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Note of the Day – July 3 (1 John 5:6-8, concluded)

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1 John 5:6-8 (concluded)

This discussion continues that of the last several daily notes (June 28, July 1 & 2), focusing specifically on the relation of the Spirit to the “water” and “blood” in verses 6-8. It is possible to treat all three verses as a single sentence, and this is probably the best way to render them:

“This is the (one) coming through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness (of this), (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth, (so) that the (one)s giving witness are three—the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are (together) into one.”

The statement as a whole can be divided into two parts:

  • The one coming—Yeshua the Anointed—in water and blood
  • The one giving witness—the Spirit—(together with) water and blood

In the previous note, I explored the initial statement(s) regarding the Spirit in verse 6b. I also pointed out three aspects which needed to be examined:

  • The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus in the Johannine Gospel and Letters
  • The connection between the Spirit and water, especially as a symbol of birth and life for those who trust in Jesus
  • The connection between the Spirit and the death (i.e. blood) of Jesus

We will touch briefly on each of these in turn.

1. The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus

In the Gospel of John, this can be summarized as follows (for more detail on these passages, see the earlier notes in this series):

(An asterisk marks passages which clearly draw upon early Tradition shared by the Synoptics)

  • 1:32-33*—The Spirit comes down (lit. “steps down”) upon Jesus and remains on/in him (cf. Mark 1:10 par)
  • 1:33b (also v. 26)*—It is said that Jesus will dunk (i.e. baptize) people “in the holy Spirit” (cf. Mark 1:8 par)
  • 3:5-8—Those who trust in Jesus “come to be (born) out of the Spirit” (cf. below)
  • 3:34—It is said that Jesus “gives the Spirit” (i.e. to believers); he does not give it “out of (a) measure”, rather, in a new, complete way, different from how the Spirit was given previously to prophets and chosen ones. Verse 35 indicates that the Spirit is given to Jesus (the Son) by the Father.
  • 4:23-24—The context (verses 7-15ff) suggests that the “living water” Jesus gives is associated with the Spirit
  • 6:63—Jesus states that the Spirit gives life (“makes [a]live”), and, again, that he gives the Spirit to his disciples, etc. The Spirit is identified specifically with the words (“utterances”) Jesus speaks (i.e. his life-giving power as the Living Word).
  • 7:39—The Gospel writer explicitly identifies the Spirit with the “living water” of which Jesus is the source for believers (vv. 37-38). It is stated that the Spirit did not come unto the disciples until after Jesus was given honor (‘glorified’), i.e. by the Father, through his death and resurrection.
  • 14:16-17, 25-26—God the Father will send the Spirit (“Spirit of Truth”) to believers, at Jesus’ request and in his name
  • 15:26-27; 16:7ff—Jesus will send the Spirit (“Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Truth”) to believers from the Father
  • The Spirit continues Jesus’ work with believers, teaching them, speaking Jesus’ own words and giving witness about him (14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15)
  • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death likely carries a double-meaning in the context of the Gospel, alluding to his giving the Spirit (“…he gave along the pneu=ma [breath/spirit/Spirit]”)
  • 20:22—After his resurrection, Jesus specifically blows/breathes in(to) the disciples; it is clear that he is giving them the Spirit (“Receive the holy Spirit”)

This Johannine portrait thus entails three primary aspects: (a) Jesus receives the Spirit from the Father (indicated specifically [1] at the Baptism and [2] following the Resurrection); (b) Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (described variously); and (c) the Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. This is generally confirmed by the references in 1 John, though the emphasis is on the Spirit as a witness, testifying and declaring the truth about Jesus to (and through) believers (3:24; 4:1-6, 13; and here in 5:6-8).

2. The connection between the Spirit and Water

For a summary of the Gospel passages, cf. the previous note. The primary emphasis is on the symbol of water as a source of life, with life-giving properties and power. This is expressed by two basic motifs:

  • Drinking—i.e. the quenching of thirst and the preservation/restoration of life to the human body and soul. Especially important is the traditional expression “living water” (* below), which, in the ancient semitic idiom, originally referred to the flowing water of a natural spring or stream (note the play on this idea in 4:6-12), but is used by Jesus in a symbolic sense. Here are the relevant references (those which explicitly mention the Spirit are marked in bold):
    • 2:6-9—the drinking of water/wine (note the possible allusions to 6:51-58 and 19:34)
    • 4:7-15ff—water which Jesus gives that results in (eternal) life (vv. 10-11*, reference to the Spirit in vv. 21-24)
    • 6:53-56—drinking Jesus’ “blood” which he gives (eucharistic allusion, reference to the Spirit in v. 63)
    • 7:37-39—the “living water” (v. 38*) which Jesus gives is identified with the Spirit by the Gospel writer (v. 39)
  • Birth—water is naturally associated with the birth process, and this image is utilized by Jesus in the discourse-dialogue with Nicodemus in chapter 3 (vv. 3-8). Here it is applied specifically to the “birth” of believers, a motif which appears elsewhere in the Gospel (1:13) and frequently in the First Letter (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). In these references the expression is “come to be (born) out of God [e)k {tou=} qeou=]”, while in Jn 3:3-8 we find “…out of the Spirit” and “…from above”; for the most part, these expressions are synonymous. The verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), used in this spiritual/symbolic sense, is always related to believers, with the lone exception, it would seem, of the second occurrence in 1 Jn 5:18, where many commentators feel it refers to Jesus (the Son).
    • If we are to recognize the secondary motif of Baptism, it probably should be understood in terms of this same birth-symbolism, at least in the context of the Gospel and letters of John. Birth imagery is embedded in the early Gospel tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 par; Jn 1:34 MT), i.e. Jesus as God’s “Son”, and is marked by the presence of the Spirit (1:32-33). Also, insofar as Jesus “baptizes” believers in the Spirit (1:33 par), the author(s) of the Gospel and Letters would likely associate this with the idea of being “born of God” or “born of the Spirit”, though it is not clear the extent to which there is an allusion to Baptism in Jn 3:3-8.
3. The connection between the Spirit and the Death (“Blood”) of Jesus

In the Gospel Tradition, there is little, if any, clear relationship between the Spirit and Jesus’ death. The closest we come is the basic idea, expressed both in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, that the Spirit would come to believers only after Jesus’ resurrection and “ascension” to the Father. There is then an implicit (though indirect) association between Jesus’ death and the coming/sending of the Spirit. The Gospel of John, in particular, blends together the two aspects of death and exaltation, joining them into at least three different images: (1) descent/ascent, (2) “lifting up/high”, and (3) “giving/granting honor” (i.e. “glorify”). All three of these Johannine motifs can refer variously (or at the same time) to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension/return to the Father.

It is also possible that there is a more direct association between the Spirit and Jesus’ death in the Gospel of John. I note three verses:

  • 7:39—The Gospel writer states: “For the Spirit was not yet [i.e. had not yet come], (in) that [i.e. because] Yeshua was not yet glorified”. The verb doca/zw, “regard with honor, give/grant honor”, “glorify” is usually understood in reference to Jesus resurrection (and ascension to the Father), but, in the Gospel of John, it applies equally to Jesus’ death. In other words, the statement could be taken to mean, essentially, that it is Jesus’ sacrificial death which makes it possible for the Spirit to come.
  • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death generally follows the Gospel tradition in Mark 15:37b; Matt 27:50b; Luke 23:46. However, in light of the important Johannine theme of Jesus giving the Spirit, it is possible (even likely) that there is a dual meaning to the words pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma:
    —”…he gave along the [i.e. his] spirit/breath”
    —”…he gave along the Spirit”
    I might note in passing, that there is a fascinating similarity of wording between Luke 23:46 and John 20:22; though coming via different Gospels, this is another interesting (possible) connection between Jesus’ death and the giving of the Spirit.
  • 19:34—Many commentators have interpreted the “blood and water” which come out of Jesus’ side (and the importance the Gospel writer gives to this detail) as containing at least an allusion to the Spirit. The close connection between water and the Spirit, and of Jesus as the direct source of this “living water”, increases the likelihood that such an allusion may be intended. If so, then it is likely that there is an association between the Spirit and Jesus’ blood as well.

It will help to consider the other references to “blood” (ai!ma) in the Gospel and Letters of John:

  • John 1:13—Here blood is set parallel with flesh (specifically “the will of the flesh”), in the context of human birth. Both “blood” and “flesh” signify (ordinary) human life and birth, which is contrasted with being “born out of God” (= “born out of the Spirit“). For a similar parallel between “flesh” and “blood”, cf. 1 Jn 4:2-3 and here in 5:6-8.
  • John 6:51-58 (vv. 53-56)—Here, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse, Jesus, in eucharistic language and imagery that is similar to Mark 14:23-24 par, speaks of drinking his “blood”. The (believer) who “eats” his body and “drinks” his blood holds “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life); this body/blood is the “bread” which Jesus gives, sacrificially, for the life of the world. While there may be a sacramental allusion (to the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist) in these verses, the overall emphasis of the Bread of Life discourse is spiritual. This is confirmed by what follows (esp. verse 63).
  • 1 John 1:7—The author declares “…the blood of Yeshua cleanses us from all sin”. This echoes the sacrificial character (and power) of Jesus’ death—and, specifically, the blood he shed (Jn 19:34)—expressed in the Gospel tradition of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:24 par). In the context of the letter, it is uniquely tied to the Johannine theme of sin/righteousness in terms of obedience to the two-fold command of trust in Jesus and love for one’s fellow believer (3:23-24, etc). There is no direct reference to the Spirit here, but there is a definite allusion in verse 8, “the Truth…in us”.
Conclusion

If the “water” and “blood” in 5:6ff represent two aspects of Jesus’ human life—his birth/life and death, respectively—then, in light of the examination above, in what sense does this water and blood “give witness” along with the Spirit?

