II. JESUS' BIRTH AND BOYHOOD (1:5-2:52)
A. ANNUNCIATIONS TO ZECHARIAH AND TO MARY (1:5-56)
1. THE PROMISE TO ZECHARIAH OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN (1:5-25)
Originally this story may have belonged to a collection of legends about John the Baptist that circulated independently of the Christian tradition. It must be admitted that there is little in it or in its companion account of John's birth that demands an assumption of Christian authorship. The hypothesis has even been advanced that the story of the promise of Jesus' birth and the story of his nativity have been deliberately modeled on the more primitive Johannine narratives and then interwoven with them. However this may be, it is probable that Luke found most of the material that is now in his first two chapters already integrated in a source. Their Semitic style has been regarded by some interpreters as evidence that the narratives have been translated from a Hebrew or Aramaic document. This hypothesis would not require us to assume that Luke himself was the translator, for there is little evidence that the evangelist had any competence as a Semitic scholar. Others have attributed the language and structure of the stories to Luke's own artistic genius. He has deliberately phrased a body of oral tradition in the vocabulary of the Greek Bible and adapted it to the narrative style of the O.T. The evidence of familiarity with Jewish custom as well as idiom throughout Luke's first two chapters is in favor of the former hypothesis, but the idea in 1:26-38 that Jesus' conception was supernatural is difficult to reconcile with a theory that this paragraph originated in strictly Jewish circles. No doubt Luke has edited whatever material he had at his disposal in the interests of the larger story he has to tell. He was an author in his own right, and his work is never simply that of collation.
5. Judea is used here (and in 4:44; 6:17; 7:17; 23:5; Acts 10:37) for the whole of Palestine. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. This cycle of stories therefore assumes that John the Baptist and Jesus were born before that date. Priests among the Jews had long been divided into twenty-four "divisions," each responsible for the conduct of temple worship for one week at semiannual intervals (Josephus Antiquities VII. 14. 7). Zechariah belonged to the division of Abijah. According to I Chr. 24:10, this was the eighth. Elizabeth is also said to have been of priestly descent.
6-7. The piety of the priest and his wife is articulated in negative terms of Jewish legalism; cf. Paul's boast in Phil. 3:6b: "as to righteousness under the law blameless." Like Abraham and Sarah, they were childless and advanced in years. The story makes it clear that their childlessness was not a consequence of divine displeasure.
8-10. And it came to pass, that (KJV) is a Semitic formula of introduction that occurs occasionally in Mark and Matthew and frequently in Luke-Acts. It is consistently omitted by the RSV as superfluous in English. Even within each division priests were so numerous that the privilege of performing any significant sacerdotal act was awarded by lot. To burn incense was therefore an honor that might not often be bestowed on any member of the priestly order, and the occasion would be one of particular solemnity for Zechariah. We are not told whether this particular hour of incense was after the morning or after the evening sacrifice. "May the God of mercy enter the sanctuary and be pleased to accept the sacrifice of his people!" was the traditional formula of public prayer at such times.
11-13. On a similar occasion the high priest John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.) is said to have heard a divine voice announce that his sons had conquered Antiochus (Josephus Antiquities XIII. 10. 3). An angel of the Lord had also appeared to Manoah's barren wife (according to Judg. 13:3) and had promised that she would conceive and bear a son (Samson). It was the duty of the officiating priest to offer a prayer on behalf of the people after the incense had been kindled by the live coals on the altar. No mention has heretofore been made of Zechariah's personal petition. John is a Semitic name meaning "God is gracious," but there is no indication that Luke has reflected on its etymology.
14-15. The many who are to share the father's joy are John's future adherents, although Luke and his readers would also have included the Christian church. They will rejoice that such a man has been born into the world. In the sight of the Lord means "in God's estimate" (cf. Gen. 10:9). According to Num. 6:3, Nazarites were forbidden the use of wine or strong drink--the latter an inclusive term for intoxicating liquor other than that from grapes. But if the prediction means that John was to be a Nazarite, one must note that it is not said that he would allow his hair to grow uncut. Perhaps only some such contrast as in Eph. 5:18 is intended: "Do not get drunk with wine ... but be filled with the Spirit." In the O.T. the Holy Spirit was only a temporary gift of God, even to the most exceptional individual. John is to be filled with it. From his mother's womb probably means "while he is still unborn" (cf. 1:41).
16-17. John will not only perform the ancient function of a prophet, but will also make the people ready for God's rule, as predicted of God's forerunner in Mal. 4:5-6. It is not directly stated that he will be Elijah redivivus (as in Matthew 11:14 and Mark 9:13), but one who will exhibit Elijah's spirit and power. The Lord means God. Luke has not reworked his material in the interests of Christian messianism.
18-20. Like Abraham on a similar occasion (Gen. 15:8) Zechariah is incredulous and demands some proof that the promise will be fulfilled. He had prayed without any conviction that his prayer would be answered. The angel identifies himself as Gabriel, one of the seven archangels who stand in the presence of God (Rev. 1:4; Tob. 12:15). His words had deserved credence and would be fulfilled, but the sign that Zechariah had requested would also be a punishment for unbelief. Luke had a special interest in punitive miracles (Acts 1:18; 5:5, 10; 12:23; 13:11).
21-23. When he had burned the incense, the officiating priest was expected to issue from the sanctuary and bless the assembled worshipers. Zechariah's inability to perform this function upon his tardy reappearance was correctly interpreted by the impatient congregation as evidence that he had seen a vision in the temple. After a similar supernatural vision and audition, the prophet Daniel had remained dumb until the heavenly man had touched his lips and freed his speech (Dan. 10:15-16). Zechariah's time of service would end with the next sabbath. Priests were at liberty to live anywhere in Judea when not on duty. Zechariah's place of residence is vaguely described in 1:39 as a Judean city in "the hill country."
24-25. Nothing is known of any ancient custom that required an expectant mother to seclude herself. Explanations of Elizabeth's retirement based on the presumed psychology of an elderly woman have no warrant in the text. Probably the five months of secrecy are mentioned only to prepare the way for the next story. They account for the fact that the angel's announcement to Mary of her kinswoman's pregnancy could be delayed until "the sixth month" (vs. 36) and still come as news and serve as a sign. Childlessness was considered a reproach among Semitic peoples (cf. Gen. 30:23). Sterility was always blamed in the O.T. on the woman.
2. THE PROMISE TO MARY OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS (1:26-38)
The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not articulated as part of the primitive Christian kerygma in the epistles of Paul or in the early chapters of the book of Acts. There is no hint of it in Mark's Gospel or in the common tradition of Matthew and Luke. It has no place in the birth and infancy narratives in Luke 2:1-52 which assume throughout that Joseph was one of Jesus' parents (2:27, 33, 41, 43, 48). It is implied in the editorial parenthesis ("as was supposed") in Luke's version of Jesus' genealogy (3:23) but no-where else in the body of the Third Gospel. For that matter, apart from the first chapter of Matthew, the only reference to the doctrine in the N.T. is in this paragraph.
Even in this account the doctrine is explicit only in the words "since I have no husband" (vs. 34). If this clause were missing the angel's promises could apply to a son whom Mary was to conceive in natural wedlock. The late Canon B. H. Streeter believed that the reading of the O.L. MS b, which omits vs. 34, may represent the original Lukan text (The Four Gospels [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925], pp. 267-68). Frederick C. Grant is a more recent interpreter to hold that the clauses in 1:34 and 3:23 are early interpolations (An Introduction to New Testament Thought [New York and Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950], pp. 230-32). But the textual evidence for this conclusion is not impressive. It seems more probable that the doctrine of Christ's supernatural generation was already familiar to the author of the Third Gospel and that he edited his source material to convey it.
