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Circumcision

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 21: Luke 1:57-66

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Luke 1:57-66

As we continue through a study of the Infancy Narratives, we come now to the episode of the circumcision and naming of John the Baptist in Lk 1:57-66. Following the Visitation scene in vv. 39-56, in which the John and Jesus halves of the Infancy narrative come together, in v. 57 the scene shifts back to John’s side, picking up from verse 25. Clearly this episode functions as a fulfillment of the annunciation scene in vv. 8-22, and is given much more attention than the corresponding circumcision/naming of Jesus. The birth of John itself is narrated simply in verse 57:

“And the time for her to produce (a child) was fulfilled for Elisheba, and she caused to be (born) [i.e. gave birth to] a son”.

The verses which follow narrate the circumcision and naming of the child—this event is framed by two notices which establish the significance of the scene:

“And the (one)s housing round about [i.e. neighbors], and the (one)s together (with) her [i.e. her relatives], heard that the Lord did (a) great (act of) his mercy with her, and they took delight (in it) together with her.” (v. 58)

“And fear came to be upon all the (one) housing round about them, and in the whole mountain-region of Yehudah {Judea} all these utterances were spoken throughout; and all the (one)s hearing (this) set it in their heart saying, ‘What then will this (little) child be?'” (vv. 65-66)

The first reaction by the people is a response to the miraculous nature of the birth (i.e. to Elizabeth, who was elderly and barren), the second is to the wondrous sign of Zechariah suddenly speaking again. In between is the moment of circumcision and naming.

Circumcision was a customary cultural practice throughout much of the ancient world, and in traditional societies even today. It was scarcely unique or original to Israel; however, there was special significance to the practice for Israelites—it was an essential mark of religious identity, going back to the tradition of its introduction for Abraham (Gen 17:10-14). Indeed, it is called the “sign of the covenant”, an indication that the person belongs to God’s chosen people, and is thus obligated to observe the terms of the agreement (covenant) established by God—namely, the Torah (or Law) as recorded in the Pentateuch (Exodus–Numbers & Deuteronomy). The central importance of circumcision is stated or otherwise indicated numerous times in Scripture (Gen 21:4; 34:15ff; Exod 4:24-26; 12:44ff; Lev 12:3; Deut 10:16; Josh 5:2-8; Jer 4:4; John 7:22-23; Phil 3:5, etc). Its significance in terms of religious identity made it a controversial issue for early Christians, as dramatically illustrated in the book of Acts (10:45ff; 15:1-16:3; 21:21) and the letters of Paul (on this, cf. my earlier articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”). By ancient tradition, circumcision was to take place on the eighth day, as narrated here in v. 59, and also (for Jesus) in 2:21. This is not merely an incidental detail in the birth narratives, but is of the utmost importance for the author, as it relates to the key theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the types and forms from the Old Testament and Israelite religion—the New Covenant that fulfills and completes the Old Covenant. This is the primary reason for emphasizing details which show that John and his parents, as well as Jesus and his parents, were devout in religious matters, faithfully observing the commands and precepts of the Torah.

The narrative context suggests that the naming of the child took place at the circumcision. Such a practice is known from later Jewish tradition, but is otherwise unattested in this early period (cf. Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 380). Based on the pattern indicated in the Old Testament, we might expect the naming to occur at the time of birth, rather than eight days later (Gen 4:1; 21:3; 25:25-26, etc). It is possible that the author (trad. Luke) has taken dramatic license and moved the naming ‘ahead’ to coincide with the circumcision, given the importance of that event to the narrative (cf. above). Apparently, some of the neighbors and relatives were expecting that the child would be named after his father, Zechariah (v. 59b); or, on the assumption that the naming was delayed until the time of circumcision, in lieu of a name, they may have been referring to the child e.g., as “little Zechariah” (Fitzmyer, Luke, p. 380). At this time it was perhaps more common to name a child after his grandfather, rather than his father. In any case, the name spoken by Elizabeth—Yohanan ( )Iwa/nnh$, John)—was, it seems, not one common among the child’s immediate relatives (v. 61).

I discussed the meaning of the name Yôµ¹n¹n (/n`j*oy) in the earlier note on vv. 13-17. It means “Yah(weh) has shown favor”. As such, it is an old Yahweh-name, dating back to the Kingdom period; it is not especially common in the Old Testament, but is known in priestly circles (Neh 12:13, 42; 1 Macc 2:1f), so it is perhaps not unusual that a priestly family such as Zechariah and Elizabeth might adopt it. As I noted previously, the name can be understood or interpreted three ways:

  • God has shown favor to Zechariah and Elizabeth by giving them a child
  • God has shown them favor due to the special role the child will play in the deliverance of His people
  • God shows favor to His people in the person of Jesus, and the child John will play a key role in “preparing the way” for him

All three aspects are present in the narrative, but especially the latter two, which will be emphasized more clearly in the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus) that follows in vv. 67-79.

In the Introduction to this series, I discussed the way in which names (and the idea of a name) were understood in the ancient world, much differently than in our society today. The name was thought to represent and embody the essential nature and character of a person—to know a person’s name was effectively the same as knowing the person. When applied in a religious setting or context, names which include a theophoric element (i.e. a shortened form of a deity’s name), often had a very special significance, usually as a phrase- or sentence-name. It may indicate praise to God for his care, power, etc., in bringing the child into the world and blessing the parents. At the same time, such a name could be invoked over the child as a blessing or prophecy over his/her future life and destiny. This aspect of the name Yôµ¹n¹n is included as part of the Angel’s annunciation, in vv. 15-17, when the name is first declared (by Gabriel) to Zechariah (see the earlier note). No such explanation is given by Elizabeth in v. 60, but it is emphasized again in the hymn of Zechariah (vv. 76-77ff), as will be discussed in the next note.

Also important to the structure of the narrative is the moment when Zechariah’s (mute) silence ends and he speaks again (v. 64). Keep in mind the basic outline and note the parallelism:

  • Annunciation of John’s coming birth to Zechariah (vv. 8-25)
    —with the sign: Zechariah will be mute until it comes to pass
  • Annunciation of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary (vv. 26-38)
    —with the sign: the miracle of Elizabeth conceiving & giving birth

    • The fulfillment: Mary sees Elizabeth’s pregnancy (vv. 39-56)
    • The fulfillment: Zechariah speaks following John’s birth (vv. 57-66)

The order of scenes is inverted when dealing with the fulfillment of the sign given by the Angel, but otherwise the parallel is precise, covering all four scenes in vv. 8-66ff. Interestingly, Zechariah is not yet able to speak at John’s birth, but only after the child’s circumcision and naming takes place. Indeed, it is only when Zechariah himself confirms the name of John (Yohanan), writing it down, that his speech returns: “and his mouth opened up along (that very) moment, and (also) his tongue, and he spoke, giving good account (of) [i.e. blessing/praising] God”. This leads to the reaction by the people narrated in vv. 65-66 (cf. above), which spreads, with the news of the wondrous sign, all throughout the region. Even as Zechariah speaks (lale/w) again, so word and news of this event is spoken throughout (dialale/w).

Two significant notices close this scene. The first is a question which represents the thoughts of the people: “What then will this child be?” It is a question at the very heart of the child’s identity, as indicated by his name, and the marvelous events surrounding it (and his birth). The second, final statement is made by the author, almost as though in response to the people’s question: “For indeed the hand of the Lord was with him“. The idiom “hand of the Lord (YHWH)” is familiar from the Old Testament (Exod 9:3; 15:6; 16:3; Num 11:23; Deut 2:15; Josh 4:24; 22:31, etc). It is an anthropomorphic image that primarily refers to God’s power, either to bring judgment on people, or protection and deliverance for his chosen ones. Both aspects will be manifest in the preaching and mission-work of John, as we see depicted in the Gospels (Lk 3:3-20 par).

