me the longest time to figure that out. And then there’s the Italian mangia, mangia!) because there was no room in the inn. Maybe it’s too many years of Christmas pageants, watching the hard-hearted innkeepers sternly telling the couple NO! and turning them away. Really, this detail is so off-hand that it’s tempting to see it as an interpolation. But, it is repeated in the narrative shortly ahead, and is obviously integral to the story. So it seems it’s not the manger that the problem, but the explanation for it that is glossed over. For the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly why this would be.

And note that “swaddled” is a verb here. She swaddled him, she did not wrap him in swaddling clothes.

6 Factum est autem, cum essent ibi, impleti sunt dies, ut pareret,

7 et peperit filium suum primogenitum; et pannis eum involvit et reclinavit eum in praesepio, quia non erat eis locus in deversorio.

8 Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν.

καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν.

10 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ,

11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ:

12 καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ.

13 καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων,

14 Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

And shepherds were in that area abiding in the fields and guarding the night guard on their flock. (9) And the messenger of the lord stood upon them and the glory of the lord shone around them and they feared a great fear. (10) And said to them the messenger, “Do not fear, for behold, I announce good news to you a great joy which is to all the people. (11) And this day to you the saviour, who is the anointed one, the lord in the city of David. (12) And this is to you a sign, you will find a newborn having been swaddled and laid in a manger.” (13) And suddenly there was with the messenger a full army of the sky praising God, saying (14) “Glory in the highest (reaches, places) to God and upon earth peace to good-willed people”.

First, it is my great sorrow that I was not able to post this on Christmas Eve. in 2014 I posted Linus reciting the scene from the KJV, complete with “sore afraid”; it would have been nice to have done the same with this section. 

Unfortunately, from Linus we have to get a little dirt under our fingernails with the Greek. As above, the babe has been swaddled; not wrapped in swaddling clothes. And “I announce good news” is a single word, a verb. “Stood upon”, of course, is overly literal. But the aspect of standing, I think, matters to our image of this scene. The Greek says that the messenger, essentially, was standing on the ground, rather than floating in the air as is usually depicted. And the heavenly host, the “army of the sky” because we forget that “host” means army, is not necessarily in the sky, either. They could have been standing with the first, which is, more or less, what the Greek says. But there’s literal and then there’s poetic, so do with this what you will. After all, what Linus did for this scene far transcends any literal reading of this text. And it’s not “glory to God in the highest”, which means that “highest” modifies God; it does not. “Highest” is plural, so it can’t modify God. Hence I added the reaches/places, which is totally an interpretation on my part, but we have to assume a plural noun in there, because there simply is not one in the text. Nor is there one in Latin. So we’ve been making assumptions about this for going on six hundred years. Finally, good-willed “people” vs. “men”. The Greek is ‘anthropos’, which in a technical sense means “man”. But it doesn’t mean a man; for example, when the husband is referred to as the wife’s man, the word used is ‘aner/andros’, and at least almost never ‘anthropos’. This is the “man” when we talk about “man is a rational animal”. So there is a sense of “human, not necessarily gender-specific” in there. And “good-willed” is an adjective. And second finally, the word I rendered as “new born” is the same word, “brephos”, used to describe the foetus in Elisabeth’s womb. It generally means “baby in utero”, but it can mean “new born” (or “newborn”) as well.

Oops, almost forgot; there is a third “finally”. The “great joy to the people” uses a certain word for “people”. At root, it’s “men”, usually specifically soldiers. But it also means “a people”, as in an ethnic or linguistic division. For example, the Dorian People, meaning the Greeks who spoke the Dorian–as opposed to the Aeolian or Ionian–dialect of Greek. The Spartans were Dorians. So this is not a generic word for “everybody”; it really says “all of the people”. This would/could be thought of as the people of Israel, for example

To get off the grammar for a moment, I’ve heard it said that shepherd would not be out with their flock in December. I don’t know that, but there is no hint of the time of year aside from that. If it’s true, then here’s another bit of proof that December 25 was, indeed, chosen deliberately to supplant the Saturnalia and/or the Feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. Which makes sense. Much of our “Christmas” decor is derived from pagan solstice festivals, much of it Nordic: the evergreen tree, the Yule (log), mistletoe and holly, the lights. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it.

8 Et pastores erant in regione eadem vigilantes et custodientes vigilias noctis supra gregem suum.

9 Et angelus Domini stetit iuxta illos, et claritas Domini circumfulsit illos, et timuerunt timore magno.

10 Et dixit illis angelus: “ Nolite timere; ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum, quod erit omni populo,

11 quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator, qui est Christus Dominus, in civitate David.

