Lecture 1: Infancy Account
Course: Life of Christ
Lecture: Infancy Accounts
This is the 1st lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.
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Extra Biblical Evidence of Jesus: in regards to extra Biblical evidence that is related to Jesus, as this question is often raised, especially by non-Christians as they consider the Bible a bias source. There are a handful of passages that allude to this, but the most clear is from Josephus, the Jewish general and later historian writer. He was over the battle at a place call Gomma in AD 67 and ended up being captured by the Romans. He was taken to Rome and became a confidant of the imperial family and eventually wrote works in defense of Judaism of which Antiquities is one. Book 18 deals with the status of Judea in the time of Jesus. He actually goes through the various procurators and perfects that ruled over the areas at the time. There is one extended passage about Jesus of which some of the material is in italics. This is due to the evidence being copying and preserved in Christians context. And so it looks as if parts of it were added. As you read, you will see that Josephus is a Jewish general, he’s not a Christian. The general judgement is that he would not have said all of the things mentioned. In sentence 63 and 64, ‘now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, even if it be lawful to call him a man,’ suggesting an incarnation and Josephus is unlikely to have said that. ‘For he was a doer of wonderful works and a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure.’ The phrase, wonderful works, is actually a Greek word, paradoxon, which means unusual works as surprising works. It’s an indication that Jesus has a reputation for doing the unusual. ‘He drew over to him, many of the Jews and many of the gentiles.’
The next section is questionable, ‘he was the Christ and when Pilate had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first, did not forsake him.’ There is a third longer edition, ‘for he appeared to them alive again on the third day as the divine prophets had foretold; these and there are ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.’ Again, this is probably not something a Jewish person would write. ‘At the tribe of Christians so named for him are not extinct to this day.’ Most people working with this text and take out the italicized portions, you end up with something very close to what Josephus actually wrote. If that is the case, then we have several interesting features; one, Jesus had a reputation for doing unusual works; two, collaboration of the fact that Pilate was responsible for Jesus’ death but he wasn’t alone in this as it was the Jewish leadership that put pressure on him to crucify Jesus and third, we have the idea that the movement lived on despite Jesus’ death. And of course, we know that from other evidence today. But the two key features that is important to this citation are reputation of Jesus’ being a wonderful worker and as a teacher of wisdom and the second part is that Pilate is the principle man of the Jewish leadership that lead to Jesus’ condemnation on the Cross. Other historians, Suetonius and Gaius allude to Jesus. (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire and Tacitus or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and historian of the Roman Empire) There is also a passage in regards to the followers of Christos, as written by Suetonius; some allude that this passage doesn’t allude to Jesus. But how do we know that these passages are from Josephus?
Later on in Antiquities 20:200 or 2200, there is a discussion of James, the brother of Christ who was put to death. This assumes that there has been a discussion of the Christ before we get to James. So this is the indication that something about Jesus was said by Josephus earlier in Antiquities and as for as Josephus is concerned, we have no evidence that he was a believer. This is apparently from the tone shown, ‘if it is lawful to call him a man,’ which implies deity. The next, ‘He was the Christ,’ which is a confession and finally in regards to ‘fulfilling everything as the divine prophets were told,’ is very positive as well. All of those are suspect on the assumption that Josephus was not a Christian. These documents were recorded and passed on by Christians who were interested in passing on the kind of history about Judaism that Josephus penned. Interestingly, up to about the 8th century school students would read the Bible and the works of Josephus. But some people will throw out these passages in their entirety and say the Josephus didn’t write about Jesus at all. The 20:200 passage coming later shows that is not likely.
Some things to remember in regard to outside biblical coverage of Jesus; Jesus was a Jewish person; he was represented as an ethnic minority in a very tiny section of vast empire. We have no documents from the governor of Judea to show you how isolated this is. We don’t have anything that Pilate wrote to Rome or anything that any prefect wrote to Rome. There are reports on what they did, but no direct documents. We only have a few Jewish sources for the history of this period and that is Josephus, Philo (a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria who used Greek philosophy and Jewish philosophy to fuse them together.) and in addition, there are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another quote from Suetonius, ‘he, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome on the account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging at the instigation of Christos. The reason for the confidence that this was about Christ, these riots were due to the tension within the Jewish communities between the Jews and Christian believers. We know from Acts 18:2 that Attila and Priscilla were forced to leave Rome as part of that expulsion which causes them to eventually meet up with Paul. This is an indirect reference to Jesus as it was the Christians, who the Jews were rioting against.