The real significance of the Virgin Birth in early Christian thought was theological. It declared what had been the faith of the church from the beginning, that God had come into human life for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Luke was writing for a church that was already disturbed by schismatic and heretical teachers (Acts 20:28-30). One of the earliest heresies was the denial of Christ's humanity. The Docetists held that Christ had been a divine being who only seemed to be human. He had not actually taken our flesh upon him, or suffered, or died. From the time of Ignatius and the framers of the Apostles' Creed, and possibly as early as Luke's day, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth asserted that Christ was truly man as well as truly God. The Son of God had been conceived by a human mother--a virgin in accordance with O.T. prophecy as the church read it in the LXX text of Isa. 7:14--when "the power of the Most High had overshadowed her." He was "made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God" (Heb. 2:17).
26-27. Gabriel ("the hero of God") is again the messenger. He had also been the vehicle of revelation to Daniel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21). Nazareth is identified as a city of Galilee for the benefit of Gentile readers unfamiliar with Palestinian geography. Of the house of David is a phrase that modifies Joseph, not Mary. The tradition of Jesus' Davidic descent was manifestly based on Joseph's lineage (2:4; 3:23, cf. Matthew 1:20). Joseph plays a much more important role in the Matthaean than in the Lukan cycle of birth stories.
28-29. Blessed art thou among women is missing from codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. The words were borrowed from vs. 42 and interpolated at this point in most later MSS. In time the angelic salutation became the Ave Maria of the Latin translations. There is sporadic support in early Christian literature for the view--incompatible with the future tenses in vs. 35--that the angel's utterance marked the moment of Mary's conception. Zechariah had been troubled at the sight of the angel (vs. 12), but it was by the angel's saying that Mary was disturbed.
30-31. You have found favor with God (cf. Gen. 6:8; etc.) reiterates the content of the title that the angel had already conferred. Luke does not cite the Immanuel prophecy of Isa. 7:14 (cf. Matthew 1:23), although he may well have had it in mind. But compare also the angel's words to Hagar in Gen. 16:11. Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Semitic "Joshua," which means "the Lord is salvation." Luke does not interpret the name etymologically (contrast Matthew l:21b).
32-33. Jesus is to be the Davidic Messiah of popular Jewish hope. The angel's words recall the predictions of II Sam. 7:13-16 (cf. Pss. 2:7; 89:26-27) and Isa. 9:6-7.
34. In some earlier form of the story the angel's words in vs. 31 may not have implied an immediate conception and Mary's astonishment may have been due to the intimation that she was to become the mother of the Davidic Messiah. As Luke records it, however, the question hinges on the words since I have no husband (see above). Mary is astonished that she is to have a son before her marriage. Roman Catholic interpreters have discovered support in this verse for their dogma that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity: seeing I know not a man (KJV) declares her intention of remaining a virgin as much as it describes her present status. This is not only difficult exegesis; it also raises the further question: Why, then, had she become betrothed to Joseph?
35. The angel explains the theory of supernatural conception. Since his words are cast in the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the second statement is a repetition of the first. The Holy Spirit is therefore the equivalent of the power of the Most High. It is impersonal, as in the O.T., and later trinitarian doctrine must not be read into the verse. The last part of it involves translation difficulties. The RSV is preferable to the KJV. Another possible rendering: "Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God." Son of God involves the idea of physical (or metaphysical) relationship to deity, whereas Son of the Most High (RSV) in vs. 32 was only a title that God would confer on Jesus as Messiah.
36-37. Mary had not asked the angel to authenticate his message as Zechariah had done (vs. 18). Nevertheless a sign is given. Elizabeth's pregnancy in her old age demonstrates that with God nothing will be impossible--a statement modeled on Gen. 18:14. Two conflicting tendencies can be observed in the gospel tradition about John and Jesus: (a) to subordinate John to Jesus to a greater extent than history seems to warrant (cf. John 1:19-34); and (b) to link John and Jesus more closely than the facts seem to permit--as in this opening chapter of Luke's Gospel. There is nothing elsewhere in the N.T. to suggest that John and Jesus were related by blood. Luke 7:18-20 (Matthew 11:2-3) implies that John had never heard of Jesus--or at least had never suspected that he might be Messiah--until reports of his ministry reached him in prison. Luke appears to assume that Mary was of priestly (non-Davidic) descent. The sixth month of this verse later influenced the Christian calendar. In the fourth century the birth of Jesus was fixed at the time of the winter solstice, and John's birth was then dated six months earlier. (June 24 was the date of the summer solstice according to the reckoning of the Julian calendar.)
38. Mary's words are those of humble acquiescence in God's will. There is no account of the fulfillment of the angel's prophecy as in vss. 24-25. The story is not cast in the framework of a vision. And the angel departed from her was meant to be understood literally.
3. MARY'S VISIT TO ELIZABETH (1:39-56)
The third scene in the series connects Gabriel's annunciations to Zechariah and to Mary with the birth narratives of John and Jesus.
39-40. The vague references to Mary's destination are of no help to the reader. Luke intends us to understand that the journey was undertaken with haste because of the angel's report (vs. 36).
41-42. Elizabeth's unborn babe is prophetically aware of the unborn Messiah, and his inspiration (cf. vs. 15) is transferred to his mother. The future mother of the forerunner recognizes the future mother of the Christ.
43. For a similar expression of unworthiness, see II Sam. 24:21. My Lord had been a messianic title (Ps. 110:1), but Luke and his readers would fill it with Christian content.
44-45. Elizabeth explains to Mary how it was that she had recognized her as the mother of the Messiah, and congratulates her on her faith in the angel's words. If the KJV (cf. RSV mg.) of vs. 45 is preferred, Elizabeth explains to Mary why she calls her blessed.
46a. Mary is the speaker according to all Greek MSS and almost all translations. "Elizabeth" appears in the oldest O.L. MSS, and in quotations from this passage in Luke by Irenaeus (late second century A.D.) and a few other church fathers. MS support for "Elizabeth" is therefore not impressive. Nevertheless many interpreters prefer it for reasons of intrinsic probability. The Magnificat (so-called from the first word in the Latin versions of the psalm) has been closely modeled on the Song of Hannah in I Sam. 2:1-10; Hannah's song was the joyous praise to God of a woman whose long period of childlessness had been ended by God's response to her prayer (I Sam. 1:11); and it is therefore Elizabeth's situation that resembles Hannah's. It is Elizabeth who has just been filled with prophetic inspiration (vs. 41). Zechariah's rejoicing (vss. 67-79) would parallel Elizabeth's better than Mary's. Vs. 48a is said to have more meaning on Elizabeth's lips than on Mary's. And it is urged that vs. 56 reads as if "Elizabeth" were the subject of the verb in vs. 46. On the other hand it has been pointed out that for Elizabeth to sing a song of praise for God's goodness to her would be belated in this context; the song should have appeared after vs. 25. For this reason, and in view of the MS attestation, it is difficult to reject and Mary said as the original Lukan reading. But the dispute is academic, for neither Mary nor Elizabeth can seriously be considered as the author of the psalm. Almost every phrase in the Magnificat has its parallel in I Sam. 1:11; I Sam. 2:1-10, or elsewhere in the O.T. Luke or his source took a Jewish (or Jewish-Christian) hymn of praise and fitted it to this situation, possibly by the interpolation of vs. 48.
Vss. 46b-50 express a sense of personal thankfulness to God for his mighty acts, while vss. 51-55 praise him for Israel's deliverance from oppressors; cf. the similar structure of Hannah's song (I Sam. 2:1-10).
46b-47. In the parallelism of Hebrew poetry the second clause repeats the first, and there is therefore no distinction between my soul and my spirit. Magnifies="declares the greatness of."
48. This is the only verse in the psalm that relates it specifically to its present context. Luke intends us to understand vs. 48a as a reference to the annunciation. The low estate translates a Greek word that is used in the LXX text of I Sam. 1:11 for Hannah's "affliction"--i.e., her childlessness (cf. Gen. 29:32). But it can also be given a more general application (II Sam. 16:12: Ps. 25:18; etc.). Goodspeed: "For he has noticed his slave in her humble station." Vs. 48b is more appropriate as Mary's prophetic utterance than as Elizabeth's (but cf. Leah's boast in Gen. 30:13). Henceforth presumably means that Elizabeth's benediction (vs. 45) is to be the first of a long series.