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

Note of the Day – January 1

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In the ecclesiastical calendar of the Western Church, January 1 traditionally commemorates the circumcision of Jesus, as narrated in Luke 2:21. This brief notice, which matches that of John the Baptist in Lk 1:59ff (part of a parallelism between John and Jesus that runs through the Infancy narrative), serves two purposes within the text: (a) to narrate the official naming of Jesus (cf. Lk 1:31), and (b) to demonstrate the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary in observing the Old Testament/Jewish Law. Within the narrative, it is connected with the Temple scene of Lk 2:22-38—one of three episodes set in the Temple (the others being Lk 1:5-25 and 2:41-50). There is a clear emphasis on the faithfulness and religious devotion of the main characters—Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:5), Joseph and Mary (2:22-24, 39, 41-42, cf. Matt 1:19), Simeon and Anna (2:25, 37-38), and the child Jesus (2:43-50, 51-52). The Old Testament and Jewish background of these episodes as been noted by many commentators, according to a number recurring motifs: (i) allusions to the Old Testament within the canticles, (ii) the annunciation scenes, (iii) parallels with the birth of Samuel (1 Sam 1:1-2:26), (iv) the Temple setting, (v) the idea of observing/fulfilling the Law, and (vi) an atmosphere of ‘Messianic’ expectation—on this last, cf. especially Lk 2:25, 38, but also 1:16-17, 32-33, 43, 54-55, 69ff, 76ff; 2:11, 30-32. Particularly noteworthy for Lk 2:21-38 are the allusions to various passages from (Deutero-)Isaiah, such as 40:1, 5; 46:13; 49:6, 9; 52:10; 61:2.

Romans 15:8-9 (also Luke 2:21, 29-32)

In the context of Jesus’ circumcision, it is worth exploring the interesting reference of Romans 15:8ff, where it is stated (by Paul) that Jesus “came to be [gegnh=sqai] a servant [dia/konon] of (the) circumcision [peritomh=$, lit. “cutting around”] under the truth of God”. This is another key use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”), related to the birth and/or incarnation of Christ, such as we have been studying in recent notes. There is here a close parallel with Gal 4:4, specifically with regard to the birth of Jesus—”God sent forth his Son…”

  • “coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman (i.e. spec. of his human birth)”
  • “coming to be [geno/menon] under the Law (i.e. his human life, esp. as a Jew)”

The expression “servant of (the) circumcision” is generally synonymous with “under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, though Paul also uses the latter phrase in a deeper theological sense. In coming under the religious and ethical authority of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (the Torah), it was necessary that he should be circumcised. Though circumcision (and comparable practices) are not unique to Israel, being attested as an ancient/traditional rite in cultures around the world, nevertheless it hold a special place for Israelites and Jews as a mark of the covenant with God—i.e. marking them as God’s chosen people—and as an essential sign of religious and cultural identity (cf. Gen 17:10ff; 21:4; 34:15ff; Exod 4:24-26; 12:44, 48; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2-8, and many subsequent passages [in the NT, see Jn 7:22-23; Acts 7:8, etc]). Circumcision in Old Testament and Jewish tradition could also be symbolic of faithfulness and obedience in the wider ethical or spiritual sense (cf. Deut 10:16; 30:16; Jer 4:4; 9:25, etc).

In the New Testament, “circumcision” and “circumcised” are often used as shorthand terms to refer to (observant) Jews—Acts 10:45; 11:2; Rom 3:30; 4:9, 12; Gal 2:7, 12; 6:13; 1 Cor 7:18; Col 3:11; 4:11; Eph 2:11; Tit 1:10. The early conflicts regarding the relationship between believers (especially Gentile believers) and the Law naturally involved circumcision—Acts 15:1ff (cf. 16:3; 21:21); Gal 2:3ff. It was out of these disputes and debates that Paul developed his particular (and controversial) teaching regarding circumcision and the Law for believers in Christ (Jews and Gentiles alike)—Rom 2:25-29ff; 4:10-12; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:2ff; 6:12-15; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; and also Eph 2:11. Fundamental to this teaching is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ is a key theme of Romans, especially in this concluding section (Rom 15:7-13) to the body of the letter. Consider the message of unity inherent in the central citation of Deut 32:43 in verse 10:

“Be of good mind [i.e. be glad, rejoice], (you) nations [e&qnh, i.e. Gentiles], with his people [tou= laou= au)tou=, i.e. Israel]”

For this important theme elsewhere in Paul’s writings, see Romans 1:16-17; chapter 3; 9:24; 10:12; chapter 11; Gal 3:26-29; 1 Cor 9:20-21; 12:13; Col 3:11, and also Eph 2:11-22.

Note also the two infinitive clauses of verses 8-9, both governed by the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto”):

  • to confirm [bebaiw=sai, lit. make firm/fixed] the promises of [i.e. for/to] the Fathers
  • the nations to esteem [doxa/sai, i.e. honor/glorify] God

The expression “promises [i.e. messages/announcements] for/to the Fathers” refers to Israelites and Jews, while “the nations” clearly refers to Gentiles.

In this regard, one is reminded of a similar two-fold reference embedded in the ‘Song of Simeon’ (the Nunc Dimittis), Luke 2:29-32, and connected specifically with the birth of Jesus:

  • “…(in) that my eyes saw your salvation” (v. 30)
    • “which you prepared according to the face of [i.e. before] all the peoples” (v. 31)

Verse 32 builds upon this and makes it more specific: “salvation” under the image of a light (fw=$). As in Rom 15:8-9, here we also find phrases governed by the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto”), indicating both purpose and result:

  • “(the) uncovering [a)poka/luyin] of the nations“—either from the standpoint of the nations (light shining on them in darkness) or that the light itself constitutes revelation
  • “(the) the esteem/glory [do/can] of your people Israel
    On the language and imagery of these phrases, cf. Isa 49:6, 9 and 46:13

Both Rom 15:8-9 and Luke 2:32 emphasize “esteem/honor/glory” (do/ca), which also indicates the overriding purpose: “unto [ei)$] the glory of God”. From God, this ‘glory’ extends (through Christ) to all the people. The citation from Psalm 117:1 in Rom 15:11 demonstrates a subtle shift toward the idea of unity—of including Gentiles among the People of God—

The parallel moves from
nations | people [sg. lao/$] to
nations | peoples [pl. laoi/]

just as we see the plural laoi/ (“peoples”) used in Luke 2:31; sometimes “peoples” is synonymous with “nations [i.e. Gentiles]”, but here it certainly refers to Jews and Gentiles together. In the use of “peoples [laoi/]” there is implied the merging of the nations with the “people” (Israel), such as we see expressed so well in Rom 11:13-24ff and Eph 2:11-22.

Finally, the messianic context of Isaiah 11:10, cited in Rom 15:12, brings us back to the atmosphere of eschatological expectation in the Lukan Infancy narrative—Simeon, it is said, is one who was

“looking toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel” (Lk 2:25)

The Greek word para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis) literally means “calling (or being called) alongside”, usually in the context of offering help, aid, comfort, instruction, etc. Almost certainly, Isaiah 40:1-2ff is in mind, with the idea of God providing aid and comfort for his suffering People. That such an idea is connected with the concept of the restoration of Israel (by God) at the end-time (cf. Acts 1:6) is indicated both by the future/eschatological usage of the term in Jewish writings (2/4 Esdras, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and subsequently in Rabbinic literature), as well as by the parallel expression in Lk 2:38, where it is stated that Anna was

“looking toward receiving the ransom/redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem”

The term para/klhto$ (i.e. “Paraclete”, lit. “one called alongside”, related to para/klhsi$) occurs 4 times in the Gospel of John—Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7 (also 1 Jn 2:1), where it is identified specifically with the (Holy) Spirit (see esp. 14:26). It is noteworthy, in this regard, that, right after the mention of para/klhsi$ in Lk 2:25, we read:

“…and the Holy Spirit was upon him [i.e. Simeon]”

Paul, too, concludes Rom 15:7-13 with a climactic reference to the Holy Spirit (the final words of the verse). He ends with another purpose-clause governed by the preposition ei)$ (cf. above); his concluding prayer is for believers

“…to abound/overflow in the hope [i.e. of Christ/salvation], in (the) power of the Holy Spirit

This is a prayer we can, and should, offer during the current Christmas season as well.

Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 1)

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Having gone through Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans in considerable detail, it now remains to examine the relevant passages and references in the remaining Letters. This will be done in three parts:

  1. Specific passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law, or which are especially relevant, examined in order for 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians
  2. A summary treatment of:
    a. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
    b. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
    c. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law
  3. The relevant passages in Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); as there remains legitimate doubt, even among traditional-conservative commentators, as to whether these letters are authentically Pauline or pseudonymous, they are dealt with separately.

Part 1—Passages which refer specifically to the Old Testament Law

1 and 2 Thessalonians

There is no mention of the Law in either letter. The word a)nomi/a does appear (twice) in 2 Thess 2:3, 8, along with the related adjective a&nomo$ (used as a substantive, “the lawless [one]”). The privative prefix a)- indicates a lack of no/mo$ (“law”), i.e. “without law, lawless(ness)”. In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the adjective a&nomo$ (“without [the] Law, lawless”) as a general reference to non-Jews (Gentiles), those who do not have the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) as a source of religious and ethical guidance and authority. However, in Rom 4:7; 6:19, a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used as a general term synonymous with sin and wickedness, as also in 2 Cor 6:14 (and note in the Pastorals, Tit 2:14). Here in 2 Thessalonians, both terms are used in this latter sense, as indicated by the context, a)nomi/a being set parallel with a)postasi/a (“standing away from [God]”, i.e. “falling away”) and a)pw/leia (“[coming to] destruction, ruin”); in fact, in verse 3, some manuscripts read a(marti/a (“sin”) instead of a)nomi/a, further indicating the general equivalence.

1 Corinthians

1 Cor 6:12; 10:23—In both verses we find the declaration pa/nta moi e&cestin, which is sometimes translated “all things are lawful for me”; however, e&cestin literally indicates something coming “out of (that which) is”, i.e. that which is in a person’s power to do, or that which he/she is authorized and/or free to do. Even though Paul does not specifically mention the Law (no/mo$), it is likely that this statement relates directly to his view of the Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans) and the idea of the freedom believers have in Christ; indeed, the statement might be paraphrased as “I am free to do all things”. Commentators are generally agreed that this reflects a declaration (or “slogan”) by certain Corinthians believers, and one that Paul affirms, but only with qualification and careful explanation. Note how he proceeds:

  • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but not all things bring (themselves) together (for good);
  • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but I will not be (brought) under (the power) of any (thing)

He thus qualifies the declaration in two ways: (1) some things are not beneficial, esp. for the body of Christ as a whole, and (2) some things can come to dominate a person’s thinking and behavior, which likewise is not beneficial. The first of these points relates more directly to 1 Cor 10:23ff, where he is dealing with the question of eating food that has been sacrificed to pagan deities; the emphasis is on a concern for the conscience of one’s fellow believer. The second of these points, it would seem, is more relevant to the context of 1 Cor 6:12-20, which is a primarily a warning against engaging in prostitution and sexual immorality. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul’s teaching on Christians’ freedom from the Law is connected with: (a) a warning against immorality and “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-25; Rom 8:1-11f), as well as (b) demonstrating love and concern for others (Gal 5:13-15; 6:1-5; Rom 12:1-15:7).

1 Cor 7:18-19—As part of Paul’s instruction on marriage among believers in chapter 7, Paul introduces the idea of circumcision in verse 18. Circumcision played a major role in his discussion of the Law in Galatians, where he argues repeatedly, and in various ways, that believers (especially Gentile believers) are not obligated to be circumcised nor required to observe the other commands of the Torah. In this regard circumcision serves to symbolize the entire Torah, especially in its ritual and ceremonial aspects. Similarly, in Romans, Paul makes it clear that actual physical circumcision is irrelevant; true circumcision is of the heart, according to the Spirit (cf. Rom 2:25-29). Here in 2 Corinthians, circumcision is introduced to further demonstrate his basic rule of thumb that a person should remain in the state he/she was before becoming a believer—i.e., if a person was married, he/she should remain married; if single, then he/she ought to stay single. By extension, a Gentile believer should not be circumcised, and a Jewish believer should not try to cover up his circumcision. Paul then adds a decisive declaration in v. 19:

“Circumcision is nothing, and (having a) foreskin is (also) nothing, but (keeping) watch of the things of God (that are) set on (us to do) [i.e. the commands of God] (is something)…”

This is very similar to the statements in Gal 5:6; 6:15, which I have examined together in an earlier note. Here the “commands of God” should be understood either in a general sense, or in terms of the “Law of God” in 1 Cor 9:21 (cf. below), rather than as the commands of the Torah specifically.

1 Cor 9:19-21—In chapter 9, which is part of the larger discussion in chs. 8-10 of the question regarding eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, Paul emphasized how he has given up the freedom and rights he has an as apostle for the sake of others. Here in verse 19, he begins: “being free from all (people/things), I made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain the many [i.e. the more/most]”. In verses 20-21, he treats in parallel, his outreach to Jews and Gentiles, respectively—Jews are “the ones under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, while Gentiles are “the ones without (the) Law [a&nomo$]”. Paul came to be like each group—”as (one who is) under the Law” and “as (one who is) without (the) Law”; but note how he qualifies each of these identifications:

  • “…not being (my)self under the Law” (mh\ w&n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon)
  • “…not being without the Law of God” (mh\ w&n a&nomo$ qeou=)

The first phrase indicates that Paul himself, as a believer in Christ, is not under the Old Testament Law (any longer); while the second states that he (as a believer) is still under “the Law of God”, which is not the Torah, as the identification which follows makes clear:

“…not being without the Law of God, but (rather) in the Law [e&nnomo$] of Christ

Note the wordplay between “without the Law” (a&nomo$, ánomos) and “in the Law” (e&nnomo$, énnomos). Here “in the Law of Christ” should be be understood in relation to the expressions “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|) and “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ Xristou=); in Gal 6:3, the “Law of Christ” is generally synonymous with the law/principle of love (Gal 5:14 etc, cf. Lev 19:18).

It should be noted that in verse 20, a good number of witnesses, especially Western and later MSS, are lacking the phrase “not being myself under the Law”; however, it is present in many of the “earliest and best” MSS (including [Ë46] a A B C D*), as well as a wide range of versions (incl. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Gothic), and is almost certainly original. It may have fell out by accident (through parablepsis), though it is also possible that it was omitted intentionally—Paul’s admission that he was “not under the Law” could be viewed as problematic from a certain religious standpoint. Even today, many commentators are uncomfortable with the blanket declaration that Christians are “not under the Law”, and are reluctant to accept the statement in its plain sense.

1 Cor 15:56—At the conclusion of Paul’s famous (eschatological) treatment of the resurrection in chapter 15, we find the following declaration:

“…and the poking/pricking [i.e. sharp point] of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law

This uniquely Pauline understanding of the interrelationship between the Law, sin and death was developed extensively (and dramatically) in Romans, especially in chapters 5-7. For more on this, see the articles in this series on 3:21-5:21, 6:1-7:25, and the supplementary studies on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25.

2 Corinthians

2 Cor 3:1-18—This passage represents Paul’s most extensive and significant treatment of the Law (outside of Galatians and Romans); because of its importance and complexity, I will be discussing it in detail in a series of daily notes.

2 Cor 6:14-7:1—In verse 14, the word a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used, presumably with the same general meaning of “sin, wickedness, injustice”, etc., as in 2 Thess 2:3-8 (cf. above). However, some commentators hold that it should be understood here in the strict sense of “being without Law”, i.e. without the Torah (or refusing to observe its commands). In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the related adjective a&nomo$ to describe Gentiles who live without the Torah; though, in this particular context, he is clearly referring to Gentiles prior to faith in Christ—once they come to faith, they are under “the Law of God” (synonymous with the “Law of Christ”), but not the Old Testament Law as such. Does the usage of a)nomi/a in 2 Cor 6:14 refer to the wickedness of unbelievers (non-Christians) or to Gentiles (even Gentile believers) who do not keep the Law? Most commentators accept the former interpretation, but, as I have already indicated, a minority hold the latter view. Much depends on the wider question of the origin and authorship of the entire passage 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which I will be discussing in a separate article.