12 Et hoc vobis signum: invenietis infantem pannis involutum et positum in praesepio ”.

13 Et subito facta est cum angelo multitudo militiae caelestis laudantium Deum et dicentium:

14 “ Gloria in altissimis Deo, /et super terram pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis ”.

15 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἀπῆλθον ἀπ’ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἱ ἄγγελοι, οἱ ποιμένες ἐλάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Διέλθωμεν δὴ ἕως Βηθλέεμ καὶ ἴδωμεν τὸ ῥῆμα τοῦτο τὸ γεγονὸς ὃ ὁ κύριος ἐγνώρισεν ἡμῖν.

16 καὶ ἦλθαν σπεύσαντες καὶ ἀνεῦραν τήν τε Μαριὰμ καὶ τὸνἸωσὴφ καὶ τὸ βρέφος κείμενον ἐν τῇ φάτνῃ:

17 ἰδόντες δὲ ἐγνώρισαν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ λαληθέντος αὐτοῖς περὶ τοῦ παιδίου τούτου.

18 καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν περὶ τῶν λαληθέντων ὑπὸ τῶν ποιμένων πρὸς αὐτούς:

19 ἡ δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.

20 καὶ ὑπέστρεψαν οἱ ποιμένες δοξάζοντες καὶ αἰνοῦντες τὸν θεὸν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν οἷς ἤκουσαν καὶ εἶδονκαθὼς ἐλαλήθη πρὸς αὐτούς.

And it happened as they went from them to the sky the messengers, the shepherds spoke to each other, “Let us go indeed to Bethlehem and we will see this having become having been said which the lord has made known to us”. (16) And they went hurrying and they found Mary and Joseph and the newborn lying in the manger. (17) Seeing they were made aware about the things having been spoken of the speaking to them about this child. (18) And all those hearing marveled about the things having been said by the shepherds towards them (i.e., those hearing) (19) Mary observed all these things having been said (and) she stored them up in her heart. (20) 

We were talking about whether the angels were on the ground or in the air. Whichever it was, they returned to the sky, which I think is the proper translation for “ouranos” in this instance. Of course, it’s always translated as “heaven”, although with a lower-case ‘h’. Normally in English, the lower-case ‘h’ is plural, ‘the heavens’, which is the neutral synonym for ‘sky’, but it’s difficult to be sure what was on the minds of the translators when they rendered this the way they did. I just think that anything like “Heaven” with pearly gates is rather anachronistic at this point, but I can’t say that with a great deal of certainty. At this point I don’t know whether Luke is a singular heaven guy like Mark, or a plural-heavens guy like Matthew. We shall see. But the question of heaven/sky/Heaven makes the Pater Noster a bit problematic, doesn’t it?

And here is where the manger comes back, for the second time since we first saw it. This repetition makes it really difficult to suggest that the first one was an interpolation. It’s obviously not, but an integral part of the text. So that makes the whole of Verse 7 seem a bit awkward. But there it is.

The most important part of this section, I think, is the bit about Mary. Mark named her; Matthew told us she conceived through the sacred breath, but neither of them really say anything about her. Luke, OTOH, seems to take a real interest in Mary. We’ve already had the Annunciation, her visit to Elisabeth, the Magnificat, and now in this section the actual giving birth, swaddling Jesus, culminating with this bit about storing things in her heart. Joseph, meanwhile, has already faded into the background. It’s interesting to note how his character pretty much failed to develop at all; but then, he only appears–via a cameo mention of his name–in two of the four gospels. John will include at least one more story about Mary, at the wedding feast in Cana; there may be others that escape me at the moment. These sorts of anecdotes are what nudges me to call Luke a novelist; he’s concerned to humanize Mary, or to make her a real person, a mother, a new mother with her firstborn who was a son. It’s been a journey for her and here she is at the culmination with Jesus’ birth. Of course, it’s not the culmination, but she doesn’t know that. But it is the finale of the part of her life when the messenger of the lord suddenly appeared from nowhere to tell her she’s going to conceive through the sacred breath. That’s got to be a bit of a head scratcher; and now it’s happened, and she is taking a moment to reflect. Is that a human thing to do, or what?

