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Song of Simeon

January 3: Luke 2:29-32

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Luke 2:29-32

Today’s note is on Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon. I dealt with this passage extensively in a series of Advent notes. Here I will be looking it from the standpoint of the Messianic expectation, common among Jews and Christians of the period, and how it has been modified in the Lukan Infancy narrative, being reflective of early Christian belief and expression. The last two lines of the Song of Simeon (vv. 31-32), in particular, manifest this new understanding, much as we see also in the last lines of the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, 1:78-79). The early Christian (and Lukan) interpretation is rooted in the use of certain key passages from the book of Isaiah, especially the so-called “Servant songs” of Deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-55, etc).

In yesterday’s note, I mentioned again the parallels between Zechariah and Simeon, and the two oracle-hymns (Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis) attributed to each. It will be helpful to examine the relevant (concluding) lines of each hymn, to gain a better sense of how this Messianic expectation was applied to Jesus. There were a number of Messiah figure-types known from the Qumran texts and other writings of the period, but two were especially prominent in the Gospel tradition (cf. the series “Yeshua the Anointed“):

  1. The Prophet like Elijah who would appear prior to the great Judgment, bringing God’s people to repentance—drawn primarily from Malachi 3:1ff and the interpretation in 4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24].
  2. A coming Ruler (King) from the line of David who will judge/subdue the nations, deliver God’s people, and bring about the restoration of Israel. For the Scriptural background of this figure, cf. Part 6 of the aforementioned series.

By the time the Gospels came to be written, early Christian tradition had identified these two figure-types as being fulfilled by John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively. Here in the Lukan Infancy narrative, the hymn of Zechariah focuses on John the Baptist, while the Song of Simeon is centered on the child Jesus.

In Luke 1:76 John the Baptist is clearly identified as the Messenger (Elijah, cf. verse 17) who prepares the way before the Lord, as we see well-established in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:2-3ff par; Lk 7:27; Jn 1:19-23ff). Through his preaching and ministry of baptism, John turns the hearts and minds of people back to God, preparing them for the coming of the Lord, the Anointed One (Christ). This emphasis on repentance introduces the motif of salvation from sin—”to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins” (v. 77). The religious (and eschatological) background of this idea of salvation is very much related to the coming Judgment—only those who repent and return to God will escape (i.e. be saved from) the anger and judgment of God upon humankind. In verse 78, however, the emphasis shifts to salvation as an expression of God’s mercy; for similar wording, cf. the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Zebulun 8; Levi 4). The judgment imagery and vocabulary is transformed, centered here on the verb e)piske/ptomai (“look [carefully] upon”), which came to be a technical term for the end-time appearance (visitation) of God, both to help/save his people and to bring the Judgment. Only now, a different sort of visitation is described—of a revelatory light from heaven, shining upon human beings (God’s people) trapped in darkness. As previously discussed (cf. the note on vv. 69, 78-79) the “rising up” (a)natolh/) is best understood by the image of a sun or star which gives the light (of God) from out of heaven (Num 24:17; Isa 60:1ff; Mal 4:2, etc). The image of people—God’s people—sitting in darkness and shadow comes primarily from Isaiah 9:2; 42:6-7 (cf. also Psalm 107:9-10).

Similarly, in the Simeon episode, the child Jesus is identified as the Anointed One (2:26)—that is, the Messianic figure-type of the end-time ruler from the line of David (cf. 1:32-33, 69; 2:11). An interesting shift has taken place, however; instead of the idea of salvation from the wicked nations (the enemies of Israel, cf. 1:70-71) etc, this figure is now identified with salvation itself. Note the similarity of language between 2:26 and 30:

“…until he should see the Anointed of the Lord
“…my eyes have seen your Salvation

Two parallel expressions are involved:

  • the Anointed (One) [xristo/$] of the Lord
  • the Salvation [swthri/a] of the Lord

In other words, the salvation which the Lord (Yahweh) brings for his people is embodied in the person of the Anointed One (Jesus). The “Lord” in vv. 29ff is referenced, not by the regular Greek term ku/rio$ (ky¡rios), but by the less common despo/th$ (despót¢s). This word more properly means “master, owner”, and better fits the master-slave motif in verse 29. However, it is generally synonymous with the Hebrew °¹dôn (cf. the earlier article on this title), and, occasionally, like ku/rio$, was used to render the divine name YHWH (cf. the prior note on v. 29 and the article on Yahweh). Earlier in the hymn of Zechariah (v. 69), the Messiah (Jesus) was described as a “horn of salvation” raised up by the Lord—not just the means of deliverance, or the one who accomplishes it, but salvation itself, from the power of sin enslaving all of humankind. This reflects the essential meaning and character of the name Yeshua/Jesus (Matt 1:21 [note], and cf. Luke 2:11).

There are two aspects of this salvation-theme in verses 31-32 (cp. 1:77-79):

  • Light/Darkness imagery, and
  • The people (of God) / peoples on earth

Light—specifically light to/for the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10), an extension of the basic image in 1:78-79 (Isa 9:2ff, cf. Matt 4:15-16). This clearly relates to the early Christian motif of revelation through the proclamation of the Gospel (2 Cor 4:1-6). I have discussed the subject in considerable detail in a recent article, and you will find there an extensive listing of relevant Scripture references. In particular, note the strong identification of Jesus himself as light in the Gospel (and letters) of John—Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36, 46; 1 Jn 1:5-7; 2:8-10.

People(s)—In the Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the original idea of the “people of God” was based on the ethnic-religious premise that God chose Israel out of all the peoples (nations) on earth, and established a special covenant with them. That the Messiah (i.e. the Davidic ruler) would come out of Israel—that is, out of Judah (the line of David), to rule over all Israel—was axiomatic, and would scarcely have been questioned by anyone at the time. This meant that salvation and deliverance comes out of Israel (Isa 46:13; Rom 4:5; Jn 4:22, etc), and, in the traditional religious sense, was intended primarily, if not exclusively, for the faithful among God’s people (Israel). In the (later) Prophets, however—and, especially, in the second half of the book of Isaiah (‘Deutero-Isaiah’)—the idea becomes more prevalent that this covenant relationship will reach outward to the surrounding nations, and that other peoples will come to join Israel as part of God’s people (cf. Isa 49:6, 22; 56:3-8; 60:3-7; 66:18ff, etc).