Philippians

Phil 3:2-3—In Gal 5:6; 6:15 and 1 Cor 7:19, Paul declared decisively that the (physical) rite of circumcision (Greek peritomh/, “cutting around”) is of no account and has no bearing on believers in Christ whatsoever. Here he takes the next step, giving a spiritual interpretation to the rite and applying it to believers, much as he does in Romans 2:28-29. In verse 2, he appears to warn against certain Jewish Christian (“Judaizing”) opponents, referring to them in unusually crass and derisive terms (note the pun using katatomh/ “cutting down”, i.e. mutilation, instead of peritomh/, “cutting around, i.e. circumcision). His declaration in verse 3 is clear and forceful:

“For we [i.e. believers] are the circumcision—the (one)s doing (religious) service in (the) Spirit [of God] and boasting/exulting in (the) Anointed Yeshua—and not having confidence/assurance in the flesh”

Note here: (1) Paul’s regular contrast between the Spirit and the flesh, and (2) that circumcision is identified with being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”—clearly this no longer has anything to do with a religious rite (but note the interesting association with baptism, cf. below). For a parallel with the idea of (true) worship taking place “in the Spirit”, see John 4:23-24.

Phil 3:4-8ff—In these verses, Paul continues the line of argument from vv. 2-3 (above), developing the contrast between his old religious life “in the flesh” and the new identity in Christ (and the Spirit). The old religious identity in this case was Jewish, including a strict observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Paul affirms that he was a devout Pharisee (v. 5), and that in terms of ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosu/nh)—understood from a traditional religious standpoint, i.e. observing and fulfilling the commands and regulations of the Torah—he was “without fault” (a&mempto$) (v. 6). The traditional Jewish view would have held such religious devotion as gain or profit (ke/rdo$) for Paul; and yet, he states that he has come to regard it actually as loss (zhmi/a, something damaged or ruined). This new understanding is qualified by the expression “through the Anointed” (dia\ to\n Xristo/n); this may be understood as: (a) through the work of Christ, (b) through the presence of Christ in the Spirit, (c) on behalf of Christ, (d) for the sake of Christ, or perhaps some combination of these senses. In any event, it is clear that the new identity in Christ has rendered the old religious identity (which involved observance of the Law) of little or no value.

Phil 3:9—Verses 2-8 find their climax in this verse, where Paul states his ultimate goal is that “he should be found [eu(reqw=] in him [e)n au)tw=|, i.e. in Christ]”; this religious identity and realization is defined according to the term dikaiosu/nh (“just-ness, right-ness”, i.e. “justice, righteousness”). Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the fundamental contrast between justice/righteousness which comes from the Law (that is, from performing/observing its commands, i.e. “works of the Law”), and the justice/righteousness which comes through trust/faith in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16-21; 3:2, 5-6, 10-14, 21-24; 5:4-5; Rom 1:17; 3:19-20, 21-31; 4:4-5, 13-16; 6:14-15, etc). In this verse, he establishes three parallel contrasts:

  • my (own) [e)mo/$] righteousness
  • righteousness comes out of (observance of) the Law [e)k no/mou]
  • righteousness based upon works of the Law (implied)
  • righteousness that is from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]
  • righteousness that comes through trust of Christ [dia\ pi/stew$ Xristou=]
  • righteousness based upon th(is) trust (in Christ) [e)pi\ th=| pi/stei]

This reflects a personalized version of what Paul declares more objectively in Romans 10:2-4ff.

Colossians

Col 2:11ff—As in Phil 3:2-3 (above) and Rom 2:28-29, circumcision is spiritualized and applied to believers. Throughout Col 2:6ff, the expression “in Christ” (or “in him”) is used repeatedly—in vv. 6, 7, 9, 10. In verse 10, believers are identified as “the (ones who have been) filled up” (peplhrwme/noi) in him, this filling/fullness (plh/rwma) being understood on a cosmic scale. Verse 11 continues:

“…in whom [i.e. in Christ] you were circumcised [perietmh/qhte] with a circumcision [peritomh=|] made without hands, in the sinking out away from [i.e. the shedding off of] the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of (the) Anointed”

This “circumcision of Christ” is to be understood in terms of Christ’s death, as is clear from vv. 12ff. For the identification of believers with, and participation in, the death (and the resurrection) of Christ, see especially Romans 6:1-11 (also Rom 8:1-11; Gal 2:19-21); and note the association between circumcision and the death of Christ in Gal 6:14-15. In particular, this is realized symbolically in the rite of baptism, where believers put off the old and put on (lit. sink into [a garment]) Christ—the old self is removed just as the foreskin is removed in the rite of circumcision. In Col 3:5ff, this “old self” is connected with immoral/idolatrous behavior (i.e. “works of the flesh”), so there is clearly a practical ethical component to the instruction here. However, “circumcision” itself is understood entirely in spiritual terms, as something “made/done without hands” (a)xeiropoi/hto$). Elsewhere, this adjective is used, in a similar context (2 Cor 5:1), for a “heavenly dwelling” (the future glory reserved for the believer, perhaps tied to the idea of a “spiritual body” [1 Cor 15:42ff]). This motif itself reflects a spiritual interpretation and application of the Temple in early Christianity, as seen especially in Acts 7:35-53 (Stephen’s speech), where the earthly Temple and pagan idols are both described as things “made with hands” (vv. 41, 43, 48, and note v. 50); see a similar association in Acts 17:24; 19:26-27. There may be a connection back to the Temple sayings of Jesus (Mark 13:2; 14:58 par; John 2:19; Acts 6:13-14); the terms xeiropoi/hto$ (“made with hands”) and a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) appear in the version of the saying reported in Mark 14:58. At the very least, with regard to this saying, early Christians associated the Temple with Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:21-22)—this, in turn, helped to facilitate a  spiritual interpretation of the Temple itself (in the Pauline letters, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1ff; 6:16; Eph 2:21).

Col 2:14—In this verse, the Law is described as “the handwriting [xeiro/grafon]…which was under (and) against us”. Occasionally, Paul refers to the Old Testament Law specifically as a written work—using the term gra/mma (“written [word or letter]”), in Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6-7, where the old covenant of the (written) Law is contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit. Here the word is xeiro/grafon, i.e. something “written by hand”; there is likely an echo of circumcision as something “made/done by hands” (in v. 11, cf. above). The reference is best understood of the Law in a particular aspect—that of a written decree or judgment—as indicated by the use of do/gmata. In its fundamental sense, do/gma refers to something thought or considered to be true, proper, etc., but was regularly used in the specific (and technical) sense of an authoritative decision, esp. in the form of an official decree, judgment, ordinance, and so forth. The word never appears in the undisputed Pauline letters, only in Eph 2:15 where it is used (as here, in the plural) specifically of the Old Testament Law. The basic idea in context, however, is very much Pauline, as can be seen from Gal 2:19; 3:10-13; Rom 6:1-11; 7:4-6, where, by way of Christ’s sacrificial death, believers are said to die to the curse/judgment of the Law and to the Law itself.

Col 2:16-23—In this passage, there is a stress on the unimportance of ceremonial/ritual observances, especially the observance of holy days and dietary restrictions. This relates to portions of the Torah, as is clear from verse 16 (new moon, feasts, Sabbath), but almost certainly extends beyond this to external ritual and observance in general, as indicated by the parallel discussion in Gal 4:1-11 (where Gentiles are primarily in view). Paul seems to identify the Law—at least in its ritual/ceremonial aspects—in some way with the “elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (Col 2:8, 20; Gal 4:3). The observation of special days and dietary restrictions are also singled out in Rom 14:1-8; Paul regards them as matters of indifference, to be observed (or not) according to the conscience of each person. In this regard, note how Rom 14:14 would seem (decisively) to abolish dietary and purity laws for believers in Christ. Col 2:16-23 does not go this far, nor does it target the Torah commands directly (apart from v. 16), but the same principle applies. In Christ, believers have died to these “elements of the world” (v. 20) just as we have died to the Law.