So why, the Q people ask, are none of the details of the Nativity story found in Matthew not in Luke? Where are the Magoi? Luke, you see, was very Gentile-friendly, so the recognition of the child by other pagans woulda/shoulda been something that Luke picked up on and ran with. Really? Luke should have? According to whom? See, there’s the problem with the Q “argument”: it depends on the ability to interpret the mind of Luke so we can tell why he did what he did, such as demolishing the “masterful organization” of the Q material found in Matthew. Yes, the stories are different, and there is very little apparent overlap. What most Q people don’t consider often enough, or fully enough, is that Luke was not in the least interested in copying out Matthew. Rather, Luke set out to write a brand-new gospel, one with it’s own points and point-of-view. I’m sure I’ve said that, and no doubt I will say it again because it really bears repeating. You write a new gospel because you’ve got something new to say. There is nothing contradictory in the two accounts, aside from the fact that Herod the Great and the governorship of Quirinius did not overlap in time; however, that’s a factual mistake, and those happen. So if we think of the accounts as complementary, where is the problem? Now, in truth, that’s not a terribly compelling explanation of why the two accounts have almost no details in common; but what is compelling, I think, is that Luke repeats Joseph–who appears nowhere else–the visitations by angels, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

My apologies, that last bit was something of a tangent and a rant. The point is that Luke has an interest in Mary that is not shared elsewhere. It will continune in the next stroy, but it’s something to watch beyond that.

Summary Luke Chapter 1-Update

The very large bulk of this chapter is dedicated to the story of John the Baptist. Or, rather, it’s given over to his rather miraculous origins. As such, calling this the Chapter of John the Baptist is not much of a stretch. Yes, we also have the story of the Annunciation, which became a major event on the Catholic calendar, but that is really sort of shoe-horned in amongst the tale of John’s parents and his parentage. This attention to John should tell us a lot about what the early church thought about Jesus’ precursor.

There have been countless times when I have encountered protestations that the early church was embarrassed by the connexion of Jesus to the Baptist. This chapter should drive a stake through the heart of that idea; indeed, this chapter should have driven that stake centuries ago. Time and again I have pointed out that one does not expand the attention given to a character that is supposed to be an embarrassment. Mark introduces John; there, if one is not paying attention, one could consider John is decidedly a second-, or even third-tier character. He appears, we are told a bit about him, he baptises Jesus, he gets executed. But think about that; given that Mark is not a terribly long gospel, the amount of space given to John is not inconsequential. So, even in Mark, we have the sense that John is someone important. Worse, from the Christian standpoint, is that Jesus seeks out John, and the John is the one performing the ritual baptism on Jesus, putting the Jesus in a decidedly inferior position. This is the source of the embarrassment.

If we accept that early, or proto-Christians found this embarrassing, we should expect that Matthew would take steps to downplay, or even omit entirely, the episode of the baptism. On the contrary, Matthew increases John’s role by giving him dialogue. More, this dialogue is supposedly part of Q, which supposedly means this dialogue was deemed important enough to be included in what is suppose to be a collection of Jesus’ teachings. More, it was included in Christian lore from a very early time in the development of the belief system. So, on one hand, John was embarrassing, but his teaching was included in sayings of Jesus; the two of those don’t quite match, do they? This is, yet another, indication that Q is not to be taken seriously; the definition of what Q is supposed to be changes to fit the circumstances the Q people wish to explain. John’s “brood of vipers” speech is found in Matthew and (spoiler alert!) Luke, but not Mark. Ergo, by definition, it had to have been part of Q or the tidy package of Q’s contents begins to unravel a bit. If there is material in Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark, but it’s not part of Q, then that opens the door to questions about what else in Matthew and Luke but not Mark (M&LbnM) might not be part of Q? And if we start picking out such pieces, the raison d’être for Q starts to come apart.

So, if Q is eliminated–as it should have been a century ago–and yet Matthew gave John dialogue that was not in Mark, then we are faced with the situation where Matthew is focusing even more on a personage about whom he’s supposed to be embarrassed. But wait, there’s more. Luke then follows up with expanding John’s story even more. The result of this expansion is the bulk of this chapter. This enlargement of John’s character fits very nicely into the way that legends grow. A name is remembered–or invented–in the first layer of the story. As time passes, the name attracts stories. I keep going back to the Arthur legend, but it is such a good example of the process. First we get Launcelot. Then Guinevere (or the other way around). Then we get their adulterous affair. Then Launcelot has a bastard son. Then that bastard son is given a name, and eventually Galahad becomes one of the knights who find the Grail. And so on. So, in the early layer, we get John. Matthew kinda sorta gives John some lines, the sort of thing that he thinks John woulda shoulda coulda said. Then Luke comes along and gives John a lineage. And not only is John not swept under the rug, he’s made into a kinsman of Jesus! They are first cousins!