A second passage, from Gaius talking about Christians, ‘they got their name from Christ who was executed by the sentence of the procurator Pontus Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.’ Religious belief that the Romans didn’t like were referred to as superstitions. ‘It broke out afresh, not only in Judea where the plague first arose but in Rome itself were all horrible and shameful things in the world to find a home.’ This doesn’t endorse Christianity, none-the less, this deals with Nero and the fire that he set and then blamed the Christians. The nature of the Christian’s behavior toward this persecution was actually endeared some of the Romans. So this is another piece of evidence from the early part of the 2nd century. Again in the early part of the 2nd century, a letter written to Trajan in the early part of the 2nd century gives an account of examining Christians in Bithynia, also call Pontus (middle part of modern Tuckey) of northwest Asia. This was written by Pliny who was a governor who encounters Christianity for the first time. This letters reads:
It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished. Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome. Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ. They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition. I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded. Pliny gave Christians an opportunity to bow down and worship the emperor, if so he released them. If not, he put them to death. Trajan’s reply follows:
You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.
In the mitts of the description that Pliny writes about this situation, he talks about Christians in services, meeting together, singing hymns and giving worship to Christ. So this is another text that early in the 2nd century, Jesus was being worshipped in Asia Minor or Tuckey.
An allusion to John the Baptist in antiquities, a very short text describing him as a good man who taught the Jews to practice virtues which comes later on in chapter 18 of the Antiquities and then the report of James the Just, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ in the 20/200 or 2200 passage. One of piece of evidence that’s important comes from Justin Martyr, was wrote in the 2nd century. In reference to the Jews, ‘they said that it was a display of magic art.’ They even dared to say that he was a magician and a deceiver of the people. So this tells us that in the middle of the 2nd century, between the years 155 – 160 AD, about how Jesus was being described by the Jews. It gives the idea that Jesus did do unusual works. The source is attributed differently but there’s recognition that Jesus did unusual things. So we have it in Josephus, Justin Martyr with a charge that even shows up in the New Testament. A note: in ancient material, we only have two options for Jesus; either he did this by the power of God or by some other power. But a usual option today that people use is that it’s either made up or he didn’t do anything, doesn’t exist in ancient material.
In pseudo-graphical materials, different works like the Acts of Pilate, etc. which are not considered to be genuine. Also in the Islamic context, there is the Gospel of Barabbas which is very suspect and a way of dismissing Jesus. So in Jewish tradition, Jesus existed and was a magician, a deceiver and a false prophet, but there is no doubt he existed and had an unusual ministry. So, sometimes the testimony of opponents stands as evidence.
Themes and Issues of Luke and Matthew Compared:
I will now discuss certain themes and issues that are raised as we look at detailed materials as well as overviews. In this particular section, I think it’s really important to not lose sight of the story line. One of the things that happens with an apologetic orientation of the Bible we can miss the content or the emphasis in the material itself. An example would be the debate over the virgin birth; is this philosophically possible, etc. and go through a long discussion of Isaiah 7:14 which cause us to miss the point of the passage; as the passage is more than fulfillment. It serves as an explanation for what is taking place. In Matthew, it says, ‘as it is written,’ and it cites the text, ‘to be born of a virgin and shall bear a son, etc.’ His name shall be called Emanuel. In all the talk about fulfilling the program and plan of Scripture, we sometimes underestimate and don’t discuss the point of the citation, thus missing a key part of the story. So what I am going to try to do as we move through this material is to help keep our eyes on what the text is presenting to be the main point, and to try and show you how it’s doing that. It’s often, the modernism of the world that keeps us from seeing these main points.