Water—Based on the principal themes and associations outline above, it is possible to identify:

  • Drinking—Elsewhere in the New Testament, believers are said to “drink” of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), just Jesus describes in Jn 4:10-14; 7:37-38. This is experienced symbolically, through the sacraments of baptism and the eucharistic cup (cf. the context of 1 Cor 10-12), but not only in this limited way. Rather, through the Spirit, we experience the very presence of Jesus, including his human life which he sacrificed for us. It is a spiritual presence, which Paul likewise associates with the motif of drinking in 1 Cor 10:4.
  • Birth—As a result of trust in Jesus, believers experience a new birth (Jn 3:3-8ff). We come to be born “out of [i.e. from] God” (“from above” vv. 3, 7); this birth is spiritual, taking place through the power and presence of the Spirit, as indicated by the parallel expression “out of the Spirit” (vv. 5-6, 8). Just as ordinary human birth takes place “out of water” or “in/through water”, so this new birth for believers occurs through the “living water” of the Spirit. Certain Baptismal language and imagery preserves this same “new birth” motif.

Blood—This symbolic aspect of Jesus’ death has three important associations:

  • The coming/giving of the Spirit takes place through, and as a result of, Jesus’ sacrificial death (cf. Jn 7:39; 19:30, 34, and the discussion above)
  • Believers “drink” Jesus’ blood in a symbolic and spiritual sense (his life-giving presence), expressed in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
  • According to the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death, his “blood” cleanses believers of sin (1 Jn 1:7). Similarly, the Spirit (as “water”) cleanses us, as indicating by the baptism and washing imagery in John 1:26ff and 13:5-11. There is also a cleansing aspect associated with the Spirit as the Living Word of God and Christ (cf. 15:3).

If I may summarize. The life-giving power and presence of Jesus is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. This divine and eternal (spiritual) Life which Jesus gives includes his human life which he sacrificed on our behalf, transformed through his resurrection and exaltation (glorification). It is specifically the real human life of Jesus (his birth, life, and death) which the author of 1 John is emphasizing, against the apparent “docetic” view of Jesus held by the separatists (“antichrists”). The Spirit bears witness to us of the human life Jesus sacrificed in order to give us Life, and along with this, the very essence (“water” and “blood”) of this life testifies to us. Through the Spirit, we experience this testimony, not only through symbolic rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but at all times, and in all aspects of our life in Christ.

Note of the Day – July 1 (1 John 5:6-8, continued)

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1 John 5:6-8 (continued)

In the previous daily note I examined the context of 1 John 5:6 and began exploring the statements made in the verse itself. I noted the parallel with 4:2-3, especially the two expressions “in the flesh” and “in/through water and blood” which I regard as being closely related in thought. If the expression “come in the flesh [e)n sarki/]” refers to Jesus being born and appearing on earth as a true human being, then it stands to reason that “in/through water and blood” in 5:6 follows this same basic meaning. There appears to be little apparent difference here in the use of the prepositions dia/ (“through water and blood”) and e)n (“in water and…blood”), though it is possible that distinct aspects of Jesus birth/life as a human being are implied. We see the same interchangeability of the prepositions in Hebrews 9:12, 25 and Rom 6:4 / Col 2:12 (Brown, p. 574).

Before proceeding, I should point out that many Greek manuscripts and versions have a different reading of the first phrase in verse 6 (“the one coming through water and blood”), variously adding “and (the) Spirit” (or “and the holy Spirit”), to form a triad. That this reading is secondary, and not original, is strongly indicated by the fact that the reference to the Spirit appears at different points in the phrase; the most widespread of these variant readings is: “through water and blood and (the) Spirit” (a A 104 424c 614 1739c, etc). It may simply reflect the influence of what follows in vv. 6b-8. However, if early Christians understood the verse as referring to Jesus’ birth (cf. below), then the addition of “and (the) Spirit” in 6a could have theological significance (i.e. to safeguard the idea of the virginal conception, and the role of the Spirit in Jesus’ conception); on this, cf. Ehrman, pp. 60-1.

What exactly does the author mean when stating that Jesus came “through (or in) water and blood”? There would seem to be three main possibilities recognized by commentators:

  1. It refers to the birth and death of Jesus, respectively—fundamentally, to his (incarnate) human life on earth
  2. Similar to #1, it refers to the baptism and death of Jesus—to his mission on earth
  3. It refers specifically to Jesus’ death, following Jn 19:34
  4. In relation to #2, the reference is primarily sacramental—to baptism (water) and the eucharist (esp. the cup [blood])

In my view, the last of these can be eliminated. There is little indication anywhere else in the letter that either sacrament (Baptism or the Lord’s Supper) is in view. While it is possible that “water” and “blood” could be shorthand keywords for Baptism and the Eucharist, it seems quite out of place here in the letter, where the emphasis is clearly on the person and identity of Jesus. Otherwise, I can find no other definite Johannine references to (Christian) baptism, despite the emphasis on baptism in the early Gospel traditions recorded in Jn 1:19-34 and 3:22-23ff; there are eucharistic allusions in chapter 6 of the Gospel (esp. vv. 51-58), but the Lord’s Supper (i.e. as a ritual or sacrament introduced by Jesus) is completely absent from the Last Supper scene in John.

The choice, then, is between interpretations #1-3 above. There can be little doubt that “blood” refers to the sacrificial death of Jesus. The statement in 1:7 (“the blood of Yeshua…cleanses us from all sin”) reflects the idea of Jesus’ death (the shedding/pouring of blood) as a sacrificial offering, already found in the Gospel tradition of Mark 14:24 par (recording Jesus’ own words); there are, indeed, two aspects to this sacrificial motif:

  • The blood shed and poured on the altar (and upon the people) at the establishment of God’s covenant with Israel (cf. Exod 24:3-8)
  • The blood of the sin offering poured/sprinkled on the altar (Lev 4:1-5:13, etc)

While the Gospel of John does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper (and the symbolic drinking of Jesus’ “blood”), the language in 6:51-58 is quite similar (esp. vv. 51b, 53). It is only in the Fourth Gospel that the shedding of Jesus’ blood is actually narrated and described (19:34, cf. below).

More difficult is determining exactly what is signified by “water”. There are seven other significant Johannine passages, in the Gospel and Letters, involving water (all from the Gospel):

  • The traditions related to John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus (1:26-34, cf. also 3:22ff)
  • The miracle of turning water into wine (2:6-9ff)
  • The discourse/dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5-8)
  • The “living water” dialogue with the Samaritan woman (4:7-15)
  • The “living water” declaration by Jesus (7:37-38f)
  • The washing of the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper scene (13:5ff)
  • The “blood and water” which came out of Jesus’ side after his death (19:34)

Commentators have sought to associate these passages variously with Baptism (cf. above), but the only instance where such an association can plausibly be made is in 3:3-8, and yet I am not at all convinced that (Christian) baptism is being referred to by Jesus in that passage (except, possibly, in a secondary sense). As far as water being related to the baptism of Jesus, it is noteworthy that the Gospel of John appears to downplay this episode; it is not even narrated directly, but only indirectly, through the testimony of the Baptist. The traditional detail from the Baptism scene which the author emphasizes is two-fold:

  • The presence of the Spirit (1:32-33), and
  • The identification of Jesus as the Son and Chosen (i.e. Anointed) One of God (1:34)

It thus seems unlikely to me that the author of the letter is specifically referring to Jesus’ baptism in 5:6-8. This leaves options #1 and 3 above. In analyzing each of these, it is important to consider the significance of water in the Gospel. I find three distinct themes or aspects:

  • A figure and symbol of the Spirit
  • Symbolic of the new/eternal Life which Jesus gives
  • Association with the sacrificial death of Jesus

The evidence cited above appears to be divided rather equally between these, with the first two being particularly emphasized. I would divide the passages into two primary themes:

  1. Life through the Spirit—1:26 (cf. 32-33); 3:3-8 (birth motif); 4:7-15ff; 7:37-39
  2. Association with Jesus’ death (i.e. blood)—2:6-9ff (cp. 6:51-58); 13:5ff; 19:34

Now, in Johannine thought, Life and the Spirit are closely associated with the idea of birth—especially the motif of believers coming to be born (i.e. a new, spiritual birth). This is expressed most clearly in John 3:3-8, where water and the Spirit are tied together in a manner similar to water and blood in 1 Jn 5:6-8; note the parallelism of logic:

  • born out of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5)—i.e. not out of water alone, but also of the Spirit (cp. the same contrast in 1:26)
  • come in/through water and blood—not only water, but also blood (1 Jn 5:6)

It is important to understand the contrast Jesus establishes in Jn 3:5ff; as verse 6 makes clear, there is a parallel between water and flesh, indicating that the idea of human birth is in view:

  • water = “flesh”—ordinary, physical human birth and life
  • water and Spirit—the new spiritual life (“from above”) given to a human being through trust in Jesus

Based on this thematic logic, I believe that the birth (and human life) of Jesus is primarily in view in 1 John 5:6:

  • coming through/in water = Jesus’ birth and (incarnate) life
  • coming through/in blood = Jesus’ sacrificial death

These reflect the beginning and end points of Jesus’ earthly life and mission, and, significantly, “water and blood” are featured in the two episodes which open and close Jesus’ ministry on earth:

  • The miracle at Cana (2:1-11)—water and wine (= “blood”)
  • The death of Jesus (19:34)—blood and water

Both elements (water and blood) reflect Jesus’ human life which he sacrificed (poured out) for us. The issue for the author of 1 John is that there were would-be believers (“antichrists”, who have separated from the Johannine congregations) who did not correctly believe (and confess) that Jesus “came in the flesh”—that he was born and lived on earth as a true human being (i.e., an early “docetic” view of Christ). Now, if Jesus did not exist as a true flesh-and-blood human being, then neither did he shed real (human) blood on behalf of humankind. For later Christian authors and theologians in the second and third centuries, this was the most serious consequence of a docetic Christology—if Jesus was not a real human being like us, then he could not have truly suffered and died on our behalf, and this effectively nullifies the salvific meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death. In combating the docetic views of “Gnostics” and others at the time, proto-orthodox theologians such as Ignatius, Irenaeus and Tertullian were absolutely clear on this point. The same point, it would seem, was recognized already by the author of First John. Consider the logic:

  • Jesus came “in the flesh“—i.e. incarnation, existence as a real human being
    • = came “in/through water“—a real earthly life on earth, including the period of his ministry (the beginning of which is marked by water-motifs in 1:26-34; 2:1-11)
    • not only a real earthly life (in/through water), but Jesus also
      • came “in/through blood“—a real (human) death and shedding of blood, which has saving power for humankind

Johannine theology is unique in the way that these essential Christological motifs are tied so closely to the presence of the Spirit. The association between the Spirit and water is clear enough from the passages we have studied (and are cited above); however, the precise relationship between the Spirit and blood is not as readily apparent. And yet, the statements in vv. 6b-8 bring all three elements, or aspects, together into a triad. This is the subject which we will be discussing in the next daily note.

