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Note of the Day – January 24

Over the next few days I will be looking at the Lukan narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30), focusing on two areas: (1) the Scripture quotation (Isa 61:1-2), and (2) the reaction of the townspeople to Jesus’ words.

This episode is part of the common Gospel Tradition shared by the Synoptics, though in the Gospel of Luke it has been expanded considerably, and placed at a different point in the ministry (compare Mark 6:16; Matt 13:54-58). The chronological position, along with other apparent differences, have led some traditional-conservative commentators to posit two separate incidents. This is rather unlikely; the accounts in Luke and Mark-Matthew are close enough in outline that we should regard them as deriving from a single historical tradition. Were it not for a pious interest in harmonizing the chronologies, I doubt that anyone would have thought that two different episodes were involved. The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) has recorded the Nazareth event here (directly following the Baptism and Temptation), to mark the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It holds a similar position as the narrative summary in Matthew 4:13-16—both passages contain a ‘Messianic’ Scripture (Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 4:15-16), and look backward to the Infancy Narrative while looking forward to the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Here, indeed, there are several points of contact with the Luke Infancy narrative(s) (1:5-2:52):

  • The Nazareth setting “where he had been nourished/nurtured [i.e. brought up]” (v. 16)
  • The Isaian Scripture passage—cf. especially the allusions to deutero-/trito-Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66) in 2:25-38 (discussed in an earlier Christmas season note).
  • Here Jesus is filled with the (power of the) Spirit (4:1, 14) just as the young Jesus grew and was filled with wisdom, with the favor of God being upon him (2:40)—these two motifs are reflected in the opening words of Isa 61:1 (“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”).
  • We may also see here a reflection of the wisdom and favor Jesus has with/before [lit. alongside] men (2:52)—cf. 4:15, 22.
  • The reaction of the people to Jesus (v. 22ff) may be understood as illustrative of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34-35 (for more on this, cf. the next days’ notes).
  • A parallel may also be intended between (the boy) Jesus in the Temple (2:41-51) and (the adult) Jesus in the Synagogue.

Before discussing the Scripture passage (Isaiah 61:1-2) specifically, it is worth noting the way Luke joins the narrative here to that of the Baptism/Temptation (3:21-22; 4:1-13):

  • “And Yeshua turned back [i.e. returned] in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14a)
    • “and (the) talk/report went out down (through) all the surrounding area about him” (4:14b)
    • “and he taught in their (places-of-)bringing-together {synagogues}” (4:15a)
  • “and being (highly) esteemed [i.e. honored/glorified] by all” (4:15b)

The ‘outer’ phrases (v. 14a, 15b) could be said to reflect the wisdom/favor Jesus has with God and men, respectively (two aspects, cf. 2:52). The ‘inner’ phrases perhaps illustrate two aspects of Jesus’ public ministry: (a) his teaching among the people (v. 15a), and (b) the reaction of the people to him (v. 14b). In particular, the emphasis on the Spirit is most important, and is especially characteristic of Luke-Acts (cf. the earlier references in Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27; 3:16, 22; 4:1).

The Scripture Passage: Isaiah 61:1-2

Luke indicates that the Scripture Jesus recites in the Synagogue is from Isaiah 61:1-2. It is not clear whether this was an assigned reading (haphtarah) from the Prophets (connected with a particular section [parashah] of the Torah), or if Jesus selected it himself. A comparison between the Hebrew, Septuagint (LXX) and Luke is instructive:

Hebrew (MT)

1The Spirit of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me,
because YHWH has anointed me—
He has sent me to bring (a good) message (to) the poor/lowly (ones),
to wrap up (the pieces) for the (ones) broken of heart,
to call (out) ‘freedom’ for the captives
and ‘open wide’ for the (ones) who are bound,
2to call (out) ‘a year of acceptance for YHWH’
and ‘a day of vengeance for our God’,
to bring comfort (for) all mourners.

Septuagint (LXX)

1(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which He anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me to heal the (ones) crushed together in the heart,
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
2to call ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’
and ‘a day of giving (back) in return’,
to call alongside [i.e. help/comfort] the (ones) mourning.

Luke 4:18-19

18(The) Spirit of the Lord (is) upon me,
on account of which he anointed me
to bring (a) good message to the poor (ones);
He has sent me
{some MSS include the line here corresponding to the LXX}
to proclaim ‘release’ to the (ones) taken by spear-point [i.e. prisoners]
and ‘seeing again’ to the (ones who are) blind,
to set forth in release [i.e. freedom] the (ones who) have been crushed,
19to proclaim ‘an acceptable year of the Lord’.

The LXX translates the Hebrew fairly accurately, the main difference being the rendering of the somewhat obscure phrase j^oqÁjq^P= <yr!Wsa&l^w+ at the end of v. 1 (the LXX understands it as “opening [wide]” the eyes of the blind, but cf. a similar interpretation in 4Q521 frag. 2.ii line 8). The citation in Lk 4:18-19 follows the LXX, with several differences:

  • The phrase i)a/sasqai tou\$ suntetrimme/nou$ th=| kardi/a| (“to heal the ones crushed together in the heart”) is omitted (though it is retained/restored in some MSS).
  • A line, apparently taken from Isa 58:6 (LXX), is added at the end of v. 1.
  • V. 2 repeats khru/cai (“to proclaim”) instead of LXX kale/sai (“to call”)—this may simply match the consistent use of ar)q=l! in both verses, or may be meant to emphasize the idea of (Christian) proclamation (of the Word/Gospel).
  • Only the first part of v. 2 is cited, noticeably omitting the reference to “a day of vengeance/payback”; only the positive side of the proclamation is included (“an acceptable year”).

These facts would seem to indicate that the Scripture, as it is recorded here in Luke, does not represent exactly what Jesus would have spoken (at the historical level), but rather is a literary presentation of it (at the level of the Gospel writer).

Much more important is the significance of the passage, which will be examined in the next day’s note.

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