The Infancy Accounts is some of the most disputed parts of Jesus’ life. Simply, because it’s uncollaborated; for example, Matthew takes a certain angle while Luke takes a certain angle on the same materials and they don’t necessarily overlap that much. It’s only on the basic ideas you will see any over lapping. Matthew takes the story from the angle of Joseph’s involvement while Luke looks at Mary’s involvement, thus creating a variety of details. In the recommended readings, ‘Jesus According to Scripture’, page 52, ‘As we study the accounts of Jesus’ birth, the tenancies to become caught up into questions about supernatural elements and miss the emphasis of the message in the process. The modern world has no place for virgin births and angelic announcements and prophetic fulfillments and guiding stars. But reading the Gospels is tricky business; some who read these accounts see only what they want to see or what they have already decided what is important and excludes the rest. They only see the natural things that are common to all births and ignore the supernatural. This modernistic reading reduces the Jesus presented, largely to a metaphor whose experience is like our own. Tragically, an act of God doing unusual things to point out the unusual nature of his birth is ruled out before one even engages the text. But this is not the reading the evangelist provides, they emphasize the unusual nature of the birth because of the unusual nature of the one being born. In fact, Matthew and Luke as well as Mark, they take the remainder of their Gospels to show how unusual Jesus really is. For those who do believe that the miraculous events did occur, there still exists the danger that our efforts within the historicity of the accounts would distract us from the real reading of the text. We may miss the accounts of merging messages with the emphasis that the evangelist gave it. Our apologetics to defend the more miraculous aspects of these texts can deflect from reading and hearing the actual story in the account. It is like watching a movie and debating whether the events in movie are possible, rather than focusing on the actual story being told. While it is true that Jesus came with an array of signs to indicate who he was such as his unique birth, the focus of these accounts is never simply on whom Jesus is or how he was born. In the Infancy material, who Jesus is and how he was born was never separated from the declaring what he will do on behalf of humanity. It is the anticipated action on behalf of those in need that is celebrated in the two Infancy Accounts. This is why a mood of awe and worship accompany the description of these unique events.
So in thinking about the use of this material as we are reminded about from sermons, church and holidays, especially as the day known as Christmas. Learning how to relate to this material comfortably is important. So then, the Book of Matthew has Scripture that reveals fulfilment and he tells the story and as a narrator, he points out along the way how certain Scripture is fulfilled. So, Matthew is telling a story but at the same time adding his own commentary to that story that appeals to fulfillment, saying this is a realization of the program of God. Luke doesn’t do that, instead he contrasts Jesus and John and uses hymns of praise as theological explanation in the text. The language of Scripture, the language of joy, the language of engagement comes from the characters themselves within the story, not as a commentary overlay. They function the same way. The hymns function the same way as the remarks about the realization of Scripture do. But there are different ways to accomplish the same thing. In Matthew, we have a tone of conflict and opposition. If you think about the story from Matthew, we get the announcement of Jesus, we get Herod being angry that the Messiah has come, we get him sending out troops to kill all those under two years of age in order to remove Jesus, we get the tragedy of people being killed in Bethlehem; in a little village just to south within four miles of Jerusalem. In Luke, we have a completely different tone, one of joy and of excitement. This is the reason for all the hymns along with notes of praise surrounding the story. In Matthew, as already noted, Joseph is the key figure who has to deal with the problem of having this young girl of whom he is engaged who happens to be pregnant. He knows that he isn’t responsible, so he has a problem. How is he going to deal with it? In the first of several dreams that dominate the account in the Book of Matthew, Joseph is directed to marry the girl and this is by the Holy Spirit. Contrasting Luke, we did this story from Mary’s perspective. In fact, it says that Mary treasured these things in her heart. I am deeply suspicious that the roots for this tradition in Luke come from Mary. We are getting the passing on of her experiences of Jesus.