49-50. Compare Deut. 10:21; Pss. 103:17; 111:9.
51-55. God is the subject. The verses have been interpreted as anticipations of a redemption that is yet to be accomplished--viewed from the vantage point of the messianic age. But this interpretation is forced. It is easier to understand them as extolling God's mighty deeds in days of old. The language is that of the Greek O.T. (LXX), where parallels to almost every phrase can be discovered. "He has routed the proud-minded" (Goodspeed) is a more intelligible rendering of the Hebrew idiom in vs. 51b. The canticle ends with a rehearsal of God's ancient promise. As he spoke to our fathers can be read as a parenthesis, but this would be an awkward construction in Greek as well as in English.
56. Mary's visit ended shortly before the birth of the Baptist. Did she return to her parental home? She was married to Joseph when Jesus was born (see Exeg., 2:1-7), but when did her marriage take place? Luke was not concerned with such questions.
B. BIRTHS OF JOHN AND JESUS (1:57-2:20)
1. THE BIRTH OF JOHN (1:57-80)
57-58. The angel's prediction that many would rejoice at John's birth (vs. 14) had John's later followers in mind rather than Elizabeth's neighbors and kinsfolk. Therefore there is no reason why we should not translate vs. 58b with Goodspeed (cf. the Vulg.): "And they came and congratulated her."
59. There is O.T. precedent for allowing neighbors to take part in naming a child (Ruth 4:17) but none for postponing the ceremony until the eighth day (cf. also 2:21). The earliest Jewish parallel only substantiates the practice in the medieval period, but it may go back to Roman times. The alternative would be to assume that Luke has adapted his narrative to Greco-Roman custom. Circumcision was performed according to rabbinical rules by an expert. Jewish children were more frequently named after their grandfather than their father.
60-63. Probably Luke thinks of Elizabeth as inspired to insist on John as a name. The implication of the narrative is that Zechariah was deaf as well as dumb--an exaggeration of the punishment that had been meted out to him by the angel (vs. 20). A writing tablet was ordinarily a block of wood covered with wax. Saying is a Semitism that often serves only to introduce a direct quotation and that is omitted (but not consistently) by the RSV. The deaf-mute's confirmation of his wife's unusual choice of a name for their child is accepted by the company as an astonishing evidence of the supernatural.
64. Zechariah has served his sentence (vss. 13, 20) and his physical handicap is lifted. Loosed is supplied in the Greek only by Codex Bezae and its allies, but its insertion can be justified in the English translation as necessary to the sense.
65-66a. Luke often notes that fear is a response to the manifestation of the supernatural (1:12, 30: Acts 5:5). Things (or "events") is the better translation (cf. 2:19, 51). The hill country of Judea (cf. vs. 39) centered about Hebron. Greatness could be expected of a child who had been born under such remarkable circumstances. But legends arise after events, not before them.
66b. This reflection reads as though it originally belonged with the conclusion in vs. 80.
67-79. These verses look like an insertion into the narrative at some stage in its history, perhaps suggested by vs. 64.
67. The Holy Spirit is usually the vehicle of prophecy and of revelation in Luke-Acts (cf. Ezek. 11:24-25).
The Benedictus is named from the translation of the first word of the song in the Vulg. Like the Magnificat it was an early Christian hymn. Vss. 68-75 may even have been of Jewish origin. They are largely a chain of O.T. phrases, among them Pss. 41:13 and 111:9 (vs. 68); Ps. 132:17 (vs. 69); Ps. 106:10 (vs. 71); and Mic. 7:20; Ps. 106:45; and Ps. 105:8-9 (vss. 72-73). Specifically Christian content is introduced in vss. 76-79.
68-69. God is praised for the fulfillment of Jewish messianic hopes. He has raised up a leader from among the descendants of David. Horn is a common metaphor in the O.T. for "power" or "strength." The Greek gives a literal translation of a typically Semitic idiom, and both of our English versions follow it. Goodspeed paraphrases: "a mighty Savior."
70. The language suggests that this verse was Luke's own composition (cf. Acts 3:21; 4:25; etc.). From of old does more justice to the meaning of the phrase than since the world began. The earliest messianic passage in the O.T. appears to be Nathan's speech to David (II Sam. 7:12-16).
71. Salvation from sins is not mentioned until vs. 77. The deliverance of the nation from its political enemies is all that is implied in this verse and in vs. 74. This deliverance was to be the work of the Messiah according to popular phrasings of the Jewish hope, and the articulation of that hope in vss. 68-75 does not betray any evidence of Christian reinterpretation.
72-73. Freedom from foreign tyranny will be the fulfillment of God's promised mercy and his holy covenant with Abraham.
74-75. Political independence will make it possible for men to serve God without fear and in holiness and righteousness.
76. The psalm passes from praise to prediction, and the attention of the reader is deflected from God's Messiah to the Messiah's forerunner. The title that had been predicted for Jesus was "the Son of the Most High" (vs. 32). The Baptist is to be called the prophet of the Most High. The second half of the verse is based on a combination of Mal. 3:la and Isa. 40:3 (see Exeg., Luke 7:27 and 3:4). Before the Lord in vs. 15 had meant "before God," but Luke understands it to mean "before the Messiah" in this instance (cf. 3:4).
77-78a. The Baptist's historical role as a preacher of repentance (3:3) is anticipated. He would inform the people whom the Messiah was to redeem of the salvation that consists in the forgiveness of their sins and that is made available to them through the tender mercy of our God.
78b-79. The RSV makes the best of a Greek text that bristles with difficulties (for an alternative translation see the RSV mg.). John will fulfill his mission when the messianic age--the dayspring from on high--breaks in upon history. The future tense is better attested in the MSS than the aorist--the English perfect of the KJV. Therefore the redemption that was announced as accomplished in vs. 68 is regarded here as still in prospect. Vs. 79a is a reminiscence of Isa. 9:2 (cf. Ps. 107:10). Men who have lived heretofore in darkness and in the shadow of death--the speaker includes himself among them--will learn the way of peace--i.e., the way of "salvation" (Heb. shälôm).
80. Compare 2:40, 52. No doubt this summary report of John's early years followed originally upon vs. 66. That John's youth was spent in the wilderness--i.e., in sparsely settled districts rather than in the deserts--may be Luke's deduction from the traditional scene of the Baptist's ministry. The day of his manifestation to Israel: Luke has in mind the story that he tells in 3:1-6.
2. THE BIRTH OF JESUS (2:1-20)
Luke's beautiful pastoral narrative is folk poetry--saga that love and reverence wove about God's good, glad gift of Christ to men. Attempts to find pagan antecedents to it in the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus and the shepherds who nurtured them, in the Iranian account of the shepherds who watched over the birth of Mithra, or in some hypothetical messianic legend borrowed by Hellenistic Judaism from Egyptian Osiris mythology, have not led to any conclusive results. Nor is it clear that David's shepherd origins (I Sam. 16:11) or the tradition that Bethlehem had a "tower of flocks" (Gen. 35:21 [Targ.]; Mic. 4:8) have contributed anything to it. If pre-Christian motifs helped to shape the Lukan story, they have not been documented.
According to Luke, Joseph and Mary had been residents of Nazareth in Galilee (cf. 1:26). Jesus was born in the stable of an inn in Bethlehem because the exigencies of an imperial census had brought his parents to the city of David. In contrast the birth stories in Matthew assume that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because that was where Joseph and Mary had their residence. The family left Bethlehem and settled in Nazareth only after an interlude in Egypt, in response to oracles that warned against threats to the life of the Christ child. All this raises the question: Was Jesus born in Bethlehem? Or did both Luke and Matthew discount the tradition that Jesus had come out of Nazareth and tell their variant stories of his birth at Bethlehem in order that he might better fulfill Jewish messianic expectations? The matter is one of considerable historical interest but no longer of any religious importance.