Really, though, what Luke has done is to complete the domestication of John. The embarrassment of John was that Jesus began by seeking him out for baptism, putting Jesus in the subordinate role; it wasn’t John per se. Matthew, rather half-heartedly, attempts to solve the problem by having John demur upon Jesus’ request for baptism, John saying that it is he who should be baptised by Jesus. Very nice, but not enough for Luke. The new interpretation that Luke provides is brilliant, because it both elevates John while subordinating him even further. For when Mary goes to visit, even in utero John recognises that he is in the presence of the divine lord. His mother states that she is truly blessed to be visited by the mother of her lord. Zacharias provides a prophesy that is sort of a greatest hits from the HS, a compilation of prophecies that could be applied to Jesus, but all of them emphasizing John’s role as the precursor and herald of the mightier Jesus. It is Jesus who is the one everyone has been waiting for. John has been sent to make straight Jesus’ path. All of this emphasizes and re-emphasizes that it is John, not Jesus, who plays the subordinate role.

Even so, Luke subordinates John while raising him to nearly divine heights himself. John’s conception is modeled after that of Isaac, and no one with even a cursory knowledge of Hebrew myth would–could–miss this. John is conceived by a barren woman who is past the age of child-bearing, just as Sarah was before Elisabeth. In other words, John was important enough to the cosmic scheme that God himself intervened in order to make sure that John is conceived. And beyond that, he sent a messenger to tell Zacharias, just as the angels came to visit Abram, and his descendant Joseph. All in all, this indicates that John has a most important role to play in the unfolding of the divine plan; the subtle genius of Luke is that, by making John so important, he double-underscores the even greater significance of Jesus. After all, if God went to all this trouble about John, and John is just the herald, then well boy howdy Jesus must really be important. So Luke’s tale provides a double-whammy, kills two birds with one stone, and all those other two-for-one clichés. This is quite an accomplishment.

When discussing the messenger, Gabriel, sent to Zacharias, we mentioned the parallel to Matthew. He, too, had an angel reveal to Joseph the identity and the provenance of the child in Mary’s womb. This messenger returns, this time with a name. This is the first time in the NT that an angel is named. Michael appeared in Daniel, which would be the first canonical naming of an angel. It is interesting to note that 1 Enoch mentions Gabriel and six others; the date of 1 Enoch is the source of much speculation; most often it seems like it’s put in either of the first centuries, whether before or during the Common Era. This makes it possible, or even likely, that Luke got the name from 1 Enoch, if not directly, then indirectly because this angelology was in circulation in the time that Luke was writing. Did Matthew not name his angel because he wasn’t aware of 1 Enoch, or that angels were being given names? That strikes me as a very interesting question, one that could have some bearing on the date of 1 Enoch, pushing it later, rather than earlier. The other aspect of this is where did Matthew and Luke write? If Matthew wrote in Antioch, and Luke wrote in Rome, how is it that Luke (seemingly) knew about Enoch but Matthew didn’t? The point of all of this is that, once again, Luke is expanding on a theme introduced by Matthew. He doesn’t repeat Matthew, but he takes the basic concept, uses it, and enlarges the story.

Along with that, of course, is the idea of the virgin birth. As mentioned, this theme is found only in Matthew and Luke. It wasn’t part of the overall tradition, because it doesn’t show up anywhere else. Nor is it considered part of Q, largely because there is no single point of contact between the two gospels. And yet, there it is, along with the messenger of God and (spoiler alert!) Bethlehem. But we’ll get to that shortly.

It would be remiss not to say something about the Annunciation. Except I have no idea what to say about it. It’s another way that Luke expands on Matthew, although the announcement comes to Mary, and not to Joseph. This may be significant. But enough for now. On to Chapter Two.

Update: A possible explanation for the Annunciation has just occurred to me. Recall that, in Matthew, Joseph was not aware of the conception of Jesus by the sacred breath. The messenger had to come and tell Joseph so that he wouldn’t divorce Mary for carrying the child of another man. This way, that bit of awkwardness is eliminated; we all know going in that Jesus was of divine origin, and so Joseph has no need to contemplate divorce.

Luke Chapter 1:67-80

This is the end of Chapter One. The whole of this section is given over to the prophecy uttered by Zacharias about his son, and the state of the cosmos as a whole. It’s not a section I’m terribly familiar with, but having been raised in the Roman Rite, reading the Bible was not emphasized, and there are chunks of it with which I’m not familiar. With the NT, these are relegated mostly to some of the lesser epistles-James, Peter, Jude & such–and odd corners of the gospels, like this one.