References above marked “Brown” are to R. E. Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 30 (1982). Those marked “Ehrman” are to B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: 1993).

December 31: Luke 2:21

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Luke 2:21

Today’s Christmas season note will look at the circumcision and naming of Jesus, parallel to that which was narrated of John in Lk 1:59ff. In the case of Jesus, it is told simply, in a single sentence (2:21). Actually, the circumcision is mentioned primarily to establish the time at which the naming took place:

“And when the eight days of his (be)ing circumcised were (ful)filled…”

The Greek syntax, rendered quite literally here, can be misleading. The reference, of course, is to the period of eight days, after birth, before the male child was to be circumcised.

For more on the naming of a child taking place in connection with circumcision, cf. the earlier note on 1:57-66. The naming of John is given with greater detail due to the importance of the sign attached to his birth (Zechariah’s inability to speak); the naming of Jesus, by contrast, is told with virtually no detail at all:

“…(then) also his name was called Yeshua, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his [i.e. Jesus’] being received together in the belly (of his mother)”

The naming took place in fulfillment of the Angel’s directive (1:31), with no specific action by either parent being mentioned; the emphasis is rather on the heavenly origin of the name (given by the Angel) and that it had been given prior to Jesus’ conception. This is narrated in the passive, and there is no indication of which parent did the naming (cp. Matt 1:21, 25). Possibly this is meant to suggest or allude to a “divine passive”, where God is the implied actor, perhaps even as a foreshadowing of the scene in 2:41-50 (vv. 48-49).

Between the initial mention of the name by the Angel and the naming recorded here, the theme of salvation has been developed, primarily in the two hymns of Mary and Zechariah (the Magnificat and Benedictus). God is referred to as “Savior” (Swth/r) in 1:47, at the opening of the Magnificat, while the word “salvation” (swthri/a) occurs three times in the Benedictus (vv. 69, 71, 77). Lk 1:77 is close to the idea expressed in Matt 1:21, but the Lukan Gospel does not deal directly with the meaning (or interpretation) of the name Yeshua (Y¢šûa±). However, the child Jesus is called by the title Swth/r (“Savior”) in 2:11, in a context where the Messianic vocabulary is especially clear and prominent (cf. the note on 2:10-14). For more detail on the etymology and meaning of the name Yeshua, consult the recent note on Matt 1:21.

Circumcision—The mention of circumcision (lit. “cutting around”) here, and in 1:59, is important for the author’s theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and patterns of the Old Testament (the Old Covenant). Joseph and Mary, like John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, are said (and shown) to have been faithful in observing the commands and regulations of the Torah. Circumcision, as the principal sign (or mark) of the covenant between God and Israel, was in many ways the most important rite and religious-cultural practice in the Torah. Both children—John and Jesus—were circumcised according to the requirements laid down in the Law.

The circumcision of Jesus is not otherwise mentioned directly in the New Testament, but Paul, who addressed the issue of circumcision numerous times in his letters (esp. Galatians and Romans), gives a definite soteriological dimension to Jesus’ fullment/observance of the Law. The passage is Galatians 4:4-5, which also happens to refer to the birth of Jesus. Paul states that Jesus came to be “under the Law”—note how this is set parallel to his (human) birth:

  • “God se(n)t forth his Son”
    • “coming to be (born) out of a woman” (geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$)
    • “coming to be under the Law” (geno/menon u(po\ no/mon)

The purpose of Jesus’ birth and human life was to purchase out (of bondage) the ones who are “under the Law”. Paul’s unique (and controversial) view of the ultimate function and purpose of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) is too complex to address here. I recommend the interested reader consult the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (part of the series “The Law and the New Testament”), which also includes a discussion of Gal 4:1-11. Paul frequently describes ‘salvation’ in terms of human beings (believers) set free from bondage (slavery) to the the power of sin—where sin is depicted as a hostile ruler or tyrant. Similarly in the Lukan Infancy narrative, in the Benedictus, the image of salvation/redemption starts in the conventional, dramatic context of human powers (i.e. enemies of Israel, Lk 1:71, 74), but is transferred to salvation from sin by the end of the hymn (1:77, cf. Matt 1:21). These same two aspects relate to the idea of redemption as part of the Messianic expectation of the period (2:25-26, 38).

More relevant to the Lukan Infancy narrative perhaps is Romans 15:8ff:

“The Anointed One {Christ} came to be a servant of circumcision over [i.e. on behalf of] the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the Fathers, and over (his) mercy (for) the nations to honor/glorify God…”

Here “circumcision” (peritomh/) is a shorthand for those who have been circumcised—i.e. Israelites and Jews. This would certainly imply that Jesus himself had been circumcised, especially when taken together with Gal 4:4 (cf. above). A major emphasis for Paul throughout Romans is the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Salvation from the power of sin, common to all human beings, is realized through faith in Christ. The thrust of this section has a general parallel with the Song of Simeon (Lk 2:29-32). Moreover, one of the Scriptures Paul cites (in v. 12) is from a passage (Isaiah 11) that was regularly given a Messianic interpretation. Isa 11:10 is similar to the first line of the prior (and related) oracle (vv. 1-9)—for a discussion of verse 1, cf. the previous note on Matt 2:23. We can see how this relates to the portrait of Jesus in the Lukan Infancy narrative:

  • He is the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of God’s people (2:11)
    • He is born and lives among the people Israel
      —He is under the Law—circumcised, etc—fulfilling God’s covenant
    • The Good News (Gospel) goes out to the nations
  • The salvation he brings is for all people—Jews and Gentiles both, as the people of God (v. 10)

This will be discussed further in the remaining notes of this series.

December 29: Matthew 2:5-6, 16ff

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Matthew 2:5-6, 16ff

By all accounts, the tradition that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem stems from an interpretation of Micah 5:2ff, just as we see in the Matthean Infancy narrative. In the text, Herod brings together the leading religious officials (priests) and scribes (those learned in the Scriptures) and inquires of them “Where (is) the Anointed (One) [i.e. Messiah] to be born?” (Matt 2:4). Their answer (“in Bethlehem of Judea”), as presented in the narrative, is followed by a modified citation of Micah 5:2 [Heb v. 1]:

“And you, Bethlehem, (in) the land of Yehudah {Judah},
are not (in) one thing least among the leaders of Yehudah;
for (one) who leads [i.e. a leader] shall come out of you
who will shepherd my people Yisrael {Israel}.” (v. 6)

The portions in italics indicate points where the citation in Matthew differs from both the Hebrew (Masoretic) text and the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The last line is the result of joining 2 Sam 5:2 to the quotation from Micah. The differences otherwise are relatively slight, except for the first half of line 2, which alters entirely the sense of the original. It is hard to know whether this reflects a variant reading or an intentional change by the author; certainly, an early Christian such as the Gospel writer would be inclined here to emphasize the importance of Bethlehem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Joseph was a descendant of David should be considered completely reliable on objective grounds. If early Christians had been inclined to accept or “invent” a fictitious (Davidic) origin for Jesus, for doctrinal reasons, they likely would have made Mary a descendant of David. And, indeed, this is precisely what happened subsequently in Christian tradition (cf. already in Ignatius Trallians 9:1; also Smyrneans 1:1; Ephesians 18:2; 20:2). The distinction of a genealogy based on legal, rather than biological, paternity was soon lost for Christians, especially as the faith spread out into the wider Greco-Roman world. Quite contrary to later developments, there is no indication in the Gospels whatever that Mary was herself a descendant of David. If the information in Lk 1:5, 36 is regarded as historically accurate, then it is more likely that Mary came from the line of Levi, rather than Judah. The only New Testament reference which might suggest otherwise is Romans 1:3, especially when compared with Gal 4:4. It has been popular in traditional-conservative circles, as a way to harmonize the apparent discrepancies between the two lists, to treat the genealogies in Matthew and Luke as being that of Joseph and Mary, respectively. However, such a solution is flatly contradicted by the text itself—both genealogies belong to Joseph (Matt 1:16; Luke 3:23).