2:1-3. The implication of 1:26 is that Jesus was born six months after the birth of John the Baptist. Therefore in those days cannot have any reference to the time of John's "manifestation to Israel" (l:80b). Luke seeks to set his story against the background of secular history (cf. 3:1-2). Caesar Augustus ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. No other source makes any mention of a census of all the world--a hyperbole for the Roman Empire--during his reign. An enrollment in the province of Syria for purposes of taxation was undertaken in A.D. 6 (or 7) when Quirinius was governor. The references to it by Josephus (Jewish War II. 8. 1; VII. 8. 1) imply that this census was the first enrollment, for it raised a storm of protest among the Jews and led to an insurrection in Galilee that was suppressed only with some difficulty (cf. Acts. 5:37). Since Quirinius was never Roman legate in Syria during the lifetime of Herod the Great, and Luke's earlier narratives assume that John the Baptist--and therefore Jesus also--was born while Herod was still king of Judea (1:5), it would appear that the evangelist has been guilty of an anachronism. Many ingenious attempts have been made to escape this conclusion, but all fall short of demonstration. Furthermore it is improbable that any Roman census would have required a man to report to the home of his ancestors. Such a procedure would have been almost as impracticable in Roman times as it would be in our own, and the Roman state was interested in a man's property, not in his pedigree.
4-5. The suggestion that Joseph had to journey to Bethlehem because he owned property in that city has no warrant in Luke's story. In any case Mary would not have been obliged to accompany him. His betrothed has the support of the best Greek MSS, but "his wife," a reading found in the O.L. MSS and in the Sinaitic Syriac, is intrinsically preferable. Its displacement may have been due to the harmonization of vs. 5 with 1:27. His espoused wife is a meaningless combination of both readings that occurs in later MSS.
6-7. With the simplicity that is often the mark of his literary genius, Luke tells the story of Jesus' humble birth in a single sentence (in the Greek text). Her first-born son: Luke refers in 8:19 to Jesus' brothers. Mark gives the names of four, and mentions at least two sisters (Mark 6:3). An alternative translation to manger would be "stall" (Moffatt), and to inn would be "guest room" (cf. 22:11). The ox and the ass were introduced into apocryphal versions of the story from Isa. 1:3. The later tradition that Jesus was born in a cave is first mentioned by Justin (ca. A.D. 150). In the early fourth century the Basilica of Constantine was built behind its traditional site.
8-9. Early in the third century A.D. some parts of the church celebrated January 6 as the birthday of Jesus. In the fourth century that date was displaced by December 25--a day that had long been the occasion of a pagan festival associated with the rebirth of various solar deities. It was the date of the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar. The implication of Luke's story is that Jesus was born at a time when sheep could still be kept in the field--sometime between April and November. Both Matthew and Luke imply that the birth of Jesus took place at night. Luke often insists that revelation comes to humble folk (1:53; 6:20; 7:22).
10-12. To all the people means in the first instance "to all Israel" (cf. 1:68, 77). But it is quite possible that Luke intended the angel's announcement to underscore the universalism of the gospel. To you: the shepherds are addressed in a representative capacity. God is called Savior by the author of Second Isaiah (Isa. 43:3; 45:15; cf. Luke 1:47), and pagans commonly used the title for the gods of their cults. Luke applies it elsewhere to Jesus only in Acts 5:31 and 13:23. It does not occur in Mark or Matthew. Christ the Lord is a combination of titles that reflects a developed Christology. Nowhere in Jewish literature is the Messiah regarded as a divine being. Jews would have spoken only of "the Lord's Christ" (cf. vs. 26). The angel's words are to be authenticated by a sign (cf. 1:18, 20, 36).
13-14. The heavenly host in the O.T. usually refers to the stars as objects of pagan worship (cf. Acts 7:42). Here it is used of God's entourage of angels as in I Kings 22:19; II Chr. 18:18. The Gloria in Excelsis is a messianic acclamation which anticipates that in 19:38. The birth that had been announced in vs. 11 redounds to God's glory in heaven and inaugurates a new era on earth. If peace is to be understood in the light of its Hebrew counterpart (shälôm), it could be paraphrased "salvation." Peace, good will toward men translates the text of inferior MSS, while among men with whom he is pleased ("for men whom he favours"--Moffatt) interprets the better-attested reading. "Men of God's good pleasure" need not be restricted to the nation Israel. Luke and his readers would have identified them with the Christian community (cf. "to all the people" of vs. 10).
15-20. The shepherds verify the angel's announcement, and their public account of their experience is greeted with astonishment. Mary had been prepared for all that had happened (1:26-38), and therefore did not share in the general surprise. Instead she treasured a memory of the events and reflected on them. Those who believe that the shepherds' watch and the angels' chorus are to be taken literally can claim that the story is based on this firsthand report. But it is unwise to impose the prose of history on the poetry of faith. Had Jesus' mission as "Christ the Lord" been attested by such a portent at his birth, it would be difficult to understand the later attitude of his parents (2:50) and fellow townsmen (4:22).
C. JESUS' INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD (2:21-52)
1. JESUS' CIRCUMCISION AND PRESENTATION (2:21-40)
Luke's infancy narratives refer to Joseph and Mary as Jesus' parents without any accommodation to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Jesus' father and mother conformed to the practice of pious Jewish families by circumcising their son, presenting him in the temple, and offering a sacrifice for their own purification as the law prescribed. The temple scene is the main center of interest. It provides Luke with an opportunity to tell of Simeon and Anna and their prophetic insight concerning the child and his mission.
21. Jesus' circumcision is implied. His infancy followed the pattern of orthodox Jewish piety, and Luke's readers are provided with further evidence that Christianity had its roots in Judaism. But the emphasis of the verse rests on the naming of the child (cf. 1:59). Luke is careful to point out that the name was given in accordance with the angel's proclamation (1:31).
22a. Their purification became her purification in later MSS in order to make the text conform to the regulation in Lev. 12:6. As a Jewish mother, Mary was considered "unclean" for seven days after the birth of her child (Lev. 12:2) and was expected to remain in ceremonial isolation for another thirty-three days (Lev. 12:4)--a total of forty days in Bethlehem. Luke believes Joseph also was required to observe this legal provision.
22b-23. An interruption of the main narrative. The rite of presentation was distinct from that of purification, but Luke has evidently confused the two. The quotation is a free one from Exod. 13:2. The law provided for the "redemption" of the first-born male by the offering of a substitute (Exod. 13: 13). Luke omits any notice of this. He interprets Jesus' presentation as an act of dedication to the service of God in the light of the O.T. story about Samuel (I Sam. 1:24-28).
24. The quotation is from Lev. 12:8. It details the sacrifice that was to be offered for purification by a mother who could not afford a lamb.
25-26. Some interpreters have identified Simeon with a rabbi of the early first century A.D. who was the son of Hillel and the father of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3); but the name was too common among Jews to warrant such an inference. Vss. 26 and 29 imply that the prophet was an aged man. The consolation of Israel means "the fulfillment of Jewish messianic hopes" (as often in rabbinical literature). The author of II Peter does justice to O.T. and early Christian ideas when he says, "No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Pet. 1:21). Paul had laid down a rule of thumb by which men might distinguish true revelations by the Holy Spirit from false (I Cor. 12:1-3; cf. Did. 11:7-12). The Lord's Christ is a pre-Christian Jewish title that means "God's Messiah"--"God's anointed one."
27-28. Simeon was inspired to come into the temple at the right moment. When Jesus' parents brought in the child Jesus, the prophecy that he should live to see the Messiah was fulfilled. To do for him according to the custom of the law must refer to the rite of presentation, for the rite of purification did not concern the child.
The use of the Nunc Dimittis in Christian liturgy has been traced to as early as the fifth century (Apostolic Constitutions VII. 48). Whether it ever circulated in the primitive church as a hymn after the fashion of the Magnificat and the Benedictus is difficult to determine. It lends itself to Luke's interest in stressing the universalism of the gospel. While the Christ was still a babe in arms, a Jewish prophet foresaw that his messianic salvation was intended for all mankind. The theme of an old man who anticipates the greatness of a divine child can also be documented in stories about Asita and the infant Buddha. Given a similar phenomenon in religion, men of different races, places, and times tend to give it a similar explanation.