The sections are going fairly quickly. I attribute this to the high level of “literary” content; since there is so much material devoted to the setting the scene, and since the scenes themselves are quite long and are woven tightly into a cohesive unit, there is a great deal of supporting detail that doesn’t really need to be broken out. This section is a good example: it’s the prophecy of Zacharias, all of it following a single theme. As a result, there are not a lot of different aspects requiring comment.

67 Καὶ Ζαχαρίας ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ ἐπροφήτευσεν λέγων,

68 Εὐλογητὸς κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτι ἐπεσκέψατο καὶ ἐποίησεν λύτρωσιν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ,

And Zacharias the father of him was filled with sacred breath and he prophesied, saying

“Blessed is the lord the God of Israel, that visited and made ransom for his people…” 

Have to break in here for a moment. First of all, there are about three words in here that are forms, if not unique, then are very narrowly used by NT authors, Luke being the primary example. Greek is a fluid language that allows for creation and manipulation of the forms of verbs, in particular.

But the real point here is the “ransom”. To begin with, this is one of the variant forms, appearing twice in the NT, once in the LXX, and once by Plutarch, which gives the word validity. Interestingly enough, Plutarch was more or less contemporary with Luke, so the use by the two authors perhaps indicates a) that the word was in general circulation in the late First Century; and b) that perhaps Luke had a literary background and pretensions. The standard form of the word is “lutron”, and is used as such by both Mark and Matthew–and no one else in the NT.

But to the real point is the theology of the word. We are so accustomed to the terms “redemption” and “redeemer”–or “Redeemer” that the underlying concept is a bit lost. It’s the idea of ransom; in the ancient and Mediaeval world, the capture of an enemy of means meant holding him for ransom, a payment of cash, the more noble the captive, the higher the net worth. Hence the term “king’s ransom”. In modern terms, it’s usually the price paid to kidnappers for the release of the victim, but the idea is the same. It also means to redeem a pledge with a pawnbroker; that is, to pay off the fee to get something back from a pawnbroker. In the ancient world it was used as the term for the price paid to free a slave. In all these cases, the underlying concept is the same: a cash payment in exchange for the release of someone or something. So I want to bring that meaning to the forefront instead of using ‘redeemer’, a word so specialized that we don’t even think of it. How many “Holy Redeemer” schools or churches have you encountered in your lifetime? So it’s a case of giving the reader a bit of a jolt by using a non-standard word in translation. We need these jolts; otherwise we get complacent in our “understanding” of the Bible.

But to the theology. The idea of ransom requires that we ask the question: To whom was the ransom paid?” This creates all sorts of sticky theological wickets. Why does a Triple-O God (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent) have to pay anything to anyone? God has to pay off the devil? Or the Devil? Or Satan? That implies that God has to cut a deal and give the devil some tangible benefit so that the devil does something in return. Which means God is not omnipotent, which doesn’t square with the Greek philosophy definition of God; but it does fit very nicely with a polytheistic view of things in which the gods have powers over each other. Zeus, for example, could not simply intervene in the dispute of Demeter/Ceres and Hades/Pluto over the fate of the former’s daughter Persephone, and compel Hades to let her go. There were rules that bound even Zeus, so a ransom was paid for the release of Persephone for at least part of the year.  A God of Israel, who is one tribal god among many, could find himself in a situation where he would have to pay ransom to another, equal god, for the release of the former’s people from some sort of bondage, or predicament. This is just a great insight as to how the idea of God for the writer’s of the NT was markedly different from God as conceived by later Mediaeval theologians who filtered their ideas through the lens of Greek philosophy. The two ideas are not the same.

Finally, as a bit of a side note, let’s not overlook that Zacharias was filled with sacred breath. God, IOW, breathed into Zacharias, a concept perfectly captured by the word “inspire”, which has that exact literal meaning. Not everyone gets filled with this; it’s a rare mark of God’s favour. That God chose Zacharias for such an honour is another red flag to the audience that this is a big deal. And I’ve been holding back on this for most of the chapter, but it needs to be mentioned here, even if we go into it in more detail a bit later. This is a great example of how foolish and how ridiculous it is to claim that the early church, or the prot0-church was embarrassed by Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist. They have it exactly backwards. The early communities, or the communities that came a bit later did everything in their power to expand the role of the Baptist in Jesus’ life.  In each gospel, John has become ever-more important to the story. Mark mentions him; Matthew gives him dialogue; Luke gives him a genealogy. But more on this later.