This shift in focus was an important element of early Christian thought, associated with the mission to the Gentiles—cf. throughout the book of Acts, and, especially, in two key passages: (1) Paul’s statement regarding the inauguration of his mission to the Gentiles (13:46ff, citing Isa 49:6), and (2) the declaration by James in 15:14-17 (citing Amos 9:11-12). The reference to “all the peoples” in Lk 2:31 is parallel to the expression “all flesh” in 3:6: “all flesh will see the salvation of God” (cf. Isa 40:5). Thus it is declared that the nations will join with Israel—and this is to Israel’s honor/glory (v. 32)—to become the people of God. This new religious identity is no longer ethnic, but multi-national and trans-ethnic—it belongs to Jews and Gentiles equally, and is based on trust/belief in Jesus Christ. This, of course, will be developed considerably throughout the Gospel and Acts (not to mention the letters of Paul), but is foreshadowed and foretold by Simeon here. From the standpoint of the (historical) narrative, the process of people coming to trust in Christ begins with the people of Israel (Israelites and Jews). This is the basis of the second part of Simeon’s oracle in vv. 34-35:

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

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

Note of the Day – December 8 (Luke 2:32)

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Luke 2:32

This is the last of four Advent notes on the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). Today’s note explores the third, concluding line (bicolon) of the Song (in bold below).

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

Here is a slightly more literal rendering of v. 32:

  • Light unto (the) uncovering of the nations
    • and (unto the) splendor of your people Yisrael

The Greek is as follows:

  • fw=$ ei)$ a)poka/luyin e)qnw=n
    • kai\ do/can laou= sou )Israh/l

In all three parts (bicola) of the hymn, the initial word establishes and governs the line. In verse 29, it is the temporal particle nu=n (“now”); in vv. 30-31, it is the conjunctive particle o%ti (“[now] that”); and here in v. 32, it is the noun fw=$ (“light”). The structure of this line is the simplest of the three:

  • light unto
    • (the) uncovering of the nations
      —and
    • (the) splendor of your people Israel

The conjunction kai/ (“and”) is at the center of the line; its significance will be discussed below. There has been some question among commentators as to whether do/ca (“honor/splendor”) is parallel with fw=$ (“light”) or a)poka/luyi$ (“uncovering”). If the former, then the structure would be:

  • light unto the uncovering of the nations
    —and
  • honor/splendor (for) your people Israel

I have opted for the latter parallel, which I feel is more accurate to the syntax and theme of the hymn.

fw=$ (“light”)—The word, in the initial position, builds upon the motif of seeing in vv. 30-31. The reason why people are able to see the salvation God brings is that is light. The importance of light-imagery in the Old Testament and as a religious symbol is so widespread as to scarcely require comment. For more detail on the background, cf. my discussion on revelation in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament“. Though the noun fw=$ does not occur elsewhere in the Lukan Infancy narrative, light-imagery plays a significant role, including the scenes of heavenly/angelic manifestation (shining forth)—cf. 1:11, 28ff; 2:9-14. It is in the Song of Zechariah (esp. vv. 77-79), which, in many ways, functions parallel to the Song of Simeon, that we find corresponding imagery and similar language (in italics):

to give knowledge of salvation to his people in (the) release of their sins, through the inner-organs of (the) mercy of our God, in which (there) has looked upon us a springing-up out of the height [i.e. from on high], to shine light upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death and set our feet down straight into (the) way of peace.”

Mention should also be made of the famous star in the Matthew narrative (2:2ff). While the light (fw=$) of salvation should be understood in the context of the entire line in verse 32, it may also be said to relate specifically to the nations of the first half, according to the Isaian allusions—cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6. That it also relates to the people of Israel (the second half of the line) is clear from a comparison with Isa 49:9; 60:1ff, etc, and the citation of Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 3:15-16.

ei)$ (“unto”)—According to the structure outlined above, the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) governs both halves of v. 32. That is to say, the light is unto both the uncovering of the nations and the splendor of Israel. There are two aspects of the preposition which apply here: (a) for the purpose of, and (b) leading toward the goal of, i.e. the result of. More concretely, it can be understood as something which points in the direction of these results for the nations and Israel respectively—the light shines toward them both, and, more importantly, into the darkness (cf. the Isaian passages referenced above).

a)poka/luyin (“[the] uncovering”)—The noun a)poka/luyi$, from the verb a)pokalu/ptw, literally means “taking (the) cover away from”—i.e., “uncovering”. In this case, the motif relates to removing darkness, through the shining of light (Lk 1:77-79; Matt 3:15-16, etc). The noun and verb both are used frequently in the New Testament, often in reference to God’s revelation to his people (believers) in the person and work of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel. Cf. again the article on revelation in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

e)qnw=n (“of [the] nations”)—The genitive of this noun may be understood two ways: (1) the light is revealed (uncovered) for the nations, or (2) the nations themselves are uncovered/revealed by the light. Probably the former is more readily in mind here in the hymn, but the latter cannot be excluded, especially in the context of the Lukan theme of the identity/inclusion of Gentile believers as the people of God (cf. below).

kai/ (“and”)—This simple conjunctive particle here has special significance, since it emphasizes that both Israel and the nations (Gentiles) will experience the light of salvation manifest in the person of Jesus. If the structure of the line is understood differently (cf. above), then the emphasis of the conjunction would be on salvation in terms of both (i) light for the Gentiles and (ii) splendor for Israel. However, the theme (and theology) throughout Luke-Acts strongly favors the structure I am following, whereby the emphasis is squarely on Jewish and Gentile believers together making up the people of God.

do/can (“[unto the] splendor”)—My interpretation (cf. above) assumes that both nouns a)poka/luyi$ (“uncovering”) and do/ca (“splendor”) are governed by the preposition ei)$ (“unto”). To reiterate:

  • unto
    • (the) uncovering of the nations
    • (the) splendor of your people Israel

The noun do/ca is actually difficult to render accurately in English. Typically it is translated “glory”, but this can be rather misleading. Fundamentally, it refers to the esteem or honor which is accorded to someone or something—that is, how a person is considered, acknowledged, recognized, etc. In the case of God, the honor which is due to him involves his essential nature and character, as the Holy One and (all-powerful) Creator, and so forth, which is traditionally described and depicted with light-imagery. Thus the do/ca of God is envisioned as a brilliant and effulgent splendor surrounding him. In the LXX, do/ca generally translates the Hebrew dobK*, which has the basic meaning “weight”—i.e., the honor and reverence which must be given to God due to the greatness, etc, of His nature. The word has a somewhat different nuance and emphasis when applied to human beings; generally, it is best rendered as “honor” or “splendor”, depending on the context. Here, if do/ca is parallel to “light” (fw=$) then it is perhaps better understood as “honor”—i.e. revelation (light) for the nations, honor/esteem for Israel. However, if it is parallel with “uncovering”, then it is particularly important to preserve the element of light-imagery. The light of salvation then has two (related) effects—(1) it shines in the darkness, revealing/uncovering the nations, and (2) it causes the people Israel to shine with splendor. Light and splendor (do/ca) are juxtaposed in Isa 60:1, and splendor/honor/glory in connection with salvation specifically in Isa 46:13.

laou= sou  )Israh/l (“of your people Israel”)—that is, God’s people, referring primarily to Israel as the elect/chosen people, with whom God (YHWH) established a special relationship and agreement (covenant). The singular noun lao/$ (“[a collective] people”), used together with the plural e&qnh (“nations”), emphasizes the point of contrast—Israel was selected among all the different tribes/nations of the worlds to be the distinct people of God. The plural laoi/ (“peoples“) is often synonymous with e&qnh (“nations”), though in Acts 4:25-27 it seems to refer to Israel (i.e. Israelites and Jews), perhaps in the sense of the various groups which make up “Israel” at the time of Jesus. The significance of the terminology in this passage in Acts (citing Ps 2:1-2) likely runs deeper, however; note the possible contrast:

  • In their opposition to Jesus, Israel becomes like the nations—”peoples” (laoi/, plural) instead of the true “people” (lao/$, singular) of God
  • In trusting in Christ, both “peoples”—Israelites/Jews and Gentiles—become a single “people” (lao/$), the people of God

This helps to explain the use of the plural laoi/ (“peoples”) in line 2 of the Song of Simeon (v. 31). The expression “all the peoples” (par with “all flesh” in Lk 3:6) refers to those (believers) among all of humankind—Jews and Gentiles both—who respond to the Gospel (the “light” of salvation) and come to faith in Jesus Christ. This becomes a principal theme of the book of Acts. Note especially the words of James in 15:14:

“…how God looked upon (it/us) to take out of the nations a people for/unto His name”

This precedes the (modified) quotation from Amos 9:11-12 in verses 16-17, in which Gentile believers are identified as part of the “remnant” (i.e. the true/faithful Israel) who will seek the Lord, and so respond by trusting in Jesus. Paul, of course, as the “apostle to the Gentiles” draws heavily upon this theme, though often in a complex (and somewhat controversial) manner. Note, in particular, the discussion in Romans 9-11 which is vital to the overall emphasis (in Romans) on the unity of Jewish and and Gentile believers in Christ. For a more concise, similar, statement elsewhere in the New Testament, cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10.

The theme itself goes back into the Old Testament, especially in (Deutero-)Isaiah and the later Prophets, continuing on through Jewish literature and tradition. Isa 42:6 was a cornerstone verse, and is alluded to here in the Song; but there are many passages which might express either of two basic, related ideas: (1) that God’s revelation (his Law, salvation, etc) will go out from Jerusalem (and the Temple) into all the nations, and (2) that the nations from all around Jerusalem will come to the Temple and worship God there. For this latter image, cf. especially Isa 56:6-8, cited by Jesus in the Synoptic tradition (the Temple ‘cleansing’ scene, Lk 19:46 par). That the converted/faithful Gentiles would become part of the people of God is also expressed (or implied) in several places, most notably Zechariah 2:10-11, which refers to a future/eschatological moment when the Lord will come and dwell in the midst of his people in Zion, and

“many nations will be (inter)twined [i.e. joined] to YHWH in th(at) day, and they will be unto [i.e. as] a people for me [i.e. my people], and I will set (up my) tent [i.e. dwell] in your midst…” (v. 11)

The two themes mentioned above are both present in the central Pentecost scene of Acts 2—(1) Israelites/Jews from among the nations come to Jerusalem, along with believers miraculously speaking in the languages of all the nations; and (2) Christian missionaries go out (from Jerusalem) in the surrounding parts of Judea, and, subsequently, into the nations all around (cf. Acts 1:8, etc). Yet it may be said that this is already prefigured and foreshadowed here in the Infancy narrative, in the Song uttered by Simeon as he stands in the Temple, holding the savior Jesus in his arms. It is by the inclusion of the Gentiles within the people of God, that the chosen ones (believers) of Israel, along with Simeon, acquire true honor and splendor.

 

In Roman Catholic tradition, December 8 commemorates the conception of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus—her birth (by related tradition) taking place nine months later on Sept 8. The doctrine of Mary’s “immaculate” conception developed over a number of centuries, taking shape in the latter Middle Ages. It is ultimately related to the doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness. In order to preserve the idea of his sinlessness as a human being, it was thought necessary that Mary herself (i.e. her flesh) must also have been pure from sin (from birth). This underlying logic doubtless seems unnecessary or extreme to many impartial observers today, but it fit with a certain theological mode of thinking regarding the transmission of sin, etc. For the role of Mary in Luke 2:22-38, cf. my earlier notes on vv. 22-24 and on the oracle of Simeon in vv. 34-35.

Note of the Day – December 7 (Luke 2:30-31)

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Luke 2:30-31

Today’s note is the third of four in this Advent series on the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). In it I will be examining the second line (bicolon) of the Song (in bold below).