29. The introductory words of the psalm are a statement of fact ("thou lettest... depart") not a prayer. The oracle--according to thy word refers to vs. 26--has been fulfilled, and Simeon is content to die. The figure in the Greek text is that of a master freeing his slave.
30-32. The salvation that Simeon had seen--"the Lord's Christ" of vs. 26--was intended for all peoples. The KJV construes glory as well as light in apposition to salvation, and this does justice to the rhythm of the Greek text. Phrases from the LXX version of Isa. 40:5; 52:10; 42:6; 49:6; and 46:13 have been built into these verses.
33. Joseph is substituted for his father in inferior MSS. The amazement of Jesus' parents would be in order if the story of Simeon's prescience belonged originally to a source that knew nothing of the angel's annunciation and the nativity narrative. Joseph and Mary learn for the first time that their child is to be God's Messiah. Another explanation: Jesus' father and mother were astonished at the declaration that he was to be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles," as well as the Savior of Israel.
34-35. Simeon pronounced his blessing on both parents but addressed this further prediction only to the mother. This involves a certain awkwardness in style that is also apparent in the parenthesis in vs. 35a. Perhaps Luke substituted Mary his mother for "them" in an earlier form of Simeon's prophecy and then introduced the prediction of Mary's grief at the tragic fate of her son. Mark fails to mention Joseph when he enumerates members of Jesus'family (Mark 6:3), and Matthew and Luke make no reference to him in the body of their Gospels. If it is legitimate to infer from this that Joseph died before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, one can account for the hypothetical changes in vss. 34-35. Only Mary was to witness the fulfillment of Simeon's words, and she herself was to suffer bitterly in the course of it. But this is to support one hypothesis by another, and it must be admitted that even the rest of the prophecy suggests reflection after the event. God has ordained this child to separate the righteous from the unrighteous among many in Israel. Some are to reject him and fall (Isa. 8:14-15); others are to accept him and rise. He is to be a sign (cf. 11:30) that many will dispute. This is part of the purpose of God, for by their attitude to the Christ, men will reveal their true nature.
36-38. An aged prophetess also hailed the advent of God's Messiah. It is not certain from the Greek text whether we are to understand that she was eighty-four years of age or had been a widow for that length of time. A famous widow of Jewish apocryphal legend is said to have lived to the ripe age of 105 (Judith 16:23). Anna's piety is described in terms of popular hyperbole. At that very hour presumably means at the time that Simeon uttered his prediction. Of him obviously refers to the child Jesus. The redemption of Jerusalem is equivalent to "the consolation of Israel" (vs. 25)--i.e., the messianic age.
39-40. Having recorded the Jewish piety of Jesus' parents, Jesus' own unimpeachable origins within the folds Of orthodox Judaism, and the prophetic anticipations of Jesus' role as Messiah, Luke's infancy cycle ends with the simple notice that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth, to their own city. There is nothing that indicates any familiarity with the events that are narrated in Matthew 2:1. A comment on Jesus' growth as a child is appended after the model of the note about John in 1:80. The Baptist was "in the wilderness." It is implied that Jesus lived as a normal child in the family circle. The Baptist grew "strong in spirit." Jesus was filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him.
2. AN INCIDENT FROM JESUS' BOYHOOD (2:41-52)
The early church appears to have had no interest in the life of Jesus before his emergence as a teacher, and it preserved no tradition of his boyhood apart from this one incident. At a later date unfettered imagination undertook to make up the deficiency. Compilations of legends such as the Gospel of Thomas (see M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924], pp. 49-70) gave marvelous and often grotesque and repulsive accounts of Jesus as an exhibitionist and as a boy wonder. The simplicity and restraint of Luke's story stand out in contrast. No doubt the story was originally independent of the nativity cycle. It refers without affectation to Jesus' parents (vss. 41, 43) and to his father (vs. 48). It betrays no knowledge of any supernatural portents that could account for Jesus' concern for "his Father's house." Luke uses it to illustrate Jesus' growth in wisdom and in the favor of God (vss. 40, 52) and to connect the birth and infancy cycle with the narratives of the baptism and the public ministry.
Josephus' egotistic description of his cleverness as a youth has been cited as a remote analogy in Jewish literature to Luke's story: "While still a mere boy, about fourteen years old, I won universal applause for my love of letters; insomuch that the chief priests and the leading men of the city used constantly to come to me for precise information on some particular in our ordinances" (Life 9). Erich Klostermann quotes a passage from an Egyptian source about a twelve year old grandson of Ramses II: "The boy grew and became strong. ... He surpassed the scribe who had to instruct him. The boy ... began to talk to the scribes in the school in [the temple of Ptah; all who heard him] were much amazed" (Das Lukas-Evangelium [2d ed.; Tübingen, J. C. B. Mohr, 1929; "Handbuch zum Neuen Testament"], p. 45). It is true that the note of youthful precocity is frequently sounded in ancient biographical literature and was introduced in time into the Christian story. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas represents Jesus as instructing the rabbis (ch. 19). Christian art has often portrayed the scene under the caption "The Boy Jesus Teaching in the Temple." But the stress in Luke's story is on Jesus' early interest in matters of religion. "Jesus Learning in the Temple" would be a better title. In the course of their instruction Jesus asks questions of the teachers, and answers those they propound.
41. Attendance at three annual festivals was prescribed for male Israelites by the regulations in Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16; etc. Women were not obliged to make the pilgrimage but frequently did so (I Sam. 1:7; 2:19).
42-45. Talmudic tradition asserts that even boys of tender years were required to make their appearance in the temple at festivals. When he was twelve years old indicates only that the incident took place after Jesus had attained his adolescence. It is not stated that it was the occasion of his first visit. The feast of the Passover and of Unleavened Bread occupied a period of seven days (see Exeg., 22:1). The boy Jesus had been allowed a measure of independence. As his parents began their return to Galilee, they "supposed he was in the caravan" (Moffatt) and looked for him only at the end of a day's journey.
46-47. After three days of search? Or does this number include the two days of travel referred to in the preceding verses? In the temple: in one of the halls of its outer courts. Rabbis taught by question, answer, and discussion. We are to understand that several were engaging on this occasion in debate.
48-50. Jesus' parents were astonished. His mother expressed their anxiety by words of inquiry and rebuke that were greeted with surprise by the Christ child. Why should they not have known where to find him? About my Father's business cannot be dismissed as an impossible translation, but the RSV alternative in my Father's house is more appropriate after an implied interrogative of place. The early church believed that Jesus stood in a unique relationship to God, and that occasionally he made use of an address to the deity in which this was implied (see Exeg., 10:21-22). In an unobtrusive way this christological reflection has left its impress on Luke's story. In his first recorded utterance Jesus spoke of God as "my Father" in a sense that distinguished this relationship from one that was open to all, and his parents did not understand the saying.
51. Jesus' consciousness that he was the Son of God did not interfere in any way with his filial duties on the human level. All these things as in 1:65; 2:19.
52. Another concluding sentence after the fashion of 1:80 and 2:40, possibly modeled in this instance on I Sam. 2:26, "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men."