67 Et Zacharias pater eius impletus est Spiritu Sancto et prophetavit dicens:

68 “Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel, / quia visitavit et fecit redemptionem plebi suae

69 καὶ ἤγειρεν κέρας σωτηρίας ἡμῖν ἐν οἴκῳ Δαυὶδ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,

70 καθὼς ἐλάλησεν διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων ἀπ’ αἰῶνος προφητῶν αὐτοῦ,

71 σωτηρίαν ἐξ ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς πάντων τῶν μισούντων ἡμᾶς:

72 ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν καὶ μνησθῆναι διαθήκης ἁγίας αὐτοῦ,

73 ὅρκον ὃν ὤμοσεν πρὸς Ἀβραὰμ τὸν πατέρα ἡμῶν, τοῦ δοῦναι ἡμῖν

74 ἀφόβως ἐκ χειρὸς ἐχθρῶν ῥυσθέντας λατρεύειν αὐτῷ

75 ἐν ὁσιότητι καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ πάσαις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἡμῶν.

“And he has raised a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, his child, (70) accordingly he has spoken through the mouths of his holy prophets forever, (71) salvation from our enemies and the hand of all hating us. (72) To have made mercy with our fathers, and to be remembered by his holy covenant (73) the oath (subject of the sentence) he swore to Abraham our father, that given to us (74) fearlessly from the hand of enemies having delivered to serve him (75) in holiness and justification before him for all of our days.

FYI, this speech is composed of a number of quotes from a number of books from the HS; there is Genesis, Numbers, Psalms, Malachi and others. By this point someone has been scouring the HS for all the possible places where the HS could possibly have been contorted into being relevant to the arrival of the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Savior. The reference to Abraham is particularly apt here, since Zacharias is, in a sense, a second Abraham, one whom God favoured by giving him a son in his old age, to a wife who was past normal child-bearing years. With all this OT context in mind, note the way “salvation” is used. It’s very literal, referring to one’s physical life on earth. There are no implications of a salvation in the afterlife here, nor should we expect that. One of the really interesting things I’ve seen is how these concepts from the HS are sort of changed via sleight of hand into a slightly different meaning. One that’s the same, but different. We saw this with “redeemer”, and it’s especially evident here with saviour. Another example is “psyche”; while that is not a term nor a concept from the HS, it gradually comes to have a specific meaning that was not necessarily the primary use of the word.

76 Καὶ σὺ δέ, παιδίον, προφήτης ὑψίστου κληθήσῃ, προπορεύσῃ γὰρ ἐνώπιον κυρίου ἑτοιμάσαι ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ,

77 τοῦ δοῦναι γνῶσιν σωτηρίας τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀφέσει ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν,

78 διὰ σπλάγχνα ἐλέους θεοῦ ἡμῶν, ἐν οἷς ἐπισκέψεται ἡμᾶς ἀνατολὴ ἐξ ὕψους,

79 ἐπιφᾶναι τοῖς ἐν σκότει καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου καθημένοις, τοῦ κατευθῦναι τοὺς πόδας ἡμῶν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰρήνης.

80 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις ἕως ἡμέρας ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραήλ.

“And you, child, will be called prophet of the most high, for you will go forward before the lord to prepare his road, (77) the having given knowledge of the salvation of his people in remittance of our sins, (78) through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which will visit us the east (= dawn) from on high, appearing to them sitting in the darkness and shadow of death, of the directing our steps to the road of peace. (80) The child will grow and be strong in the spirit, and the one in the desert until the days showing him to Israel”.

Yes, that says “bowels”. Apparently in Hebrew thought, the bowels were the seat of the tender emotions. That’s what I read, anyway, and I can neither confirm nor deny this. Other than that, this entire prophecy is really just directed to make us understand the divine mission and the divine purpose of John. By building up John like this, who was “merely” the herald of Jesus, Luke is building up Jesus.

See, here’s the thing. Building up Jesus was begun by Matthew. Here, Luke not only follows suit, but he takes it to the next level. Just as Matthew sought to elevate the Jesus described in Mark, so Luke wants to elevate even more the Jesus described by Matthew. And the kicker is that the stuff of Q is not at all about Jesus as divine. Quite the contrary, in fact. So where did Luke get this idea of raising up Jesus? To be fair, we could–and should–ask exactly the same question about Matthew: where did he get it? We can’t answer either one. The Q people would simply say that this all came from the ubiquitous oral tradition, thereby making the question unanswerable. Actually, that’s not accurate. Citing the oral tradition allows one to answer the question howsoever one wishes it to be answered. Whatever answer we provide cannot be authenticated against the oral tradition, so who can say that our answer is wrong? No one. But let’s talk probabilities. Is it more likely, or less, that Luke would have chosen this path of elevating Jesus by elevating the Baptist if he knew that Matthew had already started down that road? I would think it more likely. So again, not even close to smoking gun, but a bump in that direction. We have to count up these little bumps and see where we are at the end.