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

Previously, I have treated verses 30-31 as separate lines, but, in terms of the structure of the hymn, they represent a single unit. A slightly more literal rendering is as follows:

  • (in) that my eyes saw your salvation
    • which you made ready against [i.e. in front of] the face of all the peoples

The Greek is:

  • o%ti ei@don oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou to\ swth/rio/n sou
    • o^ h(toi/masa$ kata\ pro/swpon pa/ntwn tw=n law=n

As in the case of the first line (v. 29), an initial particle (o%ti) governs vv. 30-31, though here it is a conjunctive particle, connecting it with the earlier line. It gives the reason why the speaker (Simeon) may now be released from his service to God. I have translated it literally as “(in) that”, i.e. “because”, though it is probably better to retain the temporal sense, as I do in the poetic rendering above—”(now) that”, i.e. “since”. The (chiastic) parallelism of the line is also expressed somewhat differently that that of v. 29; note the structure here:

  • my eyes saw
    —your salvation
    ——which
    —you made ready
  • {before} the face of all the peoples

The framing motif is that of seeing—Simeon now sees what God has prepared for all people, and which soon will become visible/apparent to all. What he sees is clarified by the “inner” pairing of the line—”your salvation which you made ready”. The relative particle o% (“[that] which”) is at the center of the line (on this, cf. below). I will now briefly discuss each of the key words or phrases in vv. 30-31.

ei@don (“[they] saw”)—In English this is usually translated as though it were a perfect form (“have seen”), but it is actually an aorist form, suggesting an action which is completed or occurs (just) prior to the person’s speaking, i.e. “my eyes now (have) see(n)…”. This is the principal verb governing vv. 30-31, with the emphasis on seeing. The same emphasis (and verb) is found, twice, in the explanation given by the author in verse 26:

“it was given (as) information to him, under [i.e. by] the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see [i&dein] death before he should see [i&dh|] the Anointed (One) of the Lord”

Almost certainly we should recognize an allusion to Gen 46:30. Simeon had been waiting, looking toward the coming of the “help of Israel” and (with Anna) the “redemption of Jerusalem”—both expressions referring to the deliverance (salvation) God will bring about for his people through the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah) at the end-time.

oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou (“my eyes”)—Instead of saying simply “I saw”, the hymn uses the more colorful (and dramatic) Semitic idiom “my eyes saw”, which gives greater emphasis, and a strong personal dimension, to the act and experience of seeing. The expression “my eyes” is used in this manner frequently in the Old Testament (more than 70 times), especially in a poetic setting (in the Psalms, Prophets and Wisdom writings). The idiom is relatively rare in the New Testament, but note the important saying of Jesus in Luke 10:23 par (cf. also 1 Cor 2:9; 1 Jn 1:1). To have one’s sight restored, or suddenly be able to see, is occasionally described as having “the eyes opened” (Mk 8:25; Matt 9:30 etc); while the expression “lift the eyes” means to look and see something (Lk 6:20; 16:23, etc). In Acts 26:18, as in the citation of Isa 6:9-10 (Acts 28:27, etc), opening the eyes is connected with experiencing or realizing salvation.

to\ swth/rio/n sou (“your salvation”)—Interestingly, while the noun swth/ria (“salvation”) is fairly common in the New Testament, the related neuter substantive [to\] swth/rion occurs only three times, all in Luke-Acts—here, and in Lk 3:6; Acts 28:28. All three times it is part of the expression “the salvation of God”, by which is meant, not God being saved, but rather the salvation/deliverance/protection which God brings. This is indicated by the neuter form with the definite article; it could relate abstractly to the means or act of saving, but also to a specific person who might serve as savior/protector. Here, of course, it is connected with the child Jesus in Simeon’s arms. Within the context (and theology) of Luke-Acts, the expression refers specifically to the salvation of the nations (i.e. the Gentiles) through the proclamation of the Gospel. This point will be discussion in the next note (on verse 32).

o% (“which”)—The use of this relative particle is important, both for the flow of the line, but also, more significantly, as a way to connect Jesus (the means of salvation which Simeon now sees) with the deliverance promised to God’s faithful ones (his people) in the Scriptures. It is particularly the prophecies in the latter chapters of Isaiah (40-66) which are in view here in the Song of Simeon, as throughout the other hymns of the Lukan Infancy narrative. There is a clear allusion to Isa 40:5 in vv. 30-31, as well as to 46:13; 49:6b, and 52:10. One may also note the reference to seeing salvation in the deutero-canonical Baruch 4:24. The revelation of salvation—i.e., its becoming visible to humankind—is part of Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought, as we see in a number of the Qumran texts (e.g., CD 20:20, 34; 1 QM 5).

h(toi/masa$ (“you made ready”)—There is a distinct theological sense of the verb e(toima/zw (“make ready, prepare”) in the New Testament. It is frequently used of God, in an eschatological context—i.e. of what God has prepared (ahead of time) for the faithful, and also for the wicked, at the end (following the final Judgment). For its occurrence in sayings by Jesus, cf. Mk 10:40 par; Matt 22:4; 25:34ff; Jn 14:2-3. On God preparing blessing/reward for believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16; Rev 21:2. The eschatological sense is especially prominent in the book of Revelation (8:6; 9:7, 15; 12:6; 16:12; 19:7). In the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Luke, the verb is related to the idea of “preparing the way of the Lord”—i.e. of the messenger who prepares God’s people (and humankind) for His coming (in Judgment) at the end time. This eschatological and Messianic tradition was strong in Judaism and early Christianity, combining the language and symbolism from Isa 40:3ff and Mal 3:1ff. According to the early Christian interpretation, John the Baptist was identified as the messenger who prepares the way for the coming of Christ (the Lord), as in Luke 3:4 par. The two Old Testament traditions are combined specifically in Mark 1:2-3, but also, less directly, here in Luke. Note especially the language in Luke 1:16-17 and 76-77ff. It is in the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus) that salvation in the person of Christ (vv. 76-79) is tied back to the promised deliverance of God’s people (vv. 68-75), representing the two halves of the song respectively. For more on the parallel between Simeon and Zechariah, cf. my previous note.