December 26: Matthew 1:23

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Matthew 1:23

In the previous note (for Christmas Day) I discussed the structure of the first episode in the Matthean Infancy narrative, 1:18-25—in particular, the actual birth announcement in vv. 20-21 and the declaration (by the Angel) of the child’s name (Yeshua/Jesus). Today, I will be looking at the Scripture cited in vv. 22-23. This is the first such citation formula used by the author (one of at least 11 in the Gospel). Each of the three main sections in the Infancy narrative—1:18-25; 2:1-12, and 2:13-23—contains at least one Scripture quotation (cf. 2:15, 17-18, 23, as well as vv. 5-6) indicating that the events being narrated are a fulfillment of prophecy. The prophecy in this section is part of the oracle in Isaiah 7:1-17. The oracle, properly speaking, occurs in verses 3-9. What follows in vv. 10ff is the sign given by God confirming the truth of the message, much as we see in the Lukan annunciation episodes (Lk 1:19-22, 35-37). Here in Matthew, the Scripture citation functions as a different sort of sign—one which confirms the divinely-guided nature of the event as a fulfillment of God’s word (and promises) to his people in ancient times.

The declaration in Isa 7:14 is justly famous, being applied by early Christians to Jesus as a Messianic prophecy. The Greek of Matthew’s version appears to be an (intentional) adaptation of the original text, whether working from the Hebrew or a Greek translation (such as the LXX). Here is a rendering of Matthew’s version, with the Hebrew (in translation) given below:

“See!—the virgin will (come to) have (a child) in (the) womb,
and she will produce [i.e. bring forth] a son, and they will call his name Immanuel”

“See!—the young (maid)en [hm*l=u*h*] will be(come) pregnant [hr*h*] and she will bring forth [i.e. bear] a son,
and she will call his name ‘(The) Mighty (One) [°E~l, “God”] (is) with us’ [la@ WnM*u!].”

The main difficulty, and a longstanding point of controversy, is the translation of the Hebrew word am*l=u* (±¹lmâ). It is usually translated in Greek by nea=ni$, literally a “young/youthful woman”. However, this does not quite capture the sense of the Hebrew; the particular root <lu signifies something strong, vigorous, virile, etc, and, when applied to a young female, it often connotes a girl who has just (recently) come into sexual awareness and maturity. In the context of ancient Israelite society, such a young woman, at a marriageable age, would typically be a virgin, though am*l=u* does not mean this specifically; indeed a different word (hl*WtB=, b§¾ûl¹h) is used to emphasize virginity. It is significant, then, that the Septuagint (LXX) translates am*l=u* in Isa 7:14 with parqe/no$, rather than nea=ni$. The word parqe/no$ is of uncertain origin, but it came to mean specifically a virgin (male or female), as in 1 Cor 7:25ff; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 14:4. In only one other place, does the LXX translate am*l=u* this way—in Gen 24:43 (cf. vv. 14, 16). I have discussed the matter extensively in an earlier Christmas series of notes.

It is likely that the word parqe/no$ was used in Isa 7:14 (as in Gen 24:43) to emphasize the purity of the woman and the sacredness of the scene—the special situation attending the child and his birth. Neither in the original Hebrew, nor in the LXX version, is there any clear sense that this is a miraculous birth, let alone a virginal conception. The significance of this child was as a sign confirming the oracle in vv. 3-9. For the various theories regarding the identity of this child, and an overall interpretation of vv. 10ff, cf. the aforementioned Christmas series above. One conclusion is inescapable: the original historical and literary context does not refer to a (distant) future savior/ruler figure, but to something expected to occur in the general time frame of the prophet—the reign of Ahaz and/or his son Hezekiah. Based on the use of the name ±Immanû °E~l in Isa 8:8-10, and a comparison with the language in 2 Kings 18:7, it seems likely that Hezekiah is the immediate point of reference. This is not to say that a Messianic interpretation by Jews and early Christians should be considered invalid, but that it ought to be regarded as a secondary interpretation or application, pointing to events of a future time (such as the birth of Jesus). I would argue strongly that such a view is perfectly compatible with any reasonable and legitimate doctrine of inspiration, and can be amply documented by many Old Testament passages which the New Testament authors have adapted or taken out of their original context (cf. my earlier article on this aspect of Scriptural prophecy).

It is quite possible that the author of the Matthean Infancy narrative (trad. Matthew) is among the first Christians to make an explicit connection between Isa 7:14 and the birth of Jesus, though the passage may be reflected in Lk 1:28, 31 and the Messianic associations in the Lukan narrative as well. There can be no doubt that Matthew emphasizes the miraculous (virginal) nature of Jesus’ conception and birth, stating it even more directly than Luke (cf. below). It is mentioned four times in this opening section (vv. 18, 20, 23, 25). It is also certain that the Angel’s announcement to Joseph (vv. 20b, 21a) follows specifically, and is patterned after, the wording of Isa 7:14 (as cited by Matthew):

  • “the (child)…in her is out of [i.e. from] the holy Spirit
    the virgin will have (a child) in the womb”
  • “and she will produce a son”
    “and she will produce a son”
  • “and you will call his name…”
    “and they will call his name…”

It is hard to say to what extent a Messianic interpretation of Isa 7:14 was current among Jews in the 1st-century B.C./A.D.; it is not particularly attested as such in the surviving Qumran texts and other literature of the period. It would not have been difficult, however, for Jews and early Christians to recognize the possible Messianic significance of the prophecy (as of that in Isa 9:1-7 [Heb 8:23-9:6]). This would be enhanced by the idea that Jesus’ conception was truly miraculous, and the work of the Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35 and the italicized words above).

When we turn to the name ±Immanû °E~l (Greek  )Emmanouh/l), we find a sentence-name or title which includes the divine name-element °E~l (la@, “Mighty [One]”, i.e. “God”); for more background information and detail, cf. my earlier article on °E~l. The explanation the Gospel writer gives in verse 23 generally matches the actual translation of the name, as used in Isa 8:8, 10—”God [°E~l] (is) with us” or “God (be) with us”. In the original context of the prophecy, it is a fitting name for a ruler, indicating the divine protection and aid God brings to his reign and his kingdom (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). The Gospel writer, of course, recognizes something deeper than this, as he sets the name as a precise parallel with Y¢šûa±, a name explained as embodying the help and deliverance (salvation) God is bringing to his people (in the person of Jesus). Indeed, the meaning of the name Immanuel relates to two important aspects of (early) Christian belief:

  • Jesus as the Son of God—his deity manifesting the presence of God himself (“God with you”)
  • The power/work of the Holy Spirit—the abiding presence of God (and Christ) with believers is realized through the Spirit

This latter idea is more prominent in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, but note the closing words of Jesus in Matthew (28:20): “I am with you…”.

December 24: Luke 2:10-14

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Luke 2:10-14

Today’s Christmas Eve note focuses on the famous announcement by the heavenly Messengers (Angels) to the shepherds. This is the third such angelic appearance in the Lukan narrative, and they all follow a basic pattern (cf. the earlier note on Lk 1:26ff). They are also birth announcements, such as we find in Old Testament tradition (Gen 15-18; Judg 13, etc). The birth of Jesus itself is narrated in verses 6-7, parallel to that of John (in 1:57), and using similar wording:

“And it came to be…the days of her producing (a child) were (ful)filled, and she produced [i.e. gave birth to] her son, the first (she) produced…”

It is preceded, of course, by a relatively lengthy introduction in vv. 1-5, which establishes the setting of the scene, and has three main purposes for the author (trad. Luke):

  • It explains why Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem
  • It emphasizes the Messianic association with David (and Bethlehem)
  • The mention of the Roman census/enrollment establishes a parallel (and contrast) between Jesus and the Emperor (Augustus), whose birth was celebrated as marking a time of peace and “salvation” for the world. For more on this connection, cf. my previous Christmas note.

To this may be added another (secondary) purpose:

  • The reference to the caravan resting-place and the feeding-trough (‘manger’) for animals (v. 7), as well as to the shepherds in vv. 8ff, emphasizes the association of Jesus with the poor and lowly in society—a theme given special attention in the Gospel of Luke.

Following the birth of Jesus, the Angelic announcement begins in verse 8, which sets the narrative scene—the outdoor, night setting of shepherds watching their herds (or flocks) in the fields around Bethlehem. Apart from historical concerns, the mention of shepherds almost certainly is meant to reinforce the connection with David and Bethlehem (cf. 1 Sam 16:11; 17:14-15ff). This important motif was introduced in the earlier annunciation to Mary (cf. the note on 1:32-35). Both in 1:26, and here again in 2:4ff, Joseph is said to be from David’s line (the “house of David” [oi@ko$ Daui/d]), the latter reference further emphasizing this fact—”out of the house and father’s line [patri/a] of David”. This Davidic descent of Joseph is confirmed by both of the genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke, respectively (despite their apparent discrepancies). Moreover, in the ancient Near East, kings and rulers were often described with the name and/or symbols of a shepherd—i.e. as one who leads and protects the people, as a shepherd does his flock (cf. 2 Sam 5:2; Isa 44:28, etc). It was altogether natural, therefore, that the royal Messianic figure-type—the expected future king and deliverer from the line of David—would take on similar shepherd-imagery, such as we see in Micah 5:2-4 (cf. Matt 2:5-6); Ezek 34:23; 37:24; and Zech 10-12.

The annunciation itself begins in verse 9 with the appearance of the “Angel (lit. Messenger) of the Lord”:

“And the Messenger of the Lord stood upon [i.e. near to] them, and the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord put out beams (of light) around them, and they were afraid (with) a great fear [i.e. were truly afraid].”

After the traditional exhortation by the heavenly Messenger (“Do not be afraid [mh\ fobei=sqe]!”), the birth of Jesus is declared:

“For see!—I give you a good message (of) great delight which will be for all the people…” (v. 10)

The verb is eu)aggeli/zomai, which is related to the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. “gospel”). Similarly, the noun xa/ra (from the verb xai/rw, “have/find joy, delight, etc”) is related to xa/ri$ (“favor”, i.e. “grace”)—that is to say, delight comes specifically from the favor shown by God to his people in the birth of Jesus (cf. the note on 1:32-35). The remainder of the announcement in verse 11 utilizes language and terminology which needs to be considered closely:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] there was produced [i.e. has been born] for you today a Savior—which is (the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord—in the city of David!”