69 et erexit cornu salutis nobis / in domo David pueri sui,

70 sicut locutus est per os sanctorum, / qui a saeculo sunt, prophetarum eius,

71 salutem ex inimicis nostris / et de manu omnium, qui oderunt nos;

72 ad faciendam misericordiam cum patribus nostris / et memorari testamenti sui sancti,

73 iusiurandum, quod iuravit ad Abraham patrem nostrum, / daturum se nobis,

74 ut sine timore, de manu inimicorum liberati, / serviamus illi

75 in sanctitate et iustitia coram ipso / omnibus diebus nostris.

76 Et tu, puer, propheta Altissimi vocaberis: / praeibis enim ante faciem Domini parare vias eius,

77 ad dandam scientiam salutis plebi eius / in remissionem peccatorum eorum,

78 per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri, / in quibus visitabit nos oriens ex alto,

79 illuminare his, qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent, / ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis”.

80 Puer autem crescebat et confortabatur spiritu et erat in deserto usque in diem ostensionis suae ad Israel.


Luke Chapter 1:57-66

Several times I went back and forth on whether to include the last 13 Verses here, or to make that a separate post. I chose the latter, since two shorter posts are probably better than a single post that is too long.

To set the scene, Mary has just left the home of Elisabeth and Zacharias. Mary went there after being told she would conceive by the sacred breath; apparently that happened prior to the trip, because the baby in Elisabeth’s womb–the future Baptist–leapt inside Elisabeth at Mary’s greeting.

57 Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν.

58 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετ’ αὐτῆς, καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ.

59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον, καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν.

60 καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν, Οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης.

61 καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ.

62 ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό.

To Elisabeth came the time of her giving birth, and she gave birth to a son. (58) And those living about her and her relatives heard that the lord increas(ed)ing his mercy and co-rejoiced with her. (59) And it became on the eighth day to they went to circumcise the boy, and they had called him after the name of his father, Zacharias. (60) And having answered, his mother said, “No, rather call him John.” (61) And the said towards her that “No one from your relatives is so called by that name.” (62) And they made signs to father made signs what he might wish him to be called. 

Let’s stop there. We have a nearly unique event in front of us. “What he might wish” is one of two or three occurrences of this particular verb tense in the entire NT. (I don’t remember exactly how many instances of this tense there are exactly, but it’s not more than three. I believe the actual number is two, but don’t quote me on that.) This tense is the optative. This is not a form found in any of the other Ind0-European languages I’ve studied, but there are numerous ones I haven’t. Essentially, this is an historical subjunctive, so it has the subjunctive element of uncertainty or doubt or unreality, but occurring in the past. This is, to our minds perhaps, a bit odd that there might be uncertainty in the past, and I suspect that this is part of the reason the tense disappeared. I’ve been reading Xenophon’s Anabasis in a fairly desultory fashion, and I can tell you that the optative is a very common occurrence, and Xenophon is not considered one of the more literary of authors. It would seem that perhaps the tense was on its way out by the time the NT was written, 300-400 years after the Anabasis, and perhaps it was especially on the way out among less-than-erudite authors. Although Luke’s Greek seems rather more upscale than even Matthew’s Greek.

Latin does not have an optative tense, nor anything really quite like it. One thing about languages is that, the earlier in its development that it becomes written, and especially a literary language, the more old-fashioned aspects it preserves. The peculiarities of English spelling vs pronunciation have a lot to do with the fact that English has been written continuously for about 600 years–I’m going back approximately to Chaucer. As such, a lot of archaic spellings are trapped in amber, as it were, because the writing has preserved the spelling of the way the word was pronounced back then. “Knight” is a great example. If you hear a version of the Canterbury Tales, you will note that the initial “k” and the interior “gh” are actually pronounced. So too, I think, with the optative. Greek became a written language about 700 years before Jesus, and it became a literary language almost immediately. Now, there are a lot of forms in Homer that were dropped in mainstream Greek long before Herodotus began making inquiries; the Great Scott is full of notes about Homeric forms of the word being defined. Really, though, this is no different from the forms we find in Chaucer, except that Homeric Greek is more comprehensible to a reader of Classical Greek than Chaucer is to a contemporary reader.