kata\ pro/swpon (“against [the] face”)—Concretely, the preposition kata/ would here indicate something God brings down on the face, but more properly means “against” in the sense of “before, in front of, in the sight of”. The use of the noun “face” (pro/swpon, lit. “toward [the] eye[s]”) continues the motif of seeing in this line. The expression “against/before the face” is a Semitic idiom which means “in the presence of”, but also indicates something directed right at a person (cf. Gal 2:11), as in English we might say “right to his face” or “in his face”. Thus, there are two aspects which should be isolated here: (1) that God has prepared this salvation in the presence of all the peoples, i.e. during their history and lifetimes, and (2) that it is directed at the peoples, i.e. made ready for them and their benefit. Also, there is likely a foreshadowing of the idea that this salvation will soon become visible to all people, through the life and work of Jesus, and, subsequently, in the proclamation of the Gospel.

pa/ntwn tw=n law=n (“of all the peoples”)—There is allusion in vv. 30-31 to Isa 52:10 (cf. above); note the parallel, citing the LXX:

“against [i.e. in front of] the face of all the peoples” (v. 31)
“in the sight [e)nw/pion] of all the nations” (Isa 52:10a)

Interestingly, however, the Gospel writer (and/or Simeon as the speaker), uses “peoples” (laoi/) instead of “nations” (e&qnh). The parallel use of the plural “peoples” in Acts 4:25-27 might suggest that the reference here is to the Jewish people (i.e. Israelites/Jews). It seems best to understand the term in the context of what follows in v. 32, were two groups are mentioned in tandem—(a) the nations (e&qnh), that is, Gentiles or non-Jews, and (b) the people (lao/$) Israel. These two comprise the “peoples” in v. 31—in other words, all humankind (that is, all believers), Jew and Gentile both. The expression “all the peoples” should be understood as synonymous with “all flesh” (pa=$ sa/rc) in Luke 3:6 (again citing Isa 52:10): “all flesh will see the salvation of God”.

Note of the Day – December 6 (Luke 2:29)

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Luke 2:29

In the previous Advent note, I discussed the overall background and setting of the Song of Simeon (2:29-32); beginning today, the next three notes will discuss the Song in detail. The hymn is comprised of three lines (distychs or bicola), which I render here somewhat conventionally, to preserve the poetic rhythm and feel:

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

Today I examine the first line (bicolon) in verse 29, which I now translate more literally:

  • Now you loose your slave from (his bond), O Master,
    • according to your utterance, in peace

The corresponding Greek is:

  • Nu=n a)polu/ei$ to\n dou=lo/n sou, de/spota
    • kata\ to\ r(h=ma/ sou e)n ei)rh/nh|

Each of the key words will be discussed in turn, beginning with the particle nu=n (“now”). This temporal particle functions as an adverb, governed by the verb which follows. It is set in emphatic position at the beginning of the line—i.e., “now you loose your slave…”. This emphatic particle sets the hymn in motion. Note the important (chiastic) symmetry of the remainder of the line:

  • you loose from (bondage/service)
    —your slave
    ——Master
    —according to your word
  • in peace

This structure reflects the precise word order of the line, and should be kept in mind when studying the verse in detail.

a)polu/ei$ (“you loose from [bondage/service]”)—the verb a)polu/w literally means “(set) loose from”, i.e. from bondage or service (as a slave); in English idiom we would say “release from”, i.e. from the obligation. The reference is to the period of service for a slave, who could be released (set free) from that bond only by permission of the master, or when an agreed upon time of service had elapsed. Here it is also used as an idiom for the end of a person’s life, marking the end of his/her (earthly) service to God, often implying hard work and suffering (i.e. bondage). Death is viewed as a release, a loosing from bondage—cf. Gen 15:2; Num 20:29; Tobit 3:6; 2 Macc 9:9.

to\n dou=lo/n sou (“your slave”)—the word dou=lo$ (“slave”) is typically translated “servant” in order to soften the expression, and to avoid comparisons with the more oppressive/abusive forms of slavery known from U.S. history and elsewhere. Simeon considers himself a slave (or servant) of God, just as Paul, along with other early Christians, called themselves slaves of God, or of Christ (cf. Rom 1:1; 6:16ff; 1 Cor 7:22; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10, etc).

de/spota (“[O] Master”)—here the word should be understood in its literal sense of owner, i.e. one who possesses and has authority over a slave (1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18). It was often used in the broader sense of “master, lord”, etc., and could apply as an honorific title of address for any ruler. It translates the Hebrew /wda* (“lord”), and occasionally is used in the LXX in place of the divine name YHWH (Prov 29:25, cf. Isa 1:24; Jon 4:3). The author of the Gospel uses it again in a similar context in Acts 4:24. It is applied as a title of Christ in Jude 4, and is found in the context of believers as slaves of God (and Christ) in 2 Tim 2:21; 2 Pet 2:1. According to the structure indicated above, the vocative de/spota (“O Master”) is at the center or heart of the line.

kata\ to\n r(h=ma/ sou (“according to your utterance”)—r(h=ma, usually translated “word”, properly means something which is spoken out, uttered by a person. Here it relates to the authority the master/owner has over the slave. A casual reading of the line would indicate that the focus is on the slave being released by the word of the master. And yet, the structure of the line (cf. above) rather suggests that the emphasis is on the authority (and ownership) the master has over the slave; note again the parallel:

  • your slave…
  • …according to your word

Because the master has authority over the slave, only his word—that is, an agreement or command declared by him—can release the slave. The narrative context of verse 26 relates this to a promise by God to Simeon, made through the Holy Spirit:

“and (the) information had been (giv)en to him, under [i.e. by] the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death before he should see the Anointed (One) of the Lord”

This is the explanation or interpretation given by the author.

e)n ei)rh/nh| (“in peace”)—Again, if we consider the structure of the line (cf. above), this phrase qualifies the primary verb:

  • you loose (him) from (service)…
  • …in peace

This reflects the basic idea of blessing—of a person departing, or being sent off in peace. As an idiom for death, cf. Gen 15:15. Very likely, there is also an allusion here to the Joseph narrative (Gen 46:30), where the elderly Jacob (Israel) declares that he can die (i.e. in peace) now that he has seen his son (Joseph) again:

“from now [nu=n] (on) I shall [i.e. I can] die away, since I have seen your face (and) that you still live!”