The conjunctive particle o%ti gives the reason for the good message of delight which the Angel brings. This clearly is a birth announcement, marking the moment (the day) of the child’s birth—”was produced/born…today [sh/meron]”—and the purpose of the birth is declared as being “for you”, i.e. for those the Angel is addressing (the shepherds, and through them, to all people [v. 10]). Note the chain of names and terms which follow, all of them having Messianic significance:

  • a Savior (sw/thr)
    —the Anointed One (xristo/$)
    —the Lord (ku/rio$)
  • in the city of David (e)n po/lei Daui/d)

The noun sw/thr, derived from the verb sw/zw (“save, protect, preserve [life]”), and related to the noun swthri/a (“salvation”, 1:69, 71, 77), occurs 24 times in the New Testament where it is applied equally to God the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus, most frequently in the (later) writings (the Pastoral letters, 2 Peter, etc). It is surprisingly rare in the Gospels and early Christian tradition—apart from the references in Luke-Acts, cf. Jn 4:42 and Phil 3:20 (where the eschatological context is clear). It was used earlier in the Magnificat (1:47) as a title for the Lord God (Yahweh); the other occurrences are in Acts 5:31; 13:23, and reflect early Christian Gospel preaching (kerygma)—note especially how Jesus’ role as Savior is connected with his resurrection and exaltation in Acts 5:31.

The title xristo/$ (“Anointed [One]”) specifically relates to Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) expected by Israelites and Jews of the time—in particular, the figure-type of the future Davidic ruler who would usher in the end-time Judgment and deliver the faithful among God’s people. I have discussed this title at considerable length in my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. especially Parts 6-8). The Messianic context is clear—the title is set within the phrase “Savior…in the city of David [e)n po/lei Daui/d]” (cf. the outer pairing, above). The expression “city of David” could apply either to Jerusalem or Bethlehem; here it is certainly the latter.

Paired with xristo/$ is the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), a noun already used 19 times in the Lukan Infancy narrative, mainly as a title for God the Father (Yahweh, cf. the earlier article). It was first applied to Jesus in 1:43, while v. 76 plays on the dual-meaning and reference among early Christians (cf. the prior note). There are several ways to read the two titles taken together here:

  • As a pair in apposition—”(the) Anointed (One), (the) Lord”, or, perhaps “(the) Anointed (One and) Lord”
  • With xristo/$ essentially functioning as an adjective—”(the) anointed Lord”
  • The variant reading with the genitive kuri/ou—”(the) Anointed of the Lord”, “(the) Lord’s Anointed (One)” (cf. Lk 2:26, etc)

The first option is to be preferred. For the important occurrence of the two titles together in Acts 2:36, cf. my earlier article and notes on Peter’s Pentecost speeach in Acts (2:14-40).

The Angelic announcement, like the others previous, concludes with a sign, given by the Messenger, confirming the truthfulness of the message (v. 12). After this we read:

“And (suddenly) without (any) apparent (warning), there came to be, (together) with the Messenger, a multitude of the heavenly Army praising God and declaring…” (v. 13)

This motif of the Angel of the Lord along with the heavenly army goes back to ancient cosmic military imagery, associated with Yahweh/El (cf. the article on Yahweh). Here it serves to emphasize the divine splendor (do/ca) and power of the moment. The short declaration which follows in verse 14 is usually counted as one of the hymns in the Lukan Infancy narrative, and like the others, is known by the first words in Latin (Gloria in Excelsis). It is almost certainly the single most famous verse in the narrative, best known from the King James Version; I translate the Greek here literally:

“Honor in the highest (place)s to God
and upon earth peace among men of eu)doki/a!”

As a hymn it is indeed short—just two parallel lines—but it turns out to be quite difficult to translate and interpret with precision. The main difficulty lies in the first and last words, which are actually related, though this is almost impossible to preserve in English:

  • do/ca (dóxa)—typically rendered as “glory”, but the Greek word itself is better translated “esteem, honor”; as applied to God, in particular, there are two distinct aspects which need to be recognized:
    • the primary sense is the esteem/honor which is due to God from created beings (humans and Angels both)—literally, how we think of Him, considering and recognizing His nature, attributes, and actions (as Creator and on behalf of His people); this is essentially the meaning here in v. 14
    • when referring to God Himself, his greatness, etc, is often depicted visually with light-imagery, and likewise when it is narrated that God appears or manifests Himself to human beings; in such a context, the translation “splendor” is more appropriate, as in verse 9 (cf. above)
  • eu)doki/a (eudokía)—this noun, derived from the verb doke/w and the particle eu), essentially refers to a person considering (something) as good, thinking well of (someone/something), etc. The noun eu)doki/a is found most commonly in the Greek version of the Old Testament, especially in relation to the word /oxr*, indicating something which is acceptable or pleasing to a person. As such, it is frequently used in the religious sense of God showing favor to human beings, and his willingness to do so. Of the eight other occurrences of this word in the New Testament, five refer to God’s purpose and concern with regard to believers, and, in particular, the salvation, etc, he brings to them in the person (and Gospel) of Jesus Christ (Matt 11:26 / Lk 10:21; Phil 2:13; Eph 1:5, 9). On the text-critical question regarding the form of this word, cf. my earlier article “What the Angelic Chorus said…”.

There is thus a definite parallel between the two words and the two lines of verse 14—human begins give praise and honor to God (in heaven) and God shows favor and has good regard for his people (on earth). This is described in spatial terms:

  • e)n u(yi/stoi$ (“in [the] highest [place]s”, i.e. the [highest] heavens)—in 1:78, the light of God’s mercy and salvation comes from “out of (the) height [e)c u%you$]”. God is referred to by the title “Highest” (u%yisto$) in 1:32, 35, 76, reflecting the ancient Semitic title ±Elyôn, and the idea of God as the “Mightiest/Greatest” and “(most) Exalted”.
  • e)pi\ gh=$ (“upon earth”), which qualifies the expression e)n a)nqrw/poi$ (“in/among men”) as parallel to e)n u(yi/stoi$—i.e. “in the places (where) men (dwell) on earth”

The genitive expression in v. 14b (e)n a)qrw/poi$ eu)doki/a$) is most difficult to translate, but a fair approximation would be something like “among men of (His) good will”. Based on similar Hebrew/Aramaic expressions known from the Qumran texts (1QH 4:32-33; 11:9; 4Q545 frag. 3), it would refer to people who are pleasing to God, or who have been favored by him. In traditional, ethnic-religious terms, this would mean the chosen people of Israel—specifically, the faithful ones among them. For the use of eu)doki/a in this context, cf. Psalms of Solomon 8:39 (mid-1st century B.C.). This means that v. 14b is not a promise or blessing of peace for all of humankind (strictly speaking), but rather for those who have been favored by God and are faithful to him. This helps us to understand the Angel’s words in verse 10: “I give to you a good message of great delight which is for all the people“. From an early Christian standpoint, and within the overall context of Luke-Acts, there are two important aspects to observe, whereby the favor of God is extended to “all people”:

  • Salvation through Christ is for Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike—that is, for all the “people” (cf. 2:30-32), the people of God (believers in Christ). The book of Acts emphasizes the early mission to the Gentiles (the “Nations”).
  • The Gospel and the early Christian mission is for all demographics, all segments of society—i.e. all the people—with special attention given to the poor and oppressed, etc, those otherwise neglected and marginalized within society (cf. Acts 2:17ff, “all flesh”).

How then should we understand the emphasis on peace (ei)rh/nh) in verse 14? From a traditional religious standpoint, it refers to the blessing, security and protection which comes from God—e.g., Num 6:24-26; Psalm 29:11; 85:8-10; Isa 48:18; 54:10; Jer 16:5; Ezek 34:25-29; 1 Enoch 1:8 (Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 224-5). Peace is an important characteristic of the coming Messianic age, which God’s anointed representative (the Messiah) ushers in—cf. Isa 9:6-7 [Heb vv. 5-6]; 52:7; 55:12; Ezek 37:26; Zech 9:10, etc. According to the traditional portrait, this peace is connected with the judgment and defeat of the (wicked) nations (Ps Sol 17-18; 4Q246 col 2, etc). While early Christians expected Jesus to fulfill something of this aspect of the Messiah’s role upon his (future) return, which coincides with the end-time Judgment, the peace he brings in the Gospels is of a different sort. A blessing of peace comes with acts of healing/saving by Jesus (Lk 7:50; 8:48); similarly, the customary peace-greeting takes on new significance when Jesus (or his representative) appears in the house (Lk 10:5-6; 24:36 par, etc). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an opportunity for the people to accept and realize the peace he brings (19:38, 42), but they ultimately rejected him and he was put to death as a criminal rather than accepted as the true Anointed One of God. There is an obvious parallel in language and terminology between the Angelic song in 2:14 and the cry of the crowd in 19:38. The kind of peace expected to be the result of the Messiah’s coming, in socio-political and military terms, was, in fact, realized, to some extent, at the time of Jesus during the reign of the emperor Augustus, commemorated by the famous altar to the Augustan peace (Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-9 B.C.). There can be little doubt that the author of the Gospel is drawing an intentional point of contrast between the birth of Jesus and that of Augustus, whose birthday was also celebrated as a time of “salvation” for the world (cf. above).