Note of the Day – October 24

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Romans 2:25-29

This note will examine Romans 2:25-29 as related to Paul’s view of the Law in Romans (see the article on Rom 1:18-3:20). Throughout chapter 2, Paul has been laying the groundwork for the teaching that all human beings (Jew and Gentile alike) face the judgment of God equally, on the the basis of deeds done according to the Law. This egalitarian doctrine would have faced objections on two fronts:

  1. Jews ought not to be considered on the same grounds as Gentiles (“sinners”)—a religious-ethical objection
  2. Gentiles are, in fact, not under the Law (that is, the Torah)—a question of definition and cultural-religious identity

Both points are dealt with in this chapter—the first, by way of the polemic of vv. 1-5, 17-24; the second, by way of the argument in vv. 6-10, 11-16. Then, Paul brilliantly sums up both under the idea of circumcision, which, of course, is the main marker of Jewish religious and cultural identity. The question of circumcision (whether Gentile Christians ought to be circumcised) was central to Paul’s entire line of argument in Galatians; indeed, circumcision functioned rhetorically as a kind of shorthand for observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah)—the wider question being whether believers in Christ are required to observe the Torah commands. Paul returns to this same issue here in Romans; it is framed rather differently, but many of the points made in Galatians still apply. One may outline these verses as follows:

  • Vv. 25-26: The proper meaning of circumcision as a mark of religious identity—its relationship to the Torah
  • V. 27: Deeds matter more than having circumcision in the time of judgment
  • Vv. 28-29: The unimportance of (physical) circumcision—the true meaning of circumcision is spiritual

Verses 25-26

Paul explains the proper meaning of circumcision, as a mark of religious identity, with a pair of statements, the second of which takes the form of a rhetorical question:

V. 25: “For (on the one hand) circumcision profits (you) if you should practice the Law; but (on the other hand) if you should be (one) stepping-over the Law, (then) your circumcision has become (a) foreskin”
V. 26: “Then if the (one having a) foreskin guards the just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law, will not his foreskin be counted unto circumcision?”

The first statement (v. 25) makes the point that the religious identity (covenant) associated with the ritual of circumcision is invalidated and rendered false or meaningless if the terms of the covenant (observing the Torah commands) are not followed. Elsewhere, Paul refers to Torah observance with the expression “works of (the) Law”; here, he describes it as habitual performance (pra/ssw, “to practice”). In other words, the covenant (indicated by circumcision) requires that the Torah commands and regulations be observed (in their entirety, cf. Gal 5:3). The ritual of circumcision itself is not enough (a point which contrasts somewhat with traditional Jewish belief, as  expressed in Rabbinic writings).

The question in verse 26 makes the opposite point: an uncircumcised non-Jew (Gentile), otherwise unfamiliar with the Torah, who observes all the just/right things in it, is counted as if he were circumcised. This doubtless would have been a controversial, even offensive, idea to many Jews; not because they denied the possible existence of devout and upright Gentiles, but because of the overall religious implications. Consider the two points Paul is making:

  1. Right behavior (i.e. the Torah, esp. in its moral/ethical aspects) is more important than the religious-cultural identity associated with circumcision itself
  2. The specific (physical) rite of circumcision is relatively unimportant

The second of these points would have been especially problematic, and Paul has already stated it more definitely in Galatians 5:6; 6:15; and 1 Cor 7:19. The last of these references is particularly close to the claim he makes here:

“Circumcision is nothing and (having) a foreskin (also) is nothing, but watching the commands of God (is something)”

As I have discussed previously, the expression “commands [e)ntolw=n] of God” probably should be understood in terms of the “Law of God” (Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21) and the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21), rather than precisely synonymous with the Torah. The same would be true, I think, of the expression “just things [dikaiw/mata] of the Law” in Rom 2:26 (cf. Rom 1:32; 5:16, 18; 8:4)—the Law (or justice/righteousness) of God, as expressed in the Torah. Paul explained more clearly in vv. 12-16 in what sense Gentiles are “under Law” and may be said to keep the Law.

Verse 27

The hypothetical reversal of roles—transgressing Jew vs. righteous/observant Gentile—is extended to the time of judgment before God. The basic message is similar to that proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 11:32 par. The transgressing Jew is characterized by the significant expression “through the written (word/letter) [dia\ gra/mmato$]”—i.e., one who has been circumcised according to the letter of the Law, but who violates the true meaning and spirit of the Law. Though it might seem that Paul is giving moral, devout Gentiles the advantage over Jews, this is not the case; rather, by way of paradoxical illustration, he is making a two-fold claim:

  • Ultimately there is no significance to the “natural” (ethnic-cultural) status of Israelites or Jews (as indicated by circumcision)
  • All human beings—Jew and Gentile alike, in their own way—are equally “under the Law” and will be judged accordingly

Verses 28-29

Paul here establishes an even more important juxtaposition between the true and false meaning of circumcision, using dualistic language and imagery:

Vv. 28-29a: “For the (one) in the (outward) appearance is not a Jew, and circumcision (also is) not in the (outward) appearance in (the) flesh; but (rather) the (one) in the hidden (reality) is a Jew, and circumcision (is) of the heart—in (the) Spirit, not in (the) written (word)…”

The comparison true vs. false is indicated by similar formulations—one negative, the other positive:

  • V. 28 (negative): not e)n tw=| fanerw=|—”in the open, in the (outward) appearance (lit. shining-forth)”
  • V. 29 (positive): e)n tw=| kruptw=|—”in the hidden/secret (reality)”

For a similar use of the expression e)n tw=| kruptw=|, see Matthew 6:2, 4, 18. Note the words which further qualify and define this dualistic contrast:

e)n tw=| fanerw=|
“in the (outward) appearance”

e)n sarki/
“in (the) flesh”

–e)n— gra/mmati
“in (the) written (word)”

e)n tw=| kruptw=|
“in the hidden (reality)

kardi/a$
“of (the) heart”

e)n pneu/mati
“in (the) Spirit”

There is some question, perhaps, whether pneu=ma in v. 29 is “spirit” generally or the (Holy) “Spirit” specifically; the context, as well as similar passages elsewhere in Paul’s writings, strongly suggest the latter. For the contrast between the visible (letter, i.e. written word) and the hidden (Spirit), see also Rom 7:6, and especially 2 Cor 3:6.

The idea of true circumcision being “of the heart” was inherited by Paul as an already familiar Old Testament and Jewish theme—Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:24-25; Ezek 44:7-9; cf. also Jubilees 1:23; 1QpHab 11:13; Philo, On the Special Laws I.305, On the Migration of Abraham §92; and note, especially, the important Prophetic passages in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:27. Paul connects this traditional motif with the Spirit (of God and Christ)—i.e. believers effectively fulfill the Law (of God and Christ) through the Spirit, not by observing the commands and rites of the Torah.

A final, significant emphasis is made in verse 29b, that judgment (and acceptance, “justification”) comes from God, and is not realized by human (religious and ethical) standards. This is very much the same point made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1-18).

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (1:18-3:20)

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Romans 1:18-3:20

According to my outline (see the Introduction), I divide this first section of the probatio (Rom 1:18-8:39) as follows:

  • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment (v. 18), according to the Law (of God):
    —1:19-32: Judgment against human wickedness/injustice as represented by (pagan) idolatry and immorality
    —2:1-16: Jews are judged (along with Gentiles) according to evil/wicked deeds that are against the Law
    —2:17-29: Jewish identity (circumcision) is meaningless if the Law is violated
    —3:1-8: God’s judgment against Jew and Gentile alike is just
    —3:9-20: Declaration (with proof from Scripture) that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles) are “under sin”

My discussion here will generally be limited to the verses and passages which are relevant to Paul’s view of the Law; these will be discussed below under six headings, beginning with 1:18 and followed by the five sections that make up 1:9-3:20. Certain verses will be dealt with in more detail in separate daily notes.