Notice that in Matthew, we have a genealogy that is built around the descent of Jesus coming from David. This is a case where knowing the language can be somewhat helpful. David in Hebrew is דָּוִיד and letters not only have consonant and vowel values, they have numerical value as well. In Hebrew, letters operate as numbers. The Dalet (ד) represents the number four in Hebrew and the letter 6 is represented by the Vav (I). You add that together, you will get the number 14 and what interesting about the genealogy within Matthew; it is structured around fourteen generations. Therefore, not only do we have David being named as one of the descendants of Jesus, we have a symmetrical genealogical structure that is saying, ‘David’ as it is being reproduced for us. This is a way of saying royal and messianic without using those terms. It’s a cultural script and so it’s one of the features of the passage. Another interesting feature in Matthew introductory materials is the presence of women in the genealogy. This is one of several places where women are related to outside the cultural norm in the Biblical materials. Another example is women become witnesses, the first to the empty tomb account. There are five women mentioned: Tamar, Rehab, Bathsheba, Ruth and Mary, all of which have difficult backgrounds. Tamar with the Judah incident, Rehab was a prostitute, Bathsheba with the incident with David and Ruth, who as a gentile was associated with Boaz in a move that would be described as bold in ancient terms by lying at his feet overnight in order to move toward the claim of marriage. And for Mary in Matthew where it says, from who was the Christ at the end of this genealogy were working with a feminine relative pronoun which demonstrates that the connection goes back to Mary, not to Joseph. Not only is this about the role of women but also about the nature of grace. In Jesus’ genealogy, we see that there are people that are made up of questionable backgrounds.
The third important point; what we are getting in Matthew in the Lecturer’s judgement of the genealogy is representation of the legal rights to the throne through Joseph. This is the legal way of moving back through Jesus’ genealogy. The curse of Jeconiah in Jeramiah recalls a curse being on him because of his unfaithfulness which says, ‘you will not have a role in the line.’ Thus Jeconiah is cut off from the legal right of being an ancestor of the Messiah. Luke is giving us the biological line whereas Matthew is giving us the legal line in light of this curse. But both lines deal with a genealogy but from a different perspective. When the line of Jeconiah ended, the line jumped over the next relative, the legal line thus changed also, both backwards and forwards. The line that leads to Joseph is only important in as much as the importance of the father within the culture, but realize still that the blood line is only through Mary, but we don’t have a bloodline through Mary; yet, most likely she is also a descendant of David. Still, be aware that the typical two genealogies are thought to represent Mary while the other represents Joseph. Luke takes us all the way back to Adam, son of man and thus Son of God. Matthew is simply interested in the royal connection, while Luke’s interest spreads farther. Is it good enough for Joseph to have adopted Jesus to satisfy the genealogical line back to David? These are ‘exceptional understandings’ that are happening within the two Gospels.
The way in which Luke’s material is structured is concerned with birth announcements and making the point that Jesus is greater than John. The relationship is the Son of God and the prophet of the Most High. Jesus’ relationship with John and John’s ministry itself are put in very ethical terms very early. In Luke 1 where the angels said to Zechariah, ‘don’t be afraid, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord, their God. He will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts the fathers back to their children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord, a people prepared for him.’ That’s the call but here is what I want you to see, there’s an idea of turning in the passage. This introduces a core idea of what mission above John and Jesus is all about. If I were to ask you to put a directional arrow on where the turning is directed in verses 16 & 17, what would you tell me and what passage would that remind you of?
Okay, there are actually two references of turning in the passage; the first would be Israel to the Lord and the second would be for fathers and their children and the disobedient to the just. When people turn back to one another, what do we call it? Reconciliation, and thus the ministry of John the Baptist was about reconciling a broken relationship the living God. The Ministry of Jesus was the same, restoring people to God. What does this remind us of, something in Jesus’ ministry? It is about loving God and your neighbor, a vertical and horizontal relationship. Thus, it is about society and here we see that the Gospel is taking us towards an ethical direction, designed to reorient us to the Lord and in that process, we as part of society gets reoriented in our basic relationships. The language is closer to the Syriac language (which is also known as Syriac Aramaic) chapter 48 than it is to anything else and in the description of the ministry like Elijah. When you think of Elijah, you know that he is a prophet and in addition it’s the most concentrated period of miracles outside of Moses in the history of Israel. Note that John the Baptist did not perform any miracles, so in comparing Elijah with John, we are not recalling Elijah’s miraculous ministry in relation to John the Baptist, we are talking about the faithfulness in regards to both of their ministries. John came in the Spirit of Elijah, being faithful to God and standing up for righteousness. Another point, in Judaism Elijah became associated with the idea that he will proceed the Eskaton or coming of the new age. Thus his reappearance through John indicates the coming of the Eskaton. The structure shows a birth announcement and then a sign that indicates it has taken place. That happens in all three cases in these two chapters of Luke. We have the announcement to Mary along with Elizabeth’s pregnancy as being a sign. Then we have the announcement to the shepherds along with seeing the baby Jesus, a sign of who Jesus is. There is also obedience to breaking tradition of naming in Luke 1:57 where the baby is being named John. They wanted to name him after his father but that wasn’t what the angel had instructed them to do, he was to be named John. In the argument, Zechariah wasn’t able to speak so he ask for something to write on, where he wrote the name of John. Zechariah could neither speak nor hear as they signed with him. His lack of a voice and hearing was from the temple and his lack of belief in what the angel had told him. (A side note, when God promises something, it’s going to happen.)