III. INTRODUCTION TO JESUS' PUBLIC MINISTRY (3:1-4:13)
A. JOHN THE BAPTIST (3:1-20)
1. JOHN'S MESSAGE (i). (3:l-6=Mark 1:2-5)
3:1-2a. Editorial. The beginning of John's ministry. Mark had regarded the mission and message of John the Baptizer as the "beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ," and so also (it would appear) had the Q document. Luke shares the viewpoint of his sources. In accordance with Greek literary custom (Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, etc.) and also with good O.T. precedent (Amos 1:1; Jer. 1:2; etc.), he synchronizes his story with the political and ecclesiastical history of its times. The death of Augustus Caesar had occurred on August 19, A.D. 14. The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar would therefore correspond to A.D. 28-29. As the only fixed date in gospel chronology, this is an important calculation of the beginning of John's ministry, even if it is Luke's rather than traditional in the church. Judea--together with Samaria and Idumaea--was administered as a subdivision of the province of Syria from the deposition and exile of Archelaus in A.D. 6 to the transfer of the territory to Agrippa I in A.D. 41. For this period it was ruled by a succession of Roman "procurators" of equestrian rank. Governor is a loose rendering of the title in the Gospels. Pontius Pilate, fifth in the series, held office from A.D. 26 to A.D. 36. Galilee (and Perea) had been entrusted after the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. to Herod Antipas, a younger full brother of Archelaus. Antipas had the title of tetrarch and remained in power until he was exiled to Gaul by Caligula in A.D. 39. Philip, a half brother, and according to Josephus the best of the Herods, ruled as tetrarch, until his death in A.D. 34, over various territories that comprised northeastern Palestine--among them Ituraea and Trachonitis. Abilene was the district centering about Abila, a town in the Lebanon, northeast of Mount Hermon. At one tithe it had formed part of the Roman puppet kingdom of Chalcis, and from 40 B.C. to 36 B.C. was ruled by a king named Lysanias. Later it was organized by itself as a tetrarchy. Various extrabiblical references (Josephus Antiquities XVIII. 6. 10; XIX. 5. 1; XX. 7. 1; Jewish War II. 11.5; 12. 8; Corpus Inscr. Graec. No. 4521) lend plausibility to the hypothesis that another Lysanias with the title of tetrarch governed Abilene at some period in the first century of the Christian era before A.D. 37. If this is the case, Luke should not be charged with a historical anachronism, or accused of having misread Josephus (see Vol. IX, Intro. to Acts). Annas (Ananos) had been high priest from A.D. 6 to A.D. 15, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, held office from A.D. 18 to A.D. 36. Jewish practice had been to appoint the high priest for life, but in Roman times his tenure of office was limited, perhaps because the Romans disliked to see so much power concentrated in the hands of one man. Does Luke mean only to suggest that Annas was the "power behind the throne" (cf. John 18:13)? As a matter of fact the office of high priest was held by members of Annas' immediate family for fifty years after his official retirement. On the other hand it is possible that the words and Caiaphas are a gloss by some early scribe who wished to bring Luke into harmony with Matthew. Neither Mark nor Luke mentions the name of the high priest in his passion account. Did Luke make the mistaken assumption that it was Annas? In Acts 4:6 he names Annas as holder of the office.
2b-4. Like the O.T. prophet Amos (3:8), John was compelled to prophesy because God had spoken. In the true sense of the Greek word "prophet," he was one who "spoke on behalf of" God. Presumably in the wilderness is a reference to the barren and sparsely settled lower Jordan Valley rather than to the rocky wasteland west of the Dead Sea. Mark (1:4-5) locates John's ministry as well as his call "in the wilderness." Luke alters his source to make the Baptist a peripatetic prophet in all the region about the Jordan. Luke 7:24 (Q) supports Mark. See Exeg., Mark 1:4, Vol. VII, for a discussion of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Luke also corrects Mark by omitting the quotation from Mal. 3:1. The LXX text of Isa. 40:3 is followed by both Mark and Luke--with minor variants. In the original prophecy "in the wilderness" is to be construed with "prepare." The prophet expected that the return of the Babylonian exiles to Palestine would be supernaturally facilitated. By connecting in the wilderness with the voice, and by changing "the paths of our God" of the LXX to his paths, the Synoptic Gospels make Lord mean "Messiah," and find biblical support for their interpretation of John as the herald and forerunner of the Christ.
5-6. Editorial. Luke's universalism prompts him to expand Mark's quotation to include the promise of Isa. 40:5 that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. The literal removal of physical obstacles had been anticipated by the original text. This is interpreted as a prediction of John's work of moral and spiritual preparation.
2. JOHN'S MESSAGE (ii). (3:7-9=Matthew 3:7-10)
7-9. Luke omits the Marcan description of the desert prophet's dress and fare, and elaborates his preaching of repentance and judgment. The multitudes that present themselves for baptism are a brood of vipers. Like snakes that flee before a fire, the penitents have become apprehensive of the judgment that is to close their age. But their merely formal repentance must issue in a new way of life that goes beyond perfunctory almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. They are not to be lulled by pride of race (cf. Rom. 2:17-29) into any false sense of security. In true prophetic fashion (cf. Amos, Jeremiah), John asserts that God would still be God even if those who claim Abraham as father should perish. In vigorous hyperbole he declares that God could raise up children to Abraham from the lifeless stones of the desert. Furthermore the wrath to come is not some distant threat. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Those whose conduct does not befit their pretensions face imminent judgment.
3. JOHN'S MESSAGE (iii). (3:10-14)
10-14. Moral precepts are now introduced, presumably from a source other than Q. Coats were tunics or undershirts. Let him impart, viz., "one." The Romans farmed out the right to collect various taxes in Palestine to petty Jewish contractors. The tax collectors of the Gospels were their deputies. They were heartily disliked and despised by their countrymen, partly because Roman taxes were regarded as an unwarranted imposition by a foreign overlord, and partly because the method of collecting the levies lent itself to extortion all down the line. Jews were not enrolled in Roman legions, but presumably native soldiers could be recruited by Herod Antipas for his own personal service. No doubt they were often able to supplement their wages by intimidating civilians.
If these are typical samples of John's ethical teaching, it was by no means radical. The well to do were urged to share their surplus of clothing and food and those whose profession offered temptations of unjust or dishonest enrichment were warned against the vice of avarice.
4. JOHN'S MESSAGE (iv). (3:15-17=Matthew 3:11-12)
The interesting interrelationships of Matthew, Mark (1:7-8), and Luke at this point are not easily explained. Did Mark draw his account of John's preaching from Q or has there been some harmonization of our texts by early copyists?
15. Editorial introduction to John's prophecy of the coming Messiah.
16-17. John vitalized the Jewish messianic hope by announcing the coming of one who is mightier, one for whom he himself was not worthy to perform even the menial service of a slave. He thought of the Messiah's mission in terms of conventional Jewish imagery. As a farmer takes a winnowing fork, separates the wheat from the chaff by throwing the trodden grain against the wind, stores the wheat in his granary, and burns the chaff, so the Messiah would separate the evil from the good. John contrasts his own baptism with water and the Messiah's baptism with fire, i.e., the unquenchable fire of the Day of Judgment that would purge the body of God's people and consume the sinners. Was the phrase with the Holy Spirit and added to John's original message at some early date to do justice to Christian experience?
5. SUMMARY OF JOHN'S MESSAGE AND AN ACCOUNT OF HEROD AND JOHN (3:18-20)
18-20. Editorial. God's gift of Christ to mankind was the content of the early Christian gospel. Because John had proclaimed the Messiah's coming, Luke can say he preached good news to the people (the KJV does not do justice to the verb eujhggeli6zeto). There is no version here or later of Mark's narrative of John's execution (Mark 6:19-29), although Luke 9:9 (Mark 6:16) assumes that the readers of the Gospel are familiar with it. Herod Antipas had married Herodias after divorcing a daughter of the Nabataean king Aretas (Josephus Antiquities XVIII. 5. 1). Mark had erroneously identified Herodias' first husband with Philip, who was her son-in-law. Her former marriage had been with an older half brother of Herod, also known as Herod. If Luke knew the complicated Herodian family tree, his reading his brother's wife (the KJV is based on late MSS that have harmonized Luke with Matthew and Mark at this point) is a deliberate correction. Mark appears to assume that Herod ... shut up John in prison at Tiberias. Josephus declares that the site of the Baptist's imprisonment as well as of his execution was Machaerus, a fortress in Perea to the east of the Dead Sea.