December 20: Luke 1:46ff

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Luke 1:46ff

Today’s note will examine the famous hymn of Lk 1:46-55, the Magnificat. This is the first of the four hymns which punctuate the Lukan Infancy narrative, each of which came to be part of the Christian liturgy and are best known from the first word(s) of their rendering in Latin. When studying these hymns, there are three basic theories regarding their origin and composition:

  • They are inspired poetic works, more or less as uttered by the speaker, according to the context of the narrative. While there may be some translation and editing, etc, by the author (and/or the underlying tradition), the attribution in the text is accepted and taken at face value. This would generally be the traditional-conservative view.
  • The author (trad. Luke) has incorporated earlier Jewish (Christian) hymns, adapting them and setting them in the mouth of the individual character within the context of the narrative. This is probably the dominant critical view.
  • The hymns are free/original compositions by the author, in imitation of similar Psalms and hymns in the Old Testament, which he has likewise integrated into the narrative. Many critical scholars tend toward this view as well, or at least grant it as a possibility.

In my view, only the first two are legitimate, viable options, and both need to be taken seriously by commentators and students. On objective grounds, the evidence perhaps favors the second view, but each interpreter will have differing opinions on the weight of the evidence, and how it relates to a particular understanding of the nature and extent of inspiration, as well as other factors. It is not possible to go into this subject in any detail in this brief article. Also, for the purposes of this study, I am assuming the majority reading which attributes the hymn to Mary (cf. “Did You Know?” below).

The structure of the hymn has been analyzed and divided various ways. I prefer to view it in two parts:

  • Vv. 46-50—A (personal) praise to God for what he has done (i.e. for the speaker)
  • Vv. 51-55—Praise for what God has done on behalf of His people (Israel)

Some commentators feel that verse 48 is of Lukan composition, having been inserted into the hymn, based on the theory (cf. above) that the author has adapted and made use of a pre-existing Jewish Christian (or Jewish) hymn. It must be admitted that v. 48 does seem to interrupt the rhythm and flow of the poetry somewhat; on the other hand, it fits the personal context of the opening lines, at v. 48a at least could easily have been part of an earlier hymn. Only v. 48b specifically requires the setting established in the narrative.

It is the first half (or strophe) of the hymn which I want to examine in this note, especially the opening couplet (vv. 46-47) which sets the tone and theme for the hymn—beginning with the personal viewpoint of the speaker (i.e. Mary):

“My soul declares (the) great(ness of) the Lord,
and my spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior”

There is a precise parallelism in this couplet; note each of the three elements:

My soul makes/declares great the Lord
My spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior

The third element involves names and titles of God—specifically, Lord (ku/rio$) and Savior (swth/r). If we combine the two expressions here the result would be: “(the) Lord God my Savior”. We have already seen the combination Lord God (ku/rio$ o( qeo/$) in verse 32 (cf. the earlier note), where, as I discussed, the expression stems from the ancient Israelite (religious) identification of Yahweh with the (one) Creator God °E~l. Here Yahweh the God of Israel is also identified in the role of Savior of his people. This is essentially the theme of the hymn which follows, and draws upon the various episodes in Israelite history and tradition (as narrated in the Old Testament) where God acted to save/deliver his people. In fact, there a good number of Old Testament allusions in the hymn, beginning with the opening lines. Two passages, in particular, should be noted:

  • 1 Sam 2:1-2—The opening lines of Hannah’s hymn, upon which the Magnificat was patterned (at least in part). The Lukan Infancy narrative draws heavily upon the Samuel birth narrative (1 Sam 1-2), with Hannah serving as a type/pattern for Mary (and perhaps Elizabeth as well).
  • Hab 3:18—There is a more precise formal parallel in expression here:
    “I will leap (for joy) in YHWH, I will spin (joyfully) in the God of my salvation”

Mention should also be made of Psalm 35:9. If we were to blend together and distill these three passages, we would end up with wording not too different from that in Lk 1:46-47.

The title Savior (Swth/r) is especially significant as a thematic keyword, since it relates to the very name of Jesus (Yeshua)—the person through whom God will act to save his people. This aspect of Jesus as Savior will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes on Matt 1:21 and Luke 2:11. The word swth/r is actually rather rare in the New Testament, occurring just 24 times, and, somewhat surprisingly, only 5 times in the Gospels and Acts. Four of these occurrences are in Luke-Acts (the other being Jn 4:42)—Acts 5:31; 13:23, and here in the Infancy narrative (Lk 1:47 and 2:11). Much more common is the verb sw/zw, indicating the action of saving, delivering, protecting, etc, and which is used in the explanation of the name Yeshua in Matt 1:21. There is also the noun swthri/a (“salvation”) which occurs three times in the hymn of Zechariah (1:69, 71, 77), the Benedictus, a hymn which has many points in common with the Magnificat.

Turning to verse 49, we find, embedded in the line, another couplet which may be viewed as parallel to vv. 46-47:

“the Powerful (One) did great (thing)s for me,
and Holy is His name”

There are three adjectives in this verse which need to be examined:

“Great” (me/ga$)—It was previously stated of Jesus that he will be great [me/ga$] (v. 32, and cp. the qualified use with John the Baptist in v. 15). As I discussed in the note on v. 32, the absolute use of this adjective (as a descriptive title) is essentially reserved for God and reflects the fundamental meaning of the word °E~l (“Mighty One,” i.e. “God”). Here the reference is to the mighty and miraculous things God has done—i.e. his deeds and actions (cf. Deut 10:21)—using the prolonged (neuter) form mega/la as a substantive (“great [thing]s”). Applied to Mary, of course, it relates to the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus, and to his identity as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior.

“Powerful” (dunato/$)—Here the adjective is used as a substantive, with the definite article (“the Powerful [One]”), and is virtually synonymous with the title “Mighty (One)”, presumed to be the fundamental meaning of the name °E~l. Probably there is an allusion here to Zeph 3:17, where the Hebrew roBG] (“strong”) is translated in the LXX as dunato/$: “The Lord your God is in/among you, (the) Powerful (One) will save you”. In the New Testament, dunato/$ frequently refers to God’s ability to work miraculously on behalf of Christ (and through him), as well as other believers—e.g., Mk 10:27 par; 14:36; Acts 2:24; Rom 4:21.

“Holy” (a%gio$)—As an adjective, holy (Heb vdq, Grk a%gio$) is commonly used in reference to God, going back to the fundamental statement of Israelite religious life and identity in Leviticus 19:2. God’s holiness is frequently emphasized in the Scriptures, but vodq* (q¹dôš, “holy”) as a specific title is rather less common. Most likely there is an allusion here to Psalm 111:9, but see also Ps 99:3: “Let them raise hand(s) to [i.e. praise] your great and frightening Name—it is Holy [Q¹dôš]”. It is not entirely clear whether such references mean that God’s name (Yahweh) is holy, or that “Holy (One)” is to be regarded as a name/title of God. Later Israelites and Jews would likely have assumed the former, but, in the ancient context of the Psalms, the latter is a distinct possibility as well. Q¹dôš (or something equivalent) is known as a separate name, or as the name of a separate deity, in the Semitic world. The Greek a%gio$ (“Holy”) was used as a name for Jesus in Lk 1:35—”he will be called (the) Holy (one), the son of God”.

These words—”Powerful” and “Holy”—also occur in tandem, as a (synonymous) pairing, in verse 35 (cf. the earlier note). Recall the words of the Angel to Mary:

“the holy [a%gio$] Spirit will come upon you
and the power [du/nami$] of the Highest will cast shade upon you”

This surely is no coincidence, for the terms and attributes are essential to an understanding of God and his manifestation to human beings (His people). They come together most completely, and perfectly, in the person of Jesus Christ, the child born of Mary. Consider the concrete idiom used to express the conception of Jesus: “you will take/receive together [sullh/myh|] in the womb”. This same conception is described in verse 35—the holiness and power of God come upon Mary, and she conceives (in the womb) the holy child who is called the Son of God.

In a few (Latin) manuscripts (a b l) and writings (or translations) of the Church Fathers, the Magnificat is attributed in v. 46 not to Mary, but to Elizabeth. A few commentators have accepted this as the original reading, on the assumption that scribes were much more likely to change the text from “Elizabeth” to “Mary”, rather than the other way around. More plausible, in my view, is the theory that originally no name was specified, with the text reading simply “she said” (ei@pen). If one were to accept this premise, the specification of Mary as the speaker should still be regarded as an authoritative tradition, even if not part of the original text. However, based on the overwhelming evidence of the Greek MSS, it is probably best to maintain “Mary said” as the most likely original reading.

December 19: Luke 1:43

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Luke 1:43

Following the annunciation scenes in 1:8-23 and 26-38, the Gospel writer brings together the two narrative strands—related to John the Baptist and Jesus respectively—into a single episode (vv. 39-56). It may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative introduction, establishing the unifying motif—Elizabeth and Mary in the same house (vv. 39-40)
  • Elizabeth’s reaction and blessing (vv. 41-45)
  • Mary’s hymn of praise to God (vv. 46-55)
  • The narrative conclusion, with a notice of Mary’s separation from Elizabeth (v. 56)

There is a wonderful symmetry—in between the two short narrations, Elizabeth and Mary, while they are together, each are depicted uttering inspired (hymnic) poetry, as befitting the grand and lofty occasion established by the narrative context. Today I will be looking at the first portion—the words of Elizabeth—before turning to the hymn of Mary (the Magnificat) in the next note. Elizabeth’s reaction is described in verse 41:

“And it came to be, as Elisheba heard the welcome of Maryam, the baby in her belly jumped and Elisheba was filled by the holy Spirit”

The dramatic character of the scene is increased as the description continues in verse 42:

“and she raised up (her) voice (with) a great cry, and said…”

Elizabeth utters a two-fold blessing to Mary, in vv. 42 and 45. The first is a blessing proper, addressed both to Mary and her child:

  • “Well counted [eu)loghme/nh] are you among women,
    and well counted [eu)loghme/no$] is the fruit of your belly!”