Jacob, like Simeon, is one who is waiting for the deliverance (salvation) of God (49:18). Returning to the interpretation in Lk 2:26, Simeon’s desire, in terms of Messianic expectation, should be related to Messianic (Jewish) thought of the period. In the so-called Psalms of Solomon (17:50), we find the idea that the person is truly blessed who is able to witness the coming of the Messianic Age and the deliverance of God’s people (cf. also Lk 10:23-24). Ps Sol 17:34 draws upon the same Isaiah traditions as the Song of Simeon (vv. 30-32), which will be discussed in the next two notes. There is also a strong Messianic motif involving the bringing and establishment of peace—cf. Psalm 72:7; Isa 9:5-6; Zech 8:12, etc. The birth of the Messiah (Jesus) in the Lukan narrative is accompanied by an announcement of peace on earth (Lk 2:14), so that those who serve God (i.e. believers) may now do so in peace (cf. 1:74). The transition from the old covenant (e.g. Simeon) to the new (believers in Christ) takes place in a moment of peace, as the aged Israelite, standing in the Temple, holds the baby Jesus in his arms.

December 6 is the traditional date in the West commemorating St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra (in Lycia, Asia Minor) who, through an unusual set of circumstances, came to be the basis for the figure of Santa Claus. Nicholas was among the bishops present at the landmark council at Nicea, but otherwise we have very little reliable information about his life, though, of course, numerous legends have been preserved. Of the many familiar Christmas customs, it is perhaps only the practice of placing gifts in stockings which may be said to relate back directly to the old Nicholas traditions.

 

Note of the Day – December 5 (Luke 2:29-32)

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Luke 2:29-32

To commemorate the beginning of Advent, over the next four days I will be presenting a short series of notes on Luke 2:29-32, the “Song of Simeon”. The first note (today) will focus on the hymn as a whole, its setting, background, etc, before examining each line in detail in the three successive notes. I have discussed this passage on several occasions before, including during prior Christmas seasons (cf. from Jan 1 2017 & 2018).

One of the most distinctive features of the Infancy Narrative in Luke (chapters 1-2), is the sequence of canticles, or hymns, which punctuate the account. There are four such hymns, each of which came to be part of the Christian liturgy and known by its Latin title (the first word[s] as rendered in Latin)—Magnificat (1:46-55), Benedictus (1:68-79), Gloria in Excelsis (2:14), and Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32). The Gloria, part of the Angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth, is extremely brief; but the other three are substantial hymns, which, in the narrative context, are presented as inspired oracles by the speaker—Mary (or, possibly, Elizabeth), Zechariah, and Simeon. In the case of Zechariah and Simeon, the oracle properly includes a prophetic pronouncement regarding the future of the child (John / Jesus).

The narrative setting for the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) is established in verses 22-28. In all likelihood, the author (trad. Luke) has combined the Simeon tradition (beginning in v. 25) with a separate notice in vv. 22-24 which serves two basic purposes: (a) it explains how Mary and Joseph came to be in the Temple with the child Jesus, and (b) it depicts Jesus’ parents as faithful Israelites who are fulfilling the religious obligations of the Law. Indeed, it may be said that these two elements—the Temple setting and fulfillment of the Law—are both essential themes within the Lukan Infancy narrative, and the work of Luke-Acts as a whole. Consider:

  • Mary and the child (along with Joseph) fulfill the requirements of the Law (vv. 22-24). Two basic laws are mentioned, apparently combined or conflated by the author:
    (i) the sacrifice for purification (from uncleanness) for the mother following childbirth (vv. 22, 24; cf. Lev 12:6-8)
    (ii) the consecration (redemption) of the firstborn son (v. 23, cf. Exod 13:1-2, 11-13; Num 18:15-16)
    At the same time, Simeon functions as a prophet who also cites the Old Testament Prophets (as will be discussed), applying them to Jesus. Thus, here in the narrative, it can be said that Jesus “fulfills the Law and the Prophets” (cf. Luke 16:16; 24:44; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23)
  • The Temple setting is likewise a key motif in Luke-Acts, and is found in three different scenes in the Infancy Narrative (here, and in Lk 1:8-23; 2:41-50). Probably the author has in mind Malachi 3:1ff, with the idea of the Lord coming to the Temple. This distinctive prophecy, also related to John the Baptist as the Messenger who prepares the way (Lk 1:16-17, 76-77; cf. 3:4ff) for the Lord, is, in a sense, fulfilled by Jesus already as a child.

There is another important connection between the Temple scenes in 1:8-23 and here in 2:25ff, involving the parallelism between the births of John the Baptist and Jesus which runs all through the narrative. There is a specific parallel between Zechariah, father of John, and Simeon; both are:

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

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This latter theme becomes more specific with Simeon/Anna, but it is foreshadowed already with Zechariah/Elizabeth in the earlier portions of the narrative—note the motifs of waiting and expectation (1:13, 20-21, 24-25, 57ff, 70-76). There can be no doubt that Messianic expectation—i.e., awaiting the coming of God’s Anointed (Messiah) who will rescue/deliver his people at the end-time—is associated with the faith/devotion of Simeon and Anna. Two parallel phrases (in vv. 25 and 38) make this clear:

  • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem”

The same verb prosde/xomai is used, which indicates a person who is waiting with eagerness or readiness, looking forward to (lit. “toward”, pro$) receiving someone or something. In the case of Simeon, this expectation is related directly to his righteousness and devotion. The two parallel expressions are especially worth noting here:

  • “the para/klhsi$ of Israel“—the noun para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis) derives from the verb parakale/w, literally to “call (someone) alongside”, often in the sense of offering help and encouragement, etc. It is difficult to translate with a single word in English, and is typically rendered “comfort” or “consolation”, but the idea of offering help is paramount here—i.e., the aid God will give to his people in rescuing/delivering them.
  • the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem“—the noun lu/trwsi$ (ultimately derived from lu/w, “[to set] loose”) relates to the process by which someone is loosed (i.e. set free) from bondage or debt, etc. It generally refers to the paying of ransom/redemption (lu/tron), i.e. the price paid to loose/redeem a person from bondage, and is often translated as “redemption”.