B. PRELUDE TO JESUS' PUBLIC MINISTRY (3:21-4:13)
1. JESUS' BAPTISM (3:21-22=Mark 1:9-11)
21-22. In his rephrasing of Mark, Luke fails to note specifically that Jesus was baptized by John, but there is little reason to conclude from this that he was troubled by the tradition. Matthew felt he had to explain it (Matthew 3:14-15), and John omitted it altogether. Luke's interest in Jesus' prayer life (see Intro., p. 8) may have been responsible for the introduction of the words and was praying, but they also served to accommodate Jesus' example to the rite as it was practiced in the later church. The gift of the Holy (the adjective is Luke's addition) Spirit does not automatically follow upon baptism, but is associated with the act of prayer--in Acts 8:15-17 with prayer and "the laying on of hands" (cf. Hippolytus Church Order 46; Tertullian On Baptism 7-8). In Mark it is possible to interpret the baptismal experience as one personal to Jesus himself ("he saw the heavens opened"), but in Luke it is externalized (the heaven was opened). Furthermore the descent of the Holy Spirit becomes a miracle--in bodily form. In early rabbinical literature the sound of a voice ... from heaven (bath qôl, an "echo" of the voice of God) is likened to the cooing of a dove, and Luke may have been employing familiar symbolism in his simile. The evangelist accepts the view that Jesus was Messiah from the moment of his miraculous conception, but the earlier christological interpretation of the baptism as the time when he became God's Son is still apparent in the words of the heavenly voice that are quoted from Mark. A strong case can be made for Goodspeed's translation: "You are my Son, my Beloved! You are my Chosen!" i.e., Jesus is addressed as Messiah under three synonyms. Codex Bezae and some of its allies make this "adoptionist" Christology more explicit by substituting the words of Ps. 2:7: "Thou art my Son; today have I begotten thee" (cf. RSV mg.).
2. JESUS' GENEALOGY (3:23-38)
23-38. When he began his ministry renders a Greek participle (ajrco6menov) that troubled even the earliest interpreters, and the exact meaning of which in this context still remains obscure. By his use of the qualifying about, Luke emphasizes that his estimate of thirty years of age is not to be taken too strictly. The sixth-century Roman monk Dionysius Exiguus apparently used this passage (in conjunction with 3:1) as a point of departure when, in preparing a calendar for the Roman church based on anno Domini rather than on anno urbis conditae, he calculated that Jesus had been born in the year 753 of the founding of the city of Rome. Other equations could have been reached had he started from the data in the first chapter--where it is assumed that both John the Baptist and Jesus were born before the death of Herod the Great, i.e., before 4 B.C. (cf. Matthew 2:l)--from 2:1-7, or from John 8:57--where it is implied that Jesus was nearer fifty than thirty at the height of his public ministry. That the genealogy cannot be harmonized with Matthew's was apparent to the scribe responsible for the text of Codex Bezae, who simply incorporated Matthew's list of names (in Luke's order) at this point. Early in the third century (see the letter of Julius Africanus to Aristides as quoted by Eusebius Church History I. 7) the theory was current that Matthew's genealogy symbolized Christ's royalty, and Luke's his priesthood. Some of the more notable variations are: fifty-six names to Abraham instead of forty-two; Heli (vs. 23) instead of "Jacob" as Jesus' grandfather; seven different immediate ancestors of Zerubbabel (vss. 26-27); Neri instead of "Jechoniah" as the father of Shealtiel (vs. 27); and Jesus' descent traced through Nathan (vs. 31) instead of "Solomon." It is also noteworthy that Luke carries Jesus' lineage back from Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, to Adam, the father of the human race. Was this extension made by Luke himself to stress the universalism of Jesus as Christ? (See Intro., p. 7.) Cainan (vs. 36) is derived from the LXX rather than the M.T. of Gen. 10:24. Both Luke's genealogy and Matthew's date from a time when it was important for the church to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah of Jewish expectation by proving that he was descended from David. When the new religion began to attract non-Jews in numbers, this christological argument was subordinated to others more likely to appeal to Gentiles. Nevertheless Luke incorporates this version of Jesus' family tree, perhaps out of loyalty to his sources, even though--since he accepts the account of Jesus' supernatural generation--he no longer believes it proves anything. The parenthesis (as was supposed) is his editorial apology for doing so, and at the same time evidence that the list as a whole was not Luke's own compilation. Two methods of glossing over the conflict between the genealogy and the birth narratives are still employed: (a) Luke gives the genealogy of Mary rather than of Joseph--so Annius of Viterbo (ca. A.D. 1490); Roman Catholic exegetes; Luther--and (b) Jesus was legally Joseph's son--so Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896; "International Critical Commentary), p. 103; et al.
3. JESUS' TEMPTATIONS (4:1-13=Matthew 4:1-10)
In its present form the temptation narrative is a commentary on the entire course of Jesus' ministry. Time and again Jesus must have been tempted to authenticate his mission by a display of miraculous power (Mark 8:11-12) or to undertake the role of political Messiah (John 6:15), and the church knew that he had consistently refused to do so, recognizing in such proposals the promptings of Satan (Mark 8:33). No doubt the O.T. account of Israel's forty years of testing in the wilderness also helped to shape the narrative. All Jesus' answers are quotations from Deut. 6:1-8 (cf. especially Deut. 8:2-3). Nevertheless, although the details of the Q story may be the work of Christian reflection, Mark also records this initial period of testing. Perhaps Jesus retired to think through the implications of his baptismal experience, and he may very conceivably have spoken later of the decisions he made and the alternatives he rejected.
4:1a. Editorial introduction. In the O.T. the Spirit is a sporadic and temporary influx of divine energy that enabled certain individuals to see visions, prophesy, or perform remarkable feats of strength. Paul insists that the Spirit is an abiding possession of the true believer, and responsible for the characteristic virtues of a Christ-filled life. Luke still shares the O.T. (and early Christian) concept, but speaks of Peter (Acts 4:8), Stephen (Acts 6:5), Barnabas (Acts 11:24), Paul (Acts 13:9), and (here) pre-eminently Jesus as full of the Holy Spirit, i.e., possessed by the Spirit in uncommon measure. Luke's topography is vague. Does he mean that Jesus returned to Galilee?
1b-2. Read with the RSV: Led by the Spirit for forty days. Vs. 2 combines intimations of both Mark and Q: the forty days in the wilderness were marked by recurrent temptation (Mark 1:13a) and continuous fast (Matthew 4:2; contrast Mark 1:13c). The specific temptations (unknown to Mark) were a sequel (cf. Matthew 4:2). Matthew has altered the order of the second and the third temptations, perhaps in the interests of a better climax, but other variations between the two accounts are minor. In the O.T. the devil (the Semitic "Satan" occurs in Mark) had played only a minor role. Even in the late book of Job he had not been more than one of the angels whose special duty it was to call God's attention to the shortcomings of the children of men. But in the intertestamental literature, probably under the influence of Persian dualism (Ahriman over against Ormazd), he had taken on the character of an evil deity opposed to God, and so was regarded by the early church. For Paul he was "the god of this world" who had "blinded the minds of the unbelievers" (II Cor. 4:4). No doubt Jesus also thought of Satan and "his kingdom" (11:18), as did his Jewish contemporaries and later Christians, as the great obstacle in the way of the rule of God.
3-4. In a state of hunger induced by his long fast Jesus is tempted to turn this stone (plural in Matthew) into bread. In a country of which not more than one fifth of the land was arable under the best of conditions, and which was frequently plagued by extremes of drought and flood, bread was a precious commodity. In late Jewish literature visionaries loved to dwell on the marvelous fertility of nature that would mark the new age. So the editor of the book of Amos pictures the time
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows the seed
(Amos 9:13 Amer. Trans.);
and the author of the pre-Christian book of Enoch speaks of the vines that would yield wine in abundance, the seed that would reproduce itself a thousandfold, and the olives from which men would press vast quantities of oil (Enoch 10:19). Jesus was invited to assume a role that would have satisfied his own immediate needs and have fulfilled popular messianic hopes, but he repudiated the temptation. The quotation is from Deut. 8:3--given more fully in Matthew. Man's most urgent needs are not physical and the meeting of such needs was not Jesus' mission. "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (John 4:34).