Romans 1:18

This announcement of judgment is formulated parallel to the statement in v. 17, as can be seen by comparison:

Verse 17:

dikaiosu/nh ga\r qeou= e)n au)tw=| a)pokalu/ptetai
“for the justice/righteousness of God is uncovered in it [i.e. the Gospel]…”

e)k pi/stew$ ei)$ pi/stin
“…out of trust (and) into trust”

Verse 18:

a)pokalu/ptetai ga\r o)rgh\ qeou= a)p’ ou)ranou=
“for the passion/anger of God is uncovered from heaven…”

e)pi\ pa=san a)se/beian kai\ a)diki/an
“…upon all lack of (proper) fear [i.e. impiety] and injustice/unrighteousness”

The two key (parallel) terms in v. 18b are a)sebei/a and a)diki/a—these define the origin and nature of human wickedness, as represented by (pagan) idolatry and immorality, and as described by Paul in vv. 19-32.

Romans 1:19-32

The term a)sebei/a indicates the lack (a)-) of proper fear or reverence (vb. se/bomai), i.e. toward God, and is sometimes translated as “impiety”. This is described vividly by Paul in vv. 19-23, a kind of early Christian explanation for the religious phenomenon of (pagan) polytheism and image-worship. The second term in v. 18 is a)diki/a, which likewise indicates the lack of justice (di/kh); but the negative partice (a)-) can also indicate that which is opposite, that which is unjust, i.e., injustice. The word di/kh is closely related to dikaio- wordgroup (“just-/right[eous]-“) used so frequently by Paul in Romans. This injustice/unrighteousness is similarly described (in considerable detail) by Paul in vv. 24-32, with an explanation of how it leads to immorality in human beings, according to three sections:

  1. Immorality directly connected to the worship of (human/creaturely) images, vv. 24-25
  2. Immorality as represented by unnatural passion and (homo)sexual intercourse, vv. 26-27
  3. Immorality summarized as general depravity and wickedness (list of vices), vv. 28-31

Verse 18b adds an interesting qualifying detail to the impiety and injustice, that it is “…of men, the (one)s holding down the truth in injustice”. This “holding down” of the truth characterizes the idolatry and immorality of vv. 19-32, but especially of vv. 28-32 and the concluding verse 32.

Romans 2:1-16

In this section, Paul shifts from the idolatrous and immoral (pagan) world, to the one who would offer religious and moral judgment against such people (v. 1)—”O man, every one th(at) [i.e. whoever] is judging…”. Commentators are generally agreed that the rhetorical figure Paul addresses here is Jewish (confirmed by vv. 12-16), one who, traditionally, and naturally, would tend to regard the (pagan/heathen) Gentiles as “sinners”—idolatry and immorality being associated as stock characteristics of the Gentile world. As Paul makes clear, this was often a superficial and hypocritical viewpoint, and that many Jews behaved as badly and wickedly as Gentiles (at times, even worse). Condemnation of self-righteous religiosity was a common feature in Judaism going back to the Old Testament Prophets, and was prominent in Jesus’ teaching (cf. in the Sermon on the Mount, and the series of “Woes” in Matt 23). Paul’s declaration in vv. 3-5 very much echoes the tone and language of John the Baptist (Lk 3:7ff par). Judgment is the theme and keynote of this passage, in particular, the (impending) end-time judgment (kri/ma) of God on humankind (cf. Rom 1:18, etc). An important word occurs in verse 5: dikaiokrisi/a (“just judgment”, i.e. a just or correct judicial sentence), an extremely rare compound term—cf. reference to God as a “just judge” (dikaiokri/th$) in 2 Macc 12:41. The term, however, blends together two major themes of Romans: God’s judgment, and his justice/righteousness. Both the justice and (end-time) judgment of God on human beings are based on their deeds (or “works” [e&rga]), vv. 6-11, which God will judge fairly and impartially (v. 11). It is important to keep in mind the ancient religious world-view that underlies this thinking—for more on this, and Paul’s use of the dikaio- wordgroup, see the article on Justification.

In verses 12-16, Paul introduces the “the Law” (o( no/mo$) as the basis for judgment. This is the first major passage dealing with the Law in Romans, and will be treated in a separate note.

Romans 2:17-29

In verses 17-24, Paul cites certain representative examples of ways that Jews transgress the Law. These are somewhat problematic, for they are instances of rather blatant violations—stealing, adultery, “robbing temples”—and there certainly are many devout, pious Jews who would not do such things. There are two possibilities: (1) Paul is using gross crimes to represent what is contrary to proper spiritual/ethical conduct, or (2) they serve as an extreme and dramatic representation of transgression and wickedness in general (much as what is described in 1:18-32). The verb i(erosule/w means to strip bare or plunder a sacred place (i.e. a temple), but can also be used in the general sense of religious transgression or sacrilege. Theft, adultery and idolatry (or religious misconduct) are often closely connected in Old Testament and Jewish thought—of many examples, see Hos 4:1-3; Jer 7:8ff; Mal 3:5ff; Testament of Levi 14:5; Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues §163. Such wicked deeds, as committed by Israelites and Jews, are especially significant, since one purpose of the covenant to which they were called was to be a “light” to the nations, and so to instruct people in the truth and knowledge of God (vv. 19-20, cf. Isa 42:6-7; 49:6). By transgressing the Law, they cause God’s name to be slandered (blasfhmei=tai) among the Gentiles, as Paul states in v. 24, by citation of Isa 52:5 (LXX). The violation of the covenant is expressed specifically in terms of circumcision (vv. 25-29), the main aspect of the Old Testament/Jewish Law which Paul dealt with in Galatians. Because of the importance of these verses, as a fundamental declaration of Christian identity, they will be discussed in a separate note.

Romans 3:1-8

Paul begins this section where the last left off, with the theme of circumcision as an essential symbol of religious identity. He asks a fundamental question, which serves to connect together, by way of comparison, Jews and Gentiles:

“What then (is) the (thing) about the Yehudean {Jew} (that) is over (and above)? or what (is) the profit [i.e. benefit] of circumcision?”

His answer seems to confirm the traditional Jewish view in this regard: “much according to every turn [i.e. in every way]!” However, in actuality, he is simply reiterating the message of the prior sections, emphasizing the failure of Israel to live up to the special agreement (covenant) God established with them (esp. with regard to the Law). Note Paul’s clever use of wordplay:

  • The (gathered) words/sayings [logi/a] of God (i.e. the Torah and the Scriptures as a whole) were entrusted [e)pistqeu/qhsan] to them (v. 2)
  • A certain portion of Israel did not trust [h)pi/sthsan] (v. 3a)
  • Yet their lack of trust (or mistrust) [a)pisti/a] does not bring down (i.e. render useless) the trust(worthiness) [pi/sti$] of God (v. 3b)

Underlying this, and a number of other passages in Romans, is a reality with which Paul seems to have struggled greatly—that a good number of his fellow Jews have refused to trust in Christ, sometimes even responding to his missionary work with open hostility. How is one to make sense of this? Here, Paul limits the discussion to the basic failure of at least some Jews to believe, and uses it to launch into an argument regarding the justice (and judgment) of God, vv. 4-8. This is important, for it lays the groundwork for an even more fundamental argument: that all human beings (Jews and Gentiles alike) are “under sin” (3:9ff). We have here wordplay that juxtaposes human lack of justice (or just-ness), a)diki/a, with the justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) of God. Paul’s teaching regarding the freedom of believers from the Law, along with his unique view on the purpose of the Law (cf. the studies on Galatians, and here in Romans), could easily be misunderstood as tolerating, or even advocating, “lawless” and immoral behavior; verses 5-8 speak out against such a mistaken idea, and serve to reinforce the doctrine of divine justice.

Romans 3:9-20

In verse 9, Paul offers a clever parallel with verse 1; note the two questions side by side:

Verse 1

Question:
“What then [ti/ ou@n] (is) the (thing) about the Jew (that) is over (and above)…?”