Then, after Zechariah received his voice and hearing, he praised God. Notice the praise in 1:68, ‘blessed be the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help his people, he has redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.’ We need to take a closer look at the language here, ‘for he has visited and made redemption for his people,’ in verse 60a, then in verse 70a, ‘through the mercies of our God through whom he shall visit us’, using the same verb; what is basically called the ‘shining light out of heaven’ ‘or the dawn that breaks upon us’ as it is translated as the dawn that visits us, so let’s listen to the hymn again. This is actually a praise psalm. You praise God for what he is doing, ‘blessed be the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has visited his people, he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David his servant. Because of our God’s tender mercies, the dawn will visit us from on high. The visitation involves the rising up of the horn out of the house of David that also will be a light. That’s the same picture Matthew will use to come into the Galilean ministry. So these announcements, their signs, the obedience and the hymn of praise, all contain the theological content of Infancy materials on Luke.
Even though these stories in Matthew and Luke are going in a different direction in some details, they are also coming together in other ways. You simply can’t see this by reading an English translation; however, a good commentary will show you this. Another point on this section, there is no excessive Christianizing of this material. Israel is very much the focal point; the characters don’t fully appreciate what is taken place despite the praising of God in the hymn. The last point in the praise, ‘for we shall be saved from our enemies, from the hand of all who hate us.’ Zechariah is stating some kind of political deliverance. But as this is part of the introduction of his Gospel, Luke shows that the words are true, but they are far truer than Zechariah realizes. The ultimately enemy is the devil. He is the enemy. For Zechariah, the enemy is Rome.
This is an overture of the entire Gospel, introducing the theme with the story playing itself out. We’ll see that the real enemies aren’t the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Romans. The real enemies are the spiritual forces. The text is not as Christianized as it could be. It is not expressed from a post-Eastern perspective, looking back on these events. It’s expressed in terms of what the people were experiencing at the time. Even the phrase, ‘Son of God’ is an interesting term in this text. In chapter 1:29, ‘but she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder what the meaning of the greetings might be,’ this was when Gabriel appears. ‘He said, do not be afraid Mary for you have found favor with God; listen, you will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus. He will great and will be called Son of the most high, the Lord God will give him the throne of his Father, David. He will reign over the house Jacob and his kingdom will never end. Mary said to the angel, how will this be since I have not had sexual relations with a man.’ These questions are a little different than the questions of Zechariah but she doesn’t get the same results. ‘The angel replied, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will over-shadow you, therefore the child that will be born will be holy. He will be called the Son of God. She responds, let it happen to me according to your word.’ Note that this is a young teenage girl, ‘you are pregnant! How did that happen?’ Just imagine that conversation, the position she has been put in, in terms of reputation, etc. But she’s going to be obedient. The ambiguity is interesting in the way the ‘Son of God’ is being presented in this text. There is speculation of Mary having Jesus, the divine son. The most that she probably thinks is that the child will be the Messianic Son of God. She doesn’t really understand what means to be having the Christ, the Son of the Living God. She’s thinking that this is the promised one. In the incidence of Jesus staying in Jerusalem and not returning with the parents; her attitude is as a mother to her child.