Both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. This is important to keep in mind when studying the Song of Simeon itself, which likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

Returning to the parallel between Zechariah and Simeon, in at least one respect the author draws a contrast:

  • Zechariah is unable to deliver the (priestly) blessing to the people (1:22)
  • Simeon does pronounce a blessing, on Mary & Joseph (2:34a)

Simeon actually speaks a two-fold blessing, introducing each of the two portions of his oracle with a blessing—one addressed to God (v. 28) which precedes the Song, and one addressed to Mary (and Joseph) prior to prophecy in vv. 34-35. This act of blessing—literally, to “give a good account”, i.e. speak good (words) to, or over, a person—should be considered alongside the Song and prophecy, as part of the inspiration given to Simeon through the Holy Spirit. This is the notice at the end of verse 25: “…and the Holy Spirit was upon him”. In fact, there are three references to the Spirit in vv. 25-27, each of which is important in light of the theme of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts:

  • “the holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him” (v. 25)
  • “it was given (as) information to him under [u(po] the Spirit” (v. 26)
  • “he came in [e)n] the Spirit…” (v. 27)

Note the similar references to the Spirit in relation to Jesus in Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14, and also to the first believers in Acts 1:8; 2:4, 17ff, etc. This may be a subtle way by which the author transitions from the old faith of Israel to the new covenant centered on the person of Jesus. As Simeon encounters the child Jesus (in the Temple, the point of contact between old and new, v. 27), holding him in his arms (v. 28), this new covenant is glimpsed and realized, at least for a moment. At any rate, it is the Spirit which inspires the Song which follows in vv. 29-32, and it is to the first line of the song that I will turn in the next daily note.

For an excellent overview and discussion of the passage, which I have found most helpful in preparing these notes, cf. 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), pp. 436-60.

Note of the Day – November 2 (Luke 2:29-32)

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Luke 2:29-32

An interesting passage which connects salvation with knowledge and revelation is the “Song of Simeon” in Luke 2:29-32. Like the hymn of Zechariah (the Benedictus, Lk 1:67-79), it functions in the narrative as a prophetic oracle. There are actually two oracles uttered by Simeon, the other being addressed to Mary in vv. 34-35. All of the canticles, or hymns, in the Lukan Infancy narrative, draw heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures, quoting or alluding to various passages in nearly every line. The very poetry, and the underlying mode of expression, has assimilated the language of the Old Testament Songs, Psalms and poetic oracles of the Prophets. The Song of Simeon is comprised of four lines. In the first line (v. 29), Simeon addresses himself to God:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace”

The second line (v. 30), in the context of the narrative, relates to Simeon’s revelatory experience of seeing the child Jesus:

“(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation”

The third line (v. 31) connects this revelation back to the prophecies and promises in the Old Testament, the (old) covenant between God and his people:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people”

The fourth line (v. 32) indicates the goal and purpose of this revelation:

“a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

The theme of salvation is emphasized in the first two lines:

“Now you (can) loose your slave from (his bonds), O Master, according to your utterance, in peace,
(in) that [i.e. because] my eyes saw your salvation [swthri/a]”

The narrative context would associate the words a)polu/w (“loose from [bondage]”) and dou=lo$ (“slave”) with Simeon’s earthly life, lived in service to God (YHWH) as his Lord/Master (despo/th$), that is, the lord/master of the house who is the owner of the slave. However, the hymn itself can (and should) also be read more generally in terms of salvation from slavery to sin, etc, which is otherwise associated with the birth of Jesus in Lk 1:77, and more directly in Matt 1:21. The mention of peace [ei)rh/nh] also well fits the idea of salvation.

In the last two lines the theme of revelation is emphasized:

“which you made ready down upon the face [i.e. in the presence] of all the people:
a light unto the uncovering of the nations, and (the) honor/splendor of your people Yisrael”

This is already suggested by the use of ei&dw (“see”) and o)fqalmoi/ (“eyes”) in v. 30; the verb ei&dw (oi@da) in Greek is essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”) and often indicates knowing as well as seeing. The expression kata\ pro/swpon (“down on the face”, i.e. “before the face”) also suggests something that is seen; the word translated “face” (pro/swpon) literally means “toward the eye”, i.e. before one’s eyes, facing, and so the face or “appearance” of a person, etc. For the words fw=$ (“light”) and a)poka/luyi$ (“taking the cover from”, “uncovering”) used for revelation, cf. Part 2 of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”. The noun do/ca refers to the esteem or honor which a person receives, or which is due to that person (especially God), often described in terms of visual splendor (light-imagery, etc); it is frequently associated with divine revelation in the New Testament. For more on the connection between salvation and revelation, cf. Part 3 in “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

I will be returning to the Song of Simeon at the start of Advent season, when I will discuss each verse (each line) in considerable detail.

As my translation above is an extremely literal (glossed) rendering, the rhythm and feel of the poetry has been obscured; here below, in closing, is a more poetic rendering:

“Now, Master, you can release your slave, according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes have seen your salvation
which you prepared before the face of all (the) people—
a light to uncover (for) the nations,
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

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.

Note of the Day – January 1

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The Sunday after Christmas (this season coinciding with January 1) traditionally celebrates the ‘presentation’ of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:22-24ff). I have discussed this episode in the previous Christmas season note, and have also treated details of the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34-35) in an article during Holy Week. For today’s note I will be looking at the song (canticle) of Simon,  especially in relation to possible motifs and allusions from the Old Testament.

The Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis):

  • nu=n a)polu/ei$ to\n dou=lo/n sou de/spota
    Now you (may) loose your slave from (service), Master,

    • kata\ to\ rh=ma/ sou e)n ei)rh/nh|
      according to your utterance, in peace,
  • o%ti ei@don oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou to\ swth/rio/n sou
    (now) that my eyes have seen your salvation

    • o^ h(toi/masa$ kata\ pro/swpon pa/ntwn tw=n law=n
      which you have made ready according(ly) toward the eye/face of all the peoples—
  • fw=$ ei)$ a)poka/luyin eqnw=n
    a light unto uncovering for (the) nations

    • kai\ do/can laou= sou  )Israh/l
      and doxa for your people Israel.

Compared with the Magnificat (Song of Mary) and Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), the Nunc Dimittis has a much simpler and more straightforward structure, with three stichoi (lines) or bicola. Only in the third line (v. 32) is there any syntactical difficulty. Before examining each of the six half-lines, it is worth noting that the Old Testament quotations and allusions in the hymn are all from the second (and third) part of the book of Isaiah (Isa 40-55, 56-66)—so-called Deutero- (and Trito-)Isaiah. There is an enormous range of scholarly opinion on the composition of this large and many-faceted book: the standard critical view is that Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah are products of the exilic and early post-exilic period, while the traditional-conservative view tends to see the entire book as more or less the work of Isaiah himself; of course, many commentators take moderating positions somewhere in-between. Certainly there are themes in chapters 40-55, especially, which are appropriate to an exilic setting—a message of comfort, the hope and promise of restoration, and so forth. It is not surprising that these chapters had an enormous influence on Jewish and early Christian thought. Both the Community of the Qumran texts and early Christians of the Synoptic Gospels used Isaiah 40:3 as a central thematic passage (cf. Mark 1:3 par.). The so-called Servant Songs (esp. Isa 52:13-53:12) were applied to Jesus early on and helped to shape the Passion narratives. Dozens of smaller points of contact and influence could be cited.

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

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

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

  • the paraklhsi$ of Israel (v. 25)
  • the lutrwsi$ of Jerusalem (v. 38)

These phrases form an inclusio to the section. In the first, the noun para/klhsi$ is derived from the verb parakalew (lit. “call alongside”) and indicates calling someone to come near for help/instruction/encouragement, etc., just as the noun para/klhto$ (‘paraclete’) refers to someone called alongside to give help/instruction/encouragement, etc. The word in this context is usually translated “comfort” or “consolation”. In the second phrase, the parallel noun lutrw/si$ refers to the payment of ransom (and the corresponding release) for someone in bondage, etc., and is normally translated “redemption”. The phrase “comfort of Israel” probably finds its origin in the Isaian passages 40:1-2 (which also mentions Jerusalem) and 61:2, cf. also 57:18; 63:4; 66:13. “Redemption of Jerusalem” would seem to be derived from Isa 52:9, which also mentions ‘comfort’ for God’s people. This message of hope and restoration is described in terms of “good news” for Jerusalem (cf. 40:9; 41:27; 52:7). Interestingly, the phrase “redemption (hL*a%G+) of Israel” and “freedom of Jerusalem” are found in documents from the Wadi Muraba±at in the context of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.).

Now let us look at each of the six half-lines in the song:

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

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

Verse 30: o%ti ei@don oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou to\ swth/rio/n sou (“[now] that my eyes have seen your salvation”)—this phrase is an allusion to Isaiah 40:5 and/or 52:10 (LXX); see also Psalm 98:3; Gen 49:18; Baruch 4:24; Ps Sol 17:50.

Verse 31: o^ h(toi/masa$ kata\ pro/swpon pa/ntwn tw=n law=n (“which you have made ready in the sight of all the peoples”)—this, along with verse 30 (above), is drawn largely from Isaiah 52:10. The use of law=n is interesting (Isa 52:10 uses e)qnw=n); most likely it is meant to encompass both the “nations” (e)qnw=n) and the “people” (laou=) of Israel in verse 32. The italicized expression (“in the sight of”) is a more conventional rendering of the idiom, which I translated above quite literally as “according(ly) toward the eye/face of”.

Verse 32a: fw=$ ei)$ a)poka/luyin e)qnw=n (“a light unto uncovering [i.e. revelation] for the nations”)
Verse 32b: kai\ do/can laou= sou  )Israh/l (“and glory for your people Israel”)
There has been some question whether do/can is parallel to fw=$, or is governed (along with a)poka/luyin) by the preposition ei)$; almost certainly the latter is correct—i.e., “a light unto uncovering…and (unto) glory…”. The first phrase is more or less a quotation of Isaiah 49:6b (cf. also Isa 42:6); the second may be derived from Isaiah 46:13b (for the overall image in this verse, see also Isa 60:1). The noun do/ca is actually rather difficult to translate literally into English—the original sense is of a (favorable) opinion, and so indicates the honor, esteem, etc. in which someone or something is held; but just as often it refers to the reputation, dignity, honor, etc. which someone possesses. How closely should one treat the parallel between a)poka/luyi$ and do/ca? It is natural to think this of “revelation” in terms of the truth (the Gospel) being presented to the Gentiles; but I believe the image is rather one of uncovering (i.e. the literal sense of the word) the nations who are in darkness. So, following the parallelism, the light God brings (in the person of Jesus) has a two-fold purpose and effect:

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

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

New Year’s day (January 1) in ancient Rome was known as the kalends of January, a religious holy-day (Janus being the two-faced god of ‘openings and beginnings’). Celebration of the new year was accompanied by feasting, games, theatre and other public entertainments, as well as the giving of gifts (strenae)—all very much akin to modern celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s day, and much of it, one might think, rather harmless. However, the early Church Fathers often spoke out in no uncertain terms against Christians participating in these pagan practices—see, for example, the broad condemnation of Tertullian in On Idolatry §13-14. Augustine likewise delivers an impassioned plea against Christian involvement in several of his sermons (see esp. Ben. no. 196 and 198). Their words reflect, to some extent, a different time and ethic; however, the issue of the relationship between Christians and the surrounding culture is just as relevant (and urgent) today as it was in Augustine’s time.