The verb eu)loge/w means “to give a good account (of someone), speak well (of him/her)”. In a religious or ritual context, it commonly refers to giving praise and honor (in speech) to God; or, in the reverse direction, it can indicate God showing favor to (i.e. speaking blessing upon) a person. The idea of praise and honor (given to Mary) is certainly present in the use of the verb—she will be spoken well of and highly regarded, by both God and His people. Moreover, it relates specifically to the favor (xa/ri$) which God has shown to Mary (cf. the Angelic annunciation in vv. 28ff), by the conception of Jesus within her (“the fruit of [her] belly”). The second blessing in verse 45 is more generalized, but certainly relates to Mary’s words in v. 38; it uses the parallel adjective maka/rio$ (“happy”):

“and happy [makari/a] (is) the (one) trusting that there will be a completion [i.e. fulfillment] to the (thing)s spoken to her (from) alongside the Lord!”

The blessed and favored status of Mary has touched Elizabeth as well. According to the narrative, both women have experienced a miraculous conception, and each will give birth to a child who will play a major role in God’s plan of salvation for His people. The reason for Elizabeth’s inspired reaction is expressed in verse 43, with wonder and amazement:

“how has this (happened) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me?”

The specific phrase “the mother of my Lord” (h( mh/thr tou= kuri/ou mou) is of utmost significance in the context of the passage, and must be examined in more detail.

The word ku/rio$ (“lord”) has already been used 10 times in the Lukan Infancy narrative to this point (vv. 6, 9, 11, 15-17, 25, 28, 32, 38), but always in reference to God the Father, the God of Israel (Yahweh). This is the first time that the title (“Lord”) is used of Jesus. In the earlier article on Yahweh, I discussed the traditional use of °A_dœn¹y (yn`d)a&), “My Lord”, as a divine name, substituting for the name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). This is literally what Elizabeth says here—o( ku/rio$ mou (“my Lord”). Yet one must be cautious about assuming that Jesus is being identified here with God the Father. The only other occurrences of the specific phrase “my Lord” in either the Synoptic Gospels or Luke-Acts as whole involve the citation of Psalm 110:1 (Luke 20:42 par; Acts 2:34). There can be little doubt that Psalm 110 was highly influential on the early Christian use of the title “Lord” (Ku/rio$) for Jesus. The Greek text (LXX) of verse 1 reads:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou
eípen ho kýrios tœ¡ kyríœ mou
“The Lord said to my lord…”

The same word (ku/rio$) is used twice, creating an obvious wordplay (as well as potential confusion). However, the original Hebrew reads:

yn]d)al^ hwhy <a%n+
N®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my lord:”

The LXX version is the result of the standard substitution, when reciting the Psalm, of °A_dœn¹y (“My Lord”) in place of YHWH. In the original context of the Psalm, the “lord” (°¹dôn) was understood as referring either to David, or to the reigning king (in the Davidic line). Eventually, in Jewish tradition, it came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense, of a future Davidic ruler who would deliver God’s people and judge the nations at the end-time. Jesus himself treats Ps 110:1 this way in the Synoptic tradition (Lk 20:41-44 par). The two main ‘Messianic’ passages from the Psalms utilized by Christians from the beginning were Ps 2:7 and 110:1—the first establishing Jesus as Son of God, the second as Lord. In this regard, believers went beyond the standard Messianic interpretation. The earliest Gospel preaching (kerygma), as recorded in the book of Acts, understands Jesus as Lord and Son of God specifically in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven at the right hand of God (Acts 2:24-36; 13:33ff). Even in the Gospel of John, which otherwise has a more developed Christological sense of Jesus as God’s Son, the expression “my Lord” occurs in a setting after the resurrection (Jn 20:13, 28). Luke 1:43 is unique in the Gospels in applying the title to Jesus prior to his death—indeed, before his very birth.

In what sense should the child Jesus be understood as “my Lord” here as uttered by Elizabeth (v. 43)? In my view, we do not yet have a clear sense of Jesus’ deity in view at this point in the narrative, even though Christians reading or hearing the Gospel would naturally make the association. This will be discussed further in the note on 1:76ff. More likely, the use of ku/rio$ here is meant primarily in a Messianic sense. This would seem to be confirmed by two parallels in the Old Testament from 2 Samuel, both involving David (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 344-5):

  • 2 Sam 6:9—In the narrative of the transportation of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (vv. 1-4ff), in the midst of celebration, the sudden death of Uzzah (who had unintentionally touched the Ark), brought fear upon the people (vv. 5-9a), as well as with David who exclaimed: “How shall the box {Ark} of YHWH come to me?”. The Greek of v. 9b is reasonably close to Elizabeth’s wording in Lk 1:43.
  • 2 Sam 24:21—At God’s command, David visits Araunah the Jebusite to purchase his threshing-floor and erect an altar to the Lord there. Upon David’s approach, Araunah asks “(For) what reason does my Lord the king come to his servant?”. Again, there is a formal similarity in the Greek to Elizabeth’s words.

Given the parallels between 2 Sam 7 and the pronouncement by Gabriel in vv. 32-33 (cf. the previous note), the likelihood increases that there is an allusion here to the earlier episode in 2 Sam 6. The primary reference would be to Jesus as the Anointed Davidic ruler (Messiah) who would deliver God’s people. Even so, the context of the Ark of the Covenant, like the use of the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), implies something deeper as well—the manifestation and presence of God Himself. This will be discussed in upcoming notes as we progress through the narrative.

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

December 18: Luke 1:32-35

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Luke 1:32-35

Having discussed the Angelic appearance to Zechariah in the last two daily notes, today I will be looking at the parallel appearance to Mary in Lk 1:26-38. This annunciation pattern was outlined in the prior note. In both episodes, the “Messenger [a&ggelo$] (of the Lord)” who appears is named Gabriel. This is established in the narrative introduction to the scene (v. 26):

“And in the sixth month, the Messenger Gabrîel was se(n)t forth from God into a city of the Galîl {Galilee} (with the) name (of) Nazaret…”

The mention of the sixth month connects this episode with the prior notice of Elizabeth’s pregnancy in vv. 24-25 (i.e. the sixth month of her pregnancy). The parallel between Mary and Elizabeth is obvious, and, according to verse 36, the two women were also related. The main difference between them has to do with the reason that each was unable to bear a child at the time of the Angel’s appearance—Elizabeth was both sterile/barren (stei=ra) and past the normal age (v. 7); while Mary was a virgin (parqe/no$) and still in the period of engagement (°¢rûsîn) when, presumably, she was not yet living with Joseph (v. 27).

Even more significantly, there is a thematic shift from prophetic motifs (Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, etc) to Davidic royal imagery (from 1-2 Samuel, etc). This is indicated right away with the notice (in v. 27) that Joseph was from the “house of David” (oi@ko$ Daui/d). In referring to Mary specifically as a virgin (parqe/no$) there may be an echo of the famous ‘Messianic’ reference in Isa 7:14 [LXX], as also by the phrasing in v. 28b. It is possible that there is also a (Messianic) allusion to Zeph 3:14-17 [LXX] in vv. 28ff, with the parallel greeting “Rejoice [xai=re]…daughter of Zion” (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 345). The use of xai=re (chaíre) as a greeting in v. 28 is of greater importance for establishing the keyword motif of favor (xa/ri$, cháris) in the passage. It should be recalled the occurrence of this theme in the prior appearance to Zechariah, in which the Angel (Gabriel) appears on the right-hand side of the altar, indicating that God is responding with favor to Zechariah and Elizabeth. The very name Yôµ¹n¹n ( )Iwa/nnh$, i.e. John) means “Yah(weh) as shown favor [µnn]”. The same Hebrew word is at the root of the name Hannah („annâ, hN`j^), the mother of Samuel (1 Sam 1-2), who serves as an Old Testament type/pattern for Mary, both in this scene and the hymn (Magnificat) which follows in vv. 46-55. The Samuel narrative was already alluded to in the prior vv. 23-24 (cf. 1 Sam 1:19-20).

This favor (xa/ri$) is, after the initial greeting (xai=re), expressed in two statements by Gabriel to Mary:

  • “Favored one [kexaritwme/nh], the Lord (is) with you” (v. 28b)
  • “You have found favor [xa/ri$] (from) alongside God” (v. 30b)

These are essentially parallel statements expressing the same idea, given two-fold emphasis. The phrase “the Lord (is) with you” may allude to the name Immanuel from Isa 7:14, which will be discussed in the upcoming note on Matt 1:23. There can be little doubt that the announcement which follows in vv. 31-35 introduces a number of titles with Messianic (and theological) significance, beginning with the declaration of the name Yeshua (Jesus):

“See! you will take/receive together in the womb and will produce a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua.” (v. 31)

The statement contains the three key elements of the birth process: conception, the birth itself, and the giving of a name. Y¢šûa±, like Yôµ¹n¹n, is a Yahweh-name (cf. the earlier article), related to the idea of God’s salvation/deliverance of his people; it will be discussed in detail in the note on Matt 1:21. With regard to the titles in verses 32-33 and 35, there are two important passages which help to elucidate their Messianic and theological significance—(i) from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7, and (ii) the Qumran text 4Q246, which was inspired/influenced by the book of Daniel. I set forth the parallels from 2 Samuel 7 (following Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 338) here:

  • “a great name” (v. 9)
  • “the throne of his kingdom” (v. 13)
  • “he will be my son” (v. 14)
  • “your house and your kingdom” (v. 16)

That 2 Sam 7:11-14 was understood in a Messianic sense—that is, as a prophecy of a future Anointed ruler in the Davidic line—is confirmed by the Florilegium text (4Q174[Flor], lines 7-12) from Qumran, along with other writings of the period. On the Messianic Davidic-ruler type, and the early Christian understanding of Jesus as its fulfillment, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (Parts 6-8). I have discussed the important Qumran text 4Q246 in considerable detail in prior notes and articles (cf. also Part 6 of “Yeshua the Anointed”); the parallels of expression with Luke 1:32-35 are striking indeed.