Answer:
“Much in every [kata\ pa/nta] way”

Verse 9

Question:
“What then [ti/ ou@n]? Do we hold ourselves before [i.e. are we ahead] (of Gentiles)…?”

Answer:
“Not at all [pa/ntw$]”

The remainder of verse 9, along with verse 10a, presents a powerful double declaration that is absolutely fundamental to Paul’s entire line of argument in these chapters:

V. 9b: “Jews and Greeks all are under sin [u(f’ a(marti/an]”
V. 10a: “There is no just (person), not even one

The first statement comes from Paul’s teaching and preaching of the Gospel (“we dealt with the question [i.e. presented the charge] before”); the second comes from Scripture (“as it is written”), summarizing the chain of citations in vv. 10-18, beginning with Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3. He has moved from examples of wicked behavior (Gentiles in chap. 1, Jews in chap. 2) to a sweeping indictment that all human beings, however ‘good’ they may appear, presumably, are “under sin” (u(f’ a(marti/an). This expression implies being under the power of someone or something, i.e. in bondage or slavery. It was used in Gal 3:22, parallel, and largely synonymous, with several other expressions in Galatians:

  • “under (the) Law” [u(po\ no/mon], Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18
  • “under (the) curse” [u(po\ kata/ran], Gal 3:10
  • “under a ‘childhood (slave)-guide'” [u(po\ paidagwgo/n], Gal 3:25 (cf. also 4:2)
  • “under the ‘elements’ of the world” [u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou], Gal 4:3

It will not be possible here to examine the various Scripture references Paul strings together in vv. 10-18. Suffice it to say that, in typical Pauline (and early Christian) fashion, a number of passages are taken somewhat out of their original context; however, they still possess an interpretive logic of their own, when bonded together (by keyword and motif), and the result is a powerful (and creative) expression of truth.

The final two verses (vv. 19-20), which speak directly of Paul’s view regarding the function and purpose of the Law, will be examined in a separate note.

Note of the Day – October 16

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This note (on Galatians 6:15) is supplemental to the concluding article dealing with “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”.

Galatians 6:15

This verse represents Paul’s final doctrinal statement in the letter, as he returns with a decisive declaration on the main issue involved—whether Gentile believers ought to be circumcised and observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Circumcision is, in many ways, representative of the entire Torah, the covenant between God and Israel—it preceded the Sinai covenant, and is the fundamental mark of Jewish identity. It is understandable why Jewish believers felt that circumcision should be a requirement for Gentile converts, since early Christianity was born within a Jewish cultural-religious matrix. Paul, in Galatians, is among the very first Christians to argue for a distinctively Christian religious identity—something entirely new, and separate from traditional Judaism. In the conclusion (peroratio) of Galatians, vv. 12-17 of chapter 6, for one last time, Paul contrasts the Gospel message as he understands (and proclaims) it, with that of his Jewish-Christian opponents; the polemic is sharp in vv. 12-14, with circumcision set against the cross of Christ (cf. Gal 2:19-21). The declaration in verse 15 follows:

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation [kainh\ kti/si$]”

This is the second of three similar statements in Paul’s letters dealing with circumcision, the first occurring in Gal 5:6, and the third in 1 Cor 7:19 (assuming Galatians was written prior to 1 Corinthians); they may be compared side-by-side (in translation):

Gal 5:6

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin, but (rather)—trust working in (you) through love”

Gal 6:15

“For neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin, but (rather)—a new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

“(For) circumcision is nothing, and (having) a foreskin is (also) nothing, but a guard of [i.e. guarding] the commands of God (is)”

Each statement begins with a declaration that circumcision is unimportant/irrelevant for believers; it is helpful to compare these:

Gal 5:6
ou&te peritomh/ ti i)sxu/ei ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision has any strength, nor (does having) a foreskin”

Gal 6:15
ou&te peritomh/ ti e)stin ou&te a)krobusti/a
“neither circumcision is any(thing), nor (is having) a foreskin”

1 Cor 7:19
h( peritomh/ ou)de/n e)stin kai\ h( a)krobusti/a oude/n e)stin
“circumcision is nothing and (also having) a foreskin is nothing”

The two clauses in Galatians are nearly identical; the formulation is a bit different in 1 Cor 7:19, but all three say essentially the same thing—”has no strength”, “is not any(thing)”, “is nothing”. Gal 5:6 qualifies the statement by the expression “in Christ Jesus”, which, of course, is to be assumed in all three forms. That religious, cultural, and ethnic distinctions between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) are eliminated for believers “in Christ”—this is an important theme and doctrine in Galatians (see esp. Gal 3:26-28). The use of the verb i)sxu/w, “to have (or use) strength”, in Gal 5:6 is significant; it can be understood two ways: (a) that circumcision has no effect (or power) in the life of a believer (before God), and also (b) that it has no binding force, i.e. believers are not obligated to observe the command. The same is true of being uncircumcised, as the context of 1 Cor 7:19 makes especially clear (see “Did you know…?” below).

The question naturally comes to mind: if circumcision (and uncircumcision) have no power or significance for the believer, than what does have? Interestingly, in these three statements, Paul gives three different answers, here presented side-by-side for comparison:

Gal 5:6

pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh
“trust through love working in (you)”

Gal 6:15

kainh\ kti/si$
“(a) new formation”

1 Cor 7:19

th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=
a guard of [i.e. guarding] (the) “commands” of God

Each of the statements, is, in some way, important and distinctive with regard to Paul’s teaching:

Gal 5:6: pi/sti$ di’ a)ga/ph$ e)nergoume/nh “trust working in (you) through love”—This formula brings together three elements fundamental to the teaching and line of argument throughout Galatians:

pi/sti$ (“trust/faith”), i.e. trust in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16, 20; 3:2, 5, 7-9, 11-12, 14, 22-26); a key premise of the letter is that people (believers) are made/declared just (righteous) before God by trust in Christ, and not by observing the Law. This a dominant theme through the first four chapters (esp. chap 3).

a)ga/ph (“love”)—love is an important motif in the exhortation section of the letter (Gal 5:1-6:10), with its emphasis on believers demonstrating (sacrificial) love to each other; the so-called “love command” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:28-33 par) represents the only “Law” that believers are obligated to observe (Gal 5:13-14, cf. Rom 13:8-10), presumably to be identified with the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2.

e)nerge/w (“work in”)—the term “work” is important in Galatians; Paul repeatedly refers to “works [e&rga] of the Law” (i.e. doing/observing the Law/Torah), Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10, as contrasted with trust in Christ and the Gospel; note also the parallel expression “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). For the believer, it is God and the Spirit which works (Gal 2:8; 3:5).

Gal 6:15: kainh\ kti/si$ “a new formation”—The noun kti/si$ is derived from the verb kti/zw, “to form, found”, as with a city/settlement or building, etc.; more generally, it can have the sense of “produce, make”, etc., i.e. “create”, in reference to God. Often the expression here is translated “new creation”, sometimes influenced by the idea of regeneration or “new birth”; however, for Paul, I believe the emphasis is rather on a new identity for the believer in Christ. The expression is also used in 2 Cor 5:17:

“So then, if any (one is) in (the) Anointed [e)n Xristw=|] he is a new creation/formation [kainh\ kti/si$]…”

The dualism of old vs. new is an important aspect of Paul’s theology and anthropology, cf. Rom 6:6; 7:6; 1 Cor 5:7-8; 2 Cor 3:6, 14; 5:17; Col 3:9-10; Eph 2:15; 4:22, etc.