So, let’s continue; as mentioned, the hymns are the key to the materials in Luke. In the Magnificat , Mary’s hymn of Praise. Mary’s hymn is one of three major hymnic pieces in the infancy material, the others being the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79) and Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:28-32). These hymns were so named to stress their importance. Mary possesses a mood of joy and speaks for herself and for her community, the people of god throughout time. And notice all the first person singulars happening early in the hymn in chapter 1:46-49. Everything is in the first person singular. Then it generalizes from verse 50 until the end. Those who fear them, those whose pride rose up, the mighty are brought down, he lifts up the lowly, he fills the hungry, he sends the rich away empty, and he’s helped his servant Israel. So Mary becomes a type of the righteous person. She’s one of the humble that God touches and who God lifts up. What he’s doing with me is what he has always done. That’s the point of the Magnifcat, how magnificent that this has happened to me. You’ll notice that the hymn by Zechariah is a Davidic presence that is important as was the case with the announcement to Mary, herself, in which he is going to hit on the throne of David. So we get this regal frame right at the start of Luke.
Note that all the characters are highly pious Jewish figures. Zechariah is a priest, Elizabeth is his faithful wife. They are described as walking in the ways of the Lord, earlier in the chapter. Joseph is presented as very pious also, someone who is full of faith. He sensibly thinking of how to put Mary away; he isn’t be cruel about it Thus Jesus’ youth was surrounded by people who were very pious. He was not a rebel who grew up in a negative environment. We can see this in both versions of the story. The first of seven key dreams in Matthew which says that God is going to drive this story, tells him to keep her as a wife and announces Isiah 7:14 with the emphasis that this is God with us, this is the sign child, this is the child that indicates the covenant promise is continuing and that God’s presence and protection is still with us. And so Matthew and Luke converge on the idea of the relationship of this child to the promise of God. The infancy material sets a tone for both Matthew and Luke, but each goes their own way on how Jesus fulfilled the promises of old. Matthew does it through five Old Testament citations that point to Jesus as the promised Davidic son and king. Luke uses a style of Old Testament historical narrative and employs hymns to make his points about Jesus with language that recalls the Old Testament. In both accounts, God is highly active. Each account suggests that suffering is associated with the presence of Jesus. Matthew does this in the slaying of the innocent while Luke notes Simeon’s remarks to Mary, the only negative point in entire infancy material of Luke, Simeon says to Mary, ‘he will be a cause of pain.’ He will be for the rising and falling of many in Israel. This is the only negative note of all of Luke 1 and 2. In contrast to Matthew, which is dominated by the initial rejection of the announcement of the Messiah in the land through the killing of the infants? Each account also notes that Jesus comes of the Jews although what the he does will also involve the nations. Matthew’s picture of the Magi, responding to the testimony of creation shows that gentiles will be sensitive to Jesus’ coming.
In Luke, it is Simeon’s note that Jesus is a light of revelation to the gentiles. Thus for all their distinct detail in the beginning of both accounts, share some basic ideas. There is both diversity in the way the story is told and unity; the shepherds in Luke introduce a note of joy. There are a lot of things that are sad about the tradition being negative about shepherds. Most of those traditions are not first century or older traditions. They are later traditions. So I’m not sure whether there is a negative aspect to the shepherds as representing the rejected. None the less, shepherds do represent a kind of average person and there is a note of joy associated with Jesus’ coming. There are three titles mentioned in 2:11; he is Savior, he is Christ and he is Lord. Savior is being defined because the emphasis is on deliverance; Christ is being defined because it’s associated with the throne of David. The only title not defined out of this is Lord which is the rest of the Gospel with be about. And it says that he is sent for people of his good pleasure. This is not for everyone, the way Christmas tends to celebrate. This phrase is a way of talking about the elect; the beneficiaries of what Christ brings are those who respond to what God is doing. When they come to the temple, Simeon meets the pious parents who are obeying the law. They are bringing the sacrifices for the first born. These are not rebellious parents, they are good Jews. Simeon says when he holds the child, ‘now according to you words permit your servant to depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.’ He’s holding the baby and by looking at the baby, he’s looking at God’s salvation. So salvation and the child are identified here in the prophetic word of Simeon. ‘That you are prepared in the presence of all people a light for revelation to the gentiles’ on the one hand and to the glory of your people on the other. He’s going to be for everybody. But there is a hint of the division to come. Simeon blessed them and said, ‘listen carefully, this child is destined to be the cause of falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign to be rejected in deed and as a results, the thoughts of many hearts will revealed and a sword will pierce through you own sole as well.’ This is a hint that everything will not be well.