In verses 32-33, we find a sequence of five statements by Gabriel regarding the child Jesus’ identity and (future) destiny; they are each governed by a verb in the future tense:

  • “he will be great [me/ga$]”
  • “he will be called son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]”
  • “the Lord God will give him the ruling-seat of David his father”
  • “he will rule as king upon [i.e. over] the house of Jacob into the Ages”
  • “there will be no end/completion of his kingdom”

The last two statements are parallel, expressing the same basic idea—that Jesus will rule as king, and that his kingdom will last forever. This eternal aspect of his kingdom marks it as having the character of the Kingdom of God, with the expression “into the Age(s)” being the traditional Greek idiom related to the Hebrew word ±ôl¹m (<l*ou). For the Hebrew term as a name or title of God (±Ôl¹m, “The Ancient/Eternal One”), cf. my earlier discussion in the article on ±Elyôn.

The third statement defines Jesus’ kingship in traditional Messianic terms—i.e., as a future/eschatological ruler from the line of David. In early Christian tradition, this came to be expressed by the use of the title “Son of David” for Jesus; for more on its occurrence in the New Testament, cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The first two statements (in v. 32a) are fundamental with regard to Jesus’ identity and future role in God’s plan of salvation. They govern not only the sequence in vv. 32-33, but also what follows in verse 35—that is, of the two halves of the annunciation taken together:

  • “he will be great“—Son of David (Messiah), i.e. ruling as God’s Anointed king upon the earth (vv. 32-33)
  • “he will be called son of the Highest“—Son of God (v. 35), i.e. with God in the highest places

The two implied spatial aspects (on earth / in the highest [heavens]) are expressed in the later Angelic announcement in 2:14 (to be discussed in a subsequent note). At the theological level, the titles Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) and Son of God are the two elements that make up the core early Christian understanding of Jesus (e.g. in Peter’s confession, esp. Matt 16:16 [par Luke 9:20]). Let us consider each of the titles that appear in Lk 1:32a:

“Great” (me/ga$)—The absolute use of this adjective is applied to God himself in the LXX (cf. Ps 48:1 [145:3]; 86:10; 135:5), while it is qualified when used of human beings (e.g., 2 Sam 19:33; Sir 48:22), as in its application to John the Baptist in Lk 1:15 (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 347). Almost certainly a comparison between Jesus and John is intended here. That the title Great (One) essentially refers to God is also confirmed by the (likely) fundamental meaning of the old Semitic word °E~l, “Mighty (One)” (cf. the earlier article). Underlying the expression “Lord God” (ku/rio$ o( qeo/$) in verse 32b, is the ancient Israelite (religious) identification of Yahweh (the Lord [°Adôn]) with °E~l—that is, as the one true Creator God. This connects Jesus back past the time of David to that of the Patriarchs and the origins of Israel. The ancient God of Israel—the God of the Fathers—is the one who gives to Jesus kingship and the everlasting throne.

“Highest” (u%yisto$)—This Greek word translates, and, as a divine title, corresponds with, Hebrew ±Elyôn (/oyl=u#). On this ancient title, and its relation to °E~l, cf. the earlier article on ±Elyôn. It is at least partly synonymous with °E~l in the basic meaning “Mighty, Great, Exalted”, and of the plural °E_lœhîm used as an intensive (“Mightest, Greatest,” etc). In the Greco-Roman world, u%yisto$ was used as a title Zeus, just as “High/Exalted, Highest” might be applied to any deity associated with the Sky. Beyond the occurrences in the Old Testament (LXX) and New Testament, it is also used of Yahweh frequently in pre-Christian Jewish literature (Jubilees 16:18; 1 Enoch 9:3; 10:1; 46:7; 60:1, 22; 1QapGen 12:17; 20:12, 16, etc; cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, pp. 347-8).

Verse 35 in the second part of the Annunciation, following Mary’s question (“how will this be?”), relates to this latter name “Most High, Highest” and to Jesus as the Son of God. Note the pair of statements:

  • “the holy Spirit will come upon you”
  • “the power of the Highest will cast shade upon you”

Again, this reflects two aspects of one event or moment—the conception of the child Jesus (cf. verse 31). The declaration in v. 35b combines both aspects as well, in terms of the child’s birth and name (that is, his essential nature and identity):

  • “the (child) coming to be (born)…will be called”
    • “Holy”—i.e. Holy (One), related to the Holy Spirit (of God)
    • “Son of God”—son of the Highest

God as the Holy One, and his holiness, are emphasized frequently in the Scriptures, going back to the fundamental statement in Lev 19:2. The expression “Holy (One)” as a divine title will be discussed further in the note on 1:46ff. The title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=) relates back to key passages such as Psalm 2 and 2 Sam 7 (cf. above), especially as they came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense by Jews and Christians. I have discussed the Messianic significance of the title, and its application to Jesus, at length in an earlier article (“Yeshua the Anointed” Part 12). Eventually, orthodox Christians came to understand the divine Sonship of Jesus in a metaphysical sense, but there is little clear evidence of this developed Christology in the New Testament itself. In the book of Acts, Jesus is understood as “Son of God” primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven (at the right hand of the Father). However, in the Gospel, this identity is established from the very beginning of his earthly life (cf. also Lk 3:22 par). The relationship between Jesus and God the Father (Yahweh) will be examined further in the next note (on 1:43).

References above marked “Fitzmyer, Luke” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28 (1981).

“And you shall call His Name…”

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“…and you shall call his name Yeshua”
(Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)

For the remainder of Advent and Christmas season, on through Epiphany (Jan 6), I will be presenting a series of daily notes which will explore the Birth of Jesus and the Infancy Narratives (of Matthew and Luke) from the standpoint of names. The declaration of a name was an important part of celebrating the birth of a child, even as it continues to be for us today. Naming events and scenes feature prominently in the birth (infancy) narratives in the Gospels, especially in Luke, where the births of two children—John and Jesus—run parallel throughout the narrative. Such scenes are inspired and influenced by the Old Testament and reflect ancient traditions regarding the meaning and significance of the name given to a child.

It is somewhat difficult for Christians today, especially in modern Western societies, to appreciate how names were used and understood in ancient times. When choosing a name for a child, we may seek out one that appeals to us, perhaps even researching its origins and etymology, but quite often the name itself has no real meaning in our own language. This is true with regard to my own name, Steven, which is an anglicized transliteration of the Greek ste/fano$ (stéphanos), a wreath or “crown”, something which encircles the head as a mark of honor or prestige. It is a fine name, with a rich history, and features prominently in at least one Scripture passage (cf. Acts 6-7), but has no meaning whatever in English. Even in the case of names which have their origins in older English (and its Germanic roots), e.g. Edward, Richard, and the like, most English speakers today would have no idea of their original meaning.

In the ancient world, on the other hand, names typically had clear and definite meaning—often profound meaning—in the ordinary language of the time and place. For names in the ancient Near Eastern languages, including the Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic, a single word could express an entire phrase or short sentence—something which is nearly impossible in modern English. Not infrequently, these “sentence names” involved and incorporated the name of God—or, in a polytheistic context, the name of a particular deity. I will be exploring a number of such names in this series, but, for now, one example will suffice. The name Why`u=v^y+ (Y§ša±y¹hû, i.e. Isaiah) means something like “Yah(weh) will save” or “(May) Yah(weh) save!” and really ought to be translated this way, since it would have been generally understood by Hebrew speakers and hearers at the time the various Scriptures were written. Yet, as this is strange to our sensibilities, it is simpler and less confusing to retain the customary transliteration. Very few people would give such names to their children in our culture today.

More than this, the ancient mind regarded names (and the idea of a name) very differently than we do in the modern age. There was a kind of magical, efficacious quality to names—they represented and encapsulated the essence and nature of a person or thing. To know a person’s name was virtually the same as knowing the person. To call out (that is, speak out loud) a person’s name established a connection with the person—his/her nature and character, abilities, and the like. This could be utilized in a positive or negative way; in the latter sense, names were thought to allow one to gain control over another person (through binding magical formulae, curses, etc). In the religious sphere, the names of deities were fundamental to nearly every aspect of ritual, in some fashion. To know and utter—properly and correctly—the name of a deity meant the person had established a relationship and connection with that particular deity, and could ‘tap in’ to the divine protection, power, blessing, etc which God (or the gods) provide. This helps to explain the Old Testament idiom of “calling upon” the name of the Lord (YHWH). Divine names were used in a wide range of ritual contexts, related to nearly every area of human society, including their inclusion to safeguard agreements (i.e. covenants), contracts, testimony, and so forth. There was a sacred quality to such names and they were not to be used or uttered (in oaths, vows, etc) for evil, unworthy or frivolous purposes (cf. Exod 20:7 par). For Israelites and Jews the name of God represented by the Tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh) was especially sacred and to be treated with the utmost care. This name will be discussed in one of the articles in this series. Early Christians regarded the name Yeshua (Jesus) as efficacious—uttered for the purpose of blessing, healing, protection, etc—in a similar fashion.

This series of (daily) articles will be divided into two parts. The first part will explore the Names of God—that is, the six or seven fundamental names and titles of God used in the Old Testament and ancient Israelite religion. The second part will examine the relevant verses and passages in the Infancy narratives in the Gospels (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), focusing on the scenes of birth and naming, as well as the various names and titles used in the text (especially those applied to Jesus). The commentary on the Infancy narratives will begin with the Lukan account, before turning to that of Matthew. This may seem like a rather narrow lens through which to study the text, but I think you will find it to be a rich and rewarding approach to take, and one which should provide many helpful (and surprising) insights into the familiar Christmas story.