1 Cor 7:19: th/rhsi$ e)ntolw=n qeou=—The noun th/rhsi$ is related to the verb thre/w, “(keep) watch, guard”, and so primarily means a “guard”, i.e. as in a prison; however, it can also have the more general, abstract meaning of “keeping, holding”, etc. The noun e)ntolh/ literally refers to something laid on someone to complete, i.e., an order, charge, injunction, etc.; it is often translated “command(ment)”, and, in the plural, in a Jewish context, typically refers to the commands and regulations of the Torah. At first glance, this seems to be an entirely different emphasis than in Galatians; the idea of “keeping the commands” (of the Torah) is altogether opposite of what Paul teaches for believers there. Since, in 1 Cor 7:19, he has just stated that “circumcision is nothing”, it is most unlikely that the “commands of God” here are synonymous with the Torah commands. More plausibly, it could refer to the moral/ethical commands, especially of the Decalogue (cf. Mark 10:19 par; James 2:11; Rom 13:9). However the qualification “of God” for Paul probably carries the sense of the true commands (cf. the parallel expression “the Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25); the overall context of Paul’s teaching—especially in Romans and Galatians—would identify the true command(s) with the so-called “love command” (cf. “the Law of Christ”, Gal 6:2), in which, according to the teaching and example of Christ, the entire Law is summarized and fulfilled (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10). The problem with the context in 1 Corinthians, is that Paul brings up the question of circumcision only in passing; it is not central to the teaching and argument of chapter 7, which involves practical instruction and advice regarding marriage and marital status among believers.

It is interesting that in Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19 Paul does not simply say that “circumcision is nothing”, etc.; instead, he adds that “(having) a foreskin [a)krobusti/a] is (also) nothing”, etc. The statement in Gal 5:6, that “(having) a foreskin has no strength” (just as circumcision “has no strength”) is especially unusual from our vantage point today. However, as Christianity spread throughout the Gentile (Greco-Roman) world, instead of Jewish pressure on Gentile believers to be circumcised, there would be the opposite cultural pressure on Jewish believers to hide their circumcision. Paul would have been aware of this dynamic, especially in a Greek city such as Corinth. In 1 Cor 7:18, Paul urges that those who have been circumcised (i.e. Jewish believers) ought not to “pull (a foreskin) upon” (e)pispasa/omai) them. In the Greco-Roman world, operations were available for Jewish men to ‘restore’ the foreskin (epispasm) or otherwise hide the effects of circumcision.

Note of the Day – December 31

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Traditionally, in the liturgical calendar, January 1 is the date commemorating the circumcision of Jesus; however, as this year January 1 coincides with the Sunday after Christmas, I am observing it here on December 31. Actually, in today’s Christmas season note, I will be looking at three separate episodes, related to regulations and traditions in the Old Testament Law (of Moses), which the Gospel (of Luke) narrates together in just four verses (Luke 2:21-24). These are as follows:

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

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

This is told very simply: “and when (the) eight days were filled up for his being cut-around [i.e. circumcised], (then) also his name was called Yeshua {Jesus}, the (name) called under [i.e. by] the Messenger before his being received together [i.e. conceived] in the womb”. The temporal clause as translated is misleading (the proper sense is “after eight days he was…”); and the articular infinitive + accusative construct (frequent in Luke) is difficult to render literally in English, and can be translated two ways—”for his being circumcised” or “for him to be circumcised”, etc. In more conventional English, the verse would be: “and when (a period of) eight days were completed, he was circumcised and he was given the name ‘Jesus’, the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb”.

Circumcision, in various forms, is attested all over the world, and was not invented or introduced as an original rite in Abraham’s time; it was, however, introduced and given special meaning by God to Abraham (Genesis 17:10ff) as a sign of the agreement (covenant) between them, to be applied to descendents of Abraham—i.e. the people of Israel (cf. also Gen 21:4; 34:15ff; Ex 4:26; Josh 5:2ff). The legal formulation of circumcision is found in Leviticus 12:3 (including the tradition of the eighth day), but otherwise the rite is mentioned in the Law only in passing (Exodus 12:44, 48). Circumcision came to be used also in a metaphorical and ethical sense, to indicate true faith and obedience, in the Prophets (Jer 4:4; 9:25) and later in the New Testament as well (Rom 2:25-29; 4:9ff; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11, etc).

The notice of Jesus’ circumcision (and naming) is so brief and general that any special theological import is out of the question. I will discuss something of the purpose of its inclusion in the narrative down below; but it is worth mentioning the possibility that, having received a tradition on the birth and naming of John (including the circumcision), the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) sought to fill out the parallelism (between Jesus and John) by adding a corresponding notice on Jesus’ circumcision. The brevity of the statement, along with the highly Lukan style in the verse, would seem to confirm this. That there is a clear (and intentional) parallelism between the birth narratives of John and Jesus should be obvious from even a casual reading of chapters 1-2; however, it might be helpful here to illustrate again the various points of contact—in each narrative there is:

  • An announcement of the birth (conception) of the child, by a heavenly Messenger (Gabriel) to the parent (Zechariah, Mary), giving the child’s name, and foretelling his destiny—Luke 1:5-25, 26-38.
  • A visitation scene in the house of Zechariah, involving Elizabeth, which is the setting for a canticle—Luke 1:39-45
  • A poem or hymn (canticle) presented as spoken by the parent (Mary, Zechariah), which connects the child to be born with the mighty acts of God on behalf of His people—Luke 1:46-55, 67-79
  • The birth of the child is narrated (briefly), followed by the reaction of those nearby (relatives, shepherds)—Luke 1:57-58; 2:6ff
  • The circumcision is narrated (briefly), along with the naming of the child; shortly thereafter an aged devout person (Zechariah, Simeon) speaks and prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit—Luke 1:59-67; 2:21, 25-32ff
  • There is a notice describing the child’s growth—Luke 1:80; 2:40 (and 52)

This cannot be coincidental. Even if one accepts the historicity/factuality of the narratives without question, they still have been shaped (by the author, presumably) to draw out the points of contact. Some commentators treat verse 21 as part of the prior birth narrative (Luke 2:1-20), largely to maintain the parallelism with the birth/circumcision of John (1:57-59). However, I consider it better to group verse 21 with what follows.

A major theme of Luke 2:21-38 (and of the larger Infancy narrative) is that the birth and coming of Jesus (prefigured by that of John) represents a three-fold fulfillment, of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The narrative proper is found in the bulk of verse 22:

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

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

to stand (him) alongside the Lord” (parasth=sai tw=| kuri/w|)

“even as it is written in the Law of the Lord…”

“and to give sacrifice” (kai\ tou= dou=nai qusi/an)

“according to what has been said in the Law of the Lord…”

The verses, therefore, show a careful structure, which rather belies the apparent confusion regarding two very different (and separate) regulations in the Law. There are several difficulties in the passage, most notably:

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

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

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

The two regulations involved are:

Leviticus 12:1-8—The woman remains unclean for 40 days (in case of a male child), after which she must offer a sacrifice of a lamb (for a whole burnt offering) and a pigeon/dove (for a sin offering); then the priest makes atonement for her and she is clean. This law is more or less accurately depicted in Luke 2:22-24, including the provision for a poor family to offer two birds if they could not afford a lamb. Verse 24 cites this provision (Lev 12:8).

Exodus 13:1-2, 11-12—All firstborn (males) are dedicated/consecrated to God; according to the ancient near eastern law of consecration (µerem), that which was dedicated to God belonged to Him, represented either by slaughter (sacrifice) or use in the service of God (in the Temple). In the case of the firstborn of Israel, a third option came to be used in practice, as outlined in Numbers 18:15-16: the firstborn males (including those of clean animals) shall be redeemed—that is, purchased back—by a payment to the Sanctuary. Luke cites Ex 13:2 loosely, but renders literally the Hebrew idiom describing the firstborn as that which “opens the womb”.

It is this latter law which is at issue in Luke 2:22-24. I normally do not discuss historical-critical questions in detail in these articles, but here I will suggest that there are likely three strands at work in the narrative:

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

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

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

In Eastern Orthodox tradition, January 1 commemorates St. Basil (the Great), a leading figure and Father of the Church in the 4th-century, whose stature in the Eastern Church is akin to that of Augustine in the West. As one of the so-called Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, etc), Basil played a major role in the development (and defense) of orthodox theology and christology, particularly in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. He was a leading proponent and pioneer of the communal monastic way of life (coenobium), with both a Rule and a Liturgy that bears his name. Most notable of his surviving works are the collection of his Letters, his Commentary on the Six Days of Creation (Hexaemeron), and his treatise on the Holy Spirit.