In Matthew, the wise men do not appear with Jesus and the babe with the shepherds. These are two distinct scenes, this probably happened later. Herod goes and kills children under two years of age, the shepherds appear on the very night of the birth. There is a gentile sensitivity evident in Matthew yet Matthew is the Gospel written to the Jews. And it is the gentiles that are far more sensitive to what’s going on by watching the creation than the Jews who have the Word of God. In the Jewish Gospel, he is born in Bethlehem of Judea, not in Bethlehem of Galilee or in Nazareth as many critics want to suggest. The protection of Jesus is like the protection of Israel, out of Egypt I have called my son; there is suffering before glory, there is official rejection, they go to Nazareth. We are not sure how 2:23 works, I have ideas. Matthew says in 2:23, ‘and then when it had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.’ A similar word, Nazeer, has messianic overtones. As I’ve suggested to you, the critics play Bethlehem off to Nazareth. The home in Matthew against Luke down from the Galilean home; this reads in an over literal way, the narrative line of Matthew. Matthew has Jesus and their family in Bethlehem from the beginning. And then they are sent to Nazareth. The sign of Jesus’s break from his family is the first time that Jesus speaks in Luke. It concerns the Infancy stage of Luke even though Jesus is much older and it gives a self-understanding of his call as the Greek reads, ‘I must be about the ----- of my Father.’ However, that blank is filled in as, ‘business.’ In the Greek, there appears to be a break in the syntax. It’s there on purpose and the idea seems to be, ‘I must be about my Father’s business.’ The picture of the infancy narratives in Luke ends with Jesus’ own statement as the final climax of these narratives.
Teaching Methodology of the Synoptic Gospels
The synoptic Gospels tell the story of Jesus from the earth up or from ground up. They start with categories and experiences and situations that we are used to and understand, and then build on that, revealing more and more of the perception of who Jesus is. That’s different than the Gospel of John, who tells the story of Jesus from heaven down. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Right from the beginning, you know what’s going on. As mentioned, the synoptic Gospels tell the story gradually from the earth up with the people slowly realizing who he is. How do you tell people about someone like Jesus who is so different from anyone else? The synoptic Gospels build it one step at a time. In teaching this material, should it be taught in line with the story; in a way that that the Gospels present it, and in a way that someone has to experience Jesus? We experience Jesus in a journey of experiencing him in a way as he slowly reveals himself to us. In this introduction, we get the birth of a messianic person and everyone understands that; it’s the promised one. And there are signs that tell us of unusual things associated with this child, like the virgin birth. So, a strategy in how to teach the synoptic Gospels which lets the story unfold, a step at a time in relation to how it’s given in the Gospels. But yet, the Bible is so deep, there is not any one methodology that fits all in teaching the Scriptures. There is the way in which the Bible presents information and then there’s the product of that information. There is a certain framing of the text and at the same time, how much of a frame we surround the text with. We don’t necessarily consider things by the same rules as the Biblical prophets, authors and other ancients did. Most people in the western society today and perhaps throughout the world think in terms of straight line, logical categories. They thought in parallels and patterns which presents a theology behind the pattern, a design. We must learn to think in terms of those parallels and patterns otherwise we miss out on certain understandings and information. Of course, the application also involves the audience which a piece of work is written for, as it is today, but in those days the audiences understood the delivery in terms of those parallels and patterns.
We must also realize that there is an inherit unity to the whole of the Gospels as well as the Bible itself. In considering the Bible as the Canon, it is a unit and God is ultimately behind every word and every book; it all fits together and only conservative theology can show this unity as compared to liberal theology. In addition, a person can only work with what’s being revealed to them through the Holy Spirit and the Spirit can show us the message within a certain time frame as we are exposed to Biblical revelation. And continued revelation reflects back on previous revelation, revealing to us even greater depth and knowledge. This is the spirit of God working in us. Of course, we are speaking about Christians here, not the unsaved. To a certain extent, they are different yet we know that the Holly Spirit can work in their lives to draw them to God and reveal to them the meaning that is in the text. But back to the delivery method in the way we teach; we often kill the story line by throwing the ‘Son of God’ out first and using sermon after sermon in dealing with the same thought, thus confusing the person who don’t have all of the theological suppositions which bring about a ‘disconnect.’ Even for the disciples, there were certain things that happened that made them to see who Jesus really was.