As for the content, how many of you remember (or ever knew) that New Year’s Day was once upon a time a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Church? For that matter, it may still be. This means (or meant) that a Catholic is obligated to go to mass or face the pains of Hell for committing a mortal sin. NY Day is eight days after Christmas, or rather, the eighth day, and this is when Jesus was taken to be presented in the Temple and to be circumcised and named. As such, it was known, at one time, as the Feast of the Circumcision. Having worked in life insurance, one cannot insure a child that is less than two weeks old. This is because the mortality rate in these first two weeks is significantly higher than after. So the eight-day interlude was sort of a wait-and-see period, to see if the child would survive. If he did, the boy was taken to the Temple to be circumcised, named, and accepted into the religion and the community. The parallel with infant baptism among most Christian groups are real and deliberate. The Catholics are among the earliest to baptise their children; this is likely a holdover from the days of high infant/child mortality. The idea was to have the child baptised ASAP so that the child would go to heaven should he or she die. Tough world back then.

The other thing to note is that the Temple authorities were going to name the boy after his father. This is different from contemporary practice, among some Jews anyway, where a child is not named after anyone who is alive. I have no idea of the genesis or the timing of this change, but I experienced it as a living practice within a contemporary Jewish community. Even more interesting is that when Elisabeth says that his name is to be John, the authorities push back and are not willing to take her word on the matter, so they immediately turn to Zacharias, since he is the patriarch of the family.

57 Elisabeth autem impletum est tempus pariendi, et peperit filium.

58 Et audierunt vicini et cognati eius quia magnificavit Dominus misericordiam suam cum illa, et congratulabantur ei.

59 Et factum est, in die octavo venerunt circumcidere puerum et vocabant eum nomine patris eius, Zachariam.

60 Et respondens mater eius dixit: “ Nequaquam, sed vocabitur Ioannes ”.

61 Et dixerunt ad illam: “ Nemo est in cognatione tua, qui vocetur hoc nomine ”.

62 Innuebant autem patri eius quem vellet vocari eum.

63 καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψεν λέγων, Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες.

64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν.

65 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα,

66 καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν, λέγοντες, Τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; καὶ γὰρ χεὶρ κυρίου ἦν μετ’ αὐτοῦ.

And asking for a writing tablet he wrote, saying, “John is his name.” And they all marveled. (64) And opened was his mouth and immediately and also his tongue, and he spoke, praising God. (65) And there was a fear among all his neighbors, and in the whole hill-country of Judea, they all spoke his words, and all hearing put in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be? And for the hand of God is with him.”

There will be much more to say about this. First, the idea that the boy was names something no one expected, and that this caused some consternation in and of itself is a good indication of how conservative and tradition-bound this community was. Or, at least, Luke wants to portray them this way, and wants us to believe it was so. Here is a very clear indication, I think, that Luke was unquestionably writing for a pagan audience. As argued, I believe Matthew was as well, and I believe Mark was, too, to a much greater extent than is generally recognised, or certainly more than is generally acknowledged. Second, we have the miracle of the restoration of Zacharias’ speech. This set tongues wagging (pun intended. But, does anyone use that expression any more? Or does it only exist in Penguin translations from a generation or two ago?). But people saw this as more than a ma temporarily made mute regaining his speech. This was divine intervention: it was God who made him mute and it was God who loosened his tongue again. Keep this in mind, that this was viewed as a miracle. It demonstrates very clearly that Luke was aware of Matthew’s version of the nativity, and that Luke was going to take that an expand upon it. Because not only do we have two miraculous births, but we have two miraculous births announced by angels who command, in exactly the same words, one of the parents on what to name the boy that has been (Matthew) or will be (Luke) conceived. Matthew used this to set up the divine nature of Jesus, the nature that was there from even before Jesus was born; Luke takes that back a step further and tells us that, not only Jesus, but his herald John was the result of a divine intervention. And, I would argue, Luke wrote all of this about John on the assumption that the person hearing this version of the nativity would be aware of what Matthew had already written. There is a tacit acknowledgement of Matthew’s story here.

We can, and will, discuss this more in the next section, and in the summary to the chapter.

63 Et postulans pugillarem scripsit dicens: “ Ioannes est nomen eius ”. Et mirati sunt universi.

64 Apertum est autem ilico os eius et lingua eius, et loquebatur benedicens Deum.

65 Et factus est timor super omnes vicinos eorum, et super omnia montana Iudaeae divulgabantur omnia verba haec.

66 Et posuerunt omnes, qui audierant, in corde suo dicentes: “ Quid putas puer iste erit? ”. Etenim manus Domini erat cum illo.