5-8. In late Judaism as well as in the early church (John 12:31; etc.) the devil was the real power behind all the kingdoms of the world (th'v oijkoume6nhv, "the inhabited world," in the Hellenistic era the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, and in Jesus' day practically the Roman Empire). Luke apparently thinks of Jesus as lifted up into air, for into a high mountain is an interpolation from Matthew found only in inferior MSS. Vs. 5c is peculiar to Luke's version. The devil's temporal power had been delivered to him by God. For centuries the Jews had been ground under the heel of foreign conquerors--Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and then Roman. In much popular eschatology the Messiah was expected to reverse the situation. The oppressed would rise under his leadership, overthrow pagan rule, and establish Jewish hegemony over the world. Jesus is tempted to construe his mission in this light. But according to the logic of a pessimistic world view, such power could be assumed only as a grant from the devil, and its acceptance would be tantamount to devil worship. The invitation is rejected, once again with a Deuteronomic quotation, this time from Deut. 6:13.
9-12. The Greek word translated temple (iJero6n) usually refers to the whole complex of buildings rather than to the central shrine, and pinnacle could mean "battlement," or even the outer temple wall, as well as "summit." Josephus pictures the giddy heights of the royal cloister on the south side of the temple hill, towering there above a deep ravine (Josephus Antiquities XV. 11. 5). The devil tempted Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah by thrusting himself into peril and compelling God to intervene for his safety by miracle. He quotes the LXX text of Ps. 91:11-12, interpreting it as a messianic prediction, and challenges Jesus to put its promises to the test. It was this passage that Shakespeare had in mind when he made Antonio say: "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose" (The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, scene 3). Again Jesus refuses to comply, enforcing his refusal from Deut. 6:16. Scripture forbids any such challenge to God's good faith.
13. Editorial conclusion. Until an opportune time: Satan is introduced again as the instigator of Jesus' betrayal (22:3).
IV. JESUS' GALILEAN MINISTRY (4:14-9:50)
A. BEGINNING OF JESUS' PUBLIC MINISTRY (4:14-30)
1. RETURN TO GALILEE (4:14-15, based on Mark 1:14-15)
14-15. As in Mark and Matthew, Jesus' public ministry begins in Galilee after the temptation prelude. He returned in the power of the Spirit: cf. 3:22; 4:1. Luke makes no mention of John's imprisonment in the interim (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14). According to Luke, the only interruption of the Galilean ministry before Jesus' final departure for Jerusalem (9:51) was a brief interlude in "the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee" (8:26)--unless Luke's alteration of Mark's "Galilee" (Mark 1:39) to "Judea" in 4:44 was intended to imply a preaching tour at this point that extended into other parts of Palestine. Glorified="honored" (Goodspeed).
2. REJECTION AT NAZARETH (4:16-30)
Luke omits the summary of Jesus' message in Mark 1:15 and puts a representative illustration of it in its place. The narrative is based on Mark 6:l-6--omitted at the corresponding point (following 8:56) in the Third Gospel--but it is uncertain whether Luke expanded Mark on his own initiative, or discovered the material in some special source and adapted it to Mark. At any rate he altered Mark's order to make the incident a dramatic frontispiece to Jesus' public ministry. Matthew also implies a preliminary visit to Nazareth (Matthew 4:13) before the commencement of the work at Capernaum (in contrast to Mark), and the notice may have stood in Q.
16. Worship in a Palestinian synagogue consisted of the recitation of the Shema, a prayer, a fixed lection from the Law (pArAshAh), a free lection from the Prophets (haphtArAh), an explanation and application of one or both of the scriptural passages, and a blessing by a priest or a prayer by a layman. The scripture was read in Hebrew, but a translator turned it, verse by verse, into Aramaic. There was no official "minister." An invitation to read and to preach could be extended by the ruling eiders to any competent member of the congregation or visitor (cf. Acts 13:15). It was the practice to stand up to read, and to sit down to preach (vss. 20-21).
17. Since it is improbable that the book or "codex" form of papyrus was yet in use, we might better translate with Goodspeed: "And the roll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and he unrolled it." The Law was read through over a period of three years--one year in Babylonia--but the reader chose his own selection from the Prophets.
18-19. The greater part of this short lection is from the LXX text of Isa. 61:1-2. To heal the broken-hearted is a clause in the source that is omitted by the best Lukan MSS. To set at liberty those who are oppressed is from the LXX text of Isa. 58:6. Both the LXX original and Luke's version should be punctuated as follows:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me;
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor;
To proclaim release to the captives...
The original expressed some postexilic prophet's consciousness of mission. The same passage underlies Jesus' words to the emissaries of John the Baptist in 7:22 (Matthew 11:5). Therefore Jesus as well as the evangelist may have interpreted it as illuminating his commission. In its Lukan context he has anointed me refers to Jesus' baptism. It is characteristic of Luke's conception of Jesus that he was sent to preach good news to the poor (cf. 6:20). The Hebrew original of the acceptable year of the Lord is best translated "the year of the LORD's favor" (Amer. Trans.). In our context the phrase has reference to the messianic age.
20. The synagogue attendant (hazzAn) was a general factotum, whose duties ranged from teaching children to scourging criminals, and included that of taking the scripture roll from the ark and returning it. As in Acts 6:15 and 10:4, the verb that here is translated were fixed suggests an atmosphere of suspense.
21. "Today this scripture that you have just heard has been fulfilled" is a more attractive rendering than either the KJV or the RSV. According to Luke, Jesus' first public announcement claims that he is the fulfillment of the O.T. prediction. The Messiah has come and with him the new era of "the Lord's favor"--the kingdom of God.
22. Read with the RSV: And all spoke well of him. Some Marcan matter is now worked into the account and the transition is not easy. The comment "Is not this Joseph's son?"--like its counterpart in Mark 6:3--suggests hostility rather than surprise.
23. Physician, heal yourself: "Charity begins at home"; a proverb with equivalents in every age and language. The Oxyrhynchus Papyrus fragment (early third century A.D.) has a variant that has obviously been adapted to fit the Lukan application: "Jesus said: No prophet is acceptable in his own country, and no physician performs cures on those who know him" (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus I. 11). The proverb's application suggests that the whole narrative originally was located later in Jesus' ministry, for Luke has not yet reported any activity at Capernaum.
24. Also Marcan matter (Mark 6:4). Were vss. 22c and 24 missing from the source Luke was employing at this point? The narrative would flow more freely without them.
25-27. The example of two O.T. prophets might serve to silence a complaint that Jesus' "mighty works" ought to have been performed in his native village (vs. 23), though the parallelism is not complete since Capernaum was presumably a Jewish town. However, it has little bearing on the observation that "no prophet is acceptable in his own country" (vs. 24). The Elijah incident is narrated in I Kings 17:8-24. The statement that the heaven was shut up three years and six months is also made in Jas. 5:17-18. According to I Kings 18:1, the duration of the drought was less than three years. In apocalyptic literature "three and a half years" (the half of seven--"a time, and times, and half a time" [Dan. 7:25; Rev. 12:14; etc.]) had become the stereotyped period of evil and distress, and this may explain the change in chronology. Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, is the modern Sarafand, a town on the coast road, midway between Sidon and Tyre. It would be clear to the readers of the Gospel that a woman living there would be Syrophoenician by race. The Elisha story is found in II Kings 5:1-14. Again the point is that a prophet of God ministered to a non-Jew.
28-30. In Mark 6:5-6 there is no reference to any overt act of hostility to Jesus. All in the synagogue were filled with wrath because the benefits of Jesus' mission were to accrue to others. Modern Nazareth is situated on a steep slope, but changes in topography since the first century A.D. have been such that it is impossible to locate the brow of the hill that Luke had in mind, if indeed it was not entirely a literary detail. Passing through the midst of them implies that Jesus was miraculously invulnerable to mob violence (cf. John 7:30).
Placed as it is, at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, the Nazareth story serves as a prelude to the whole of Luke-Acts--to the entire account of the emergence of Christianity as a non-Jewish religion. Many of the main motifs are introduced: the praeparatio evangelica in the O.T.; the endowment with the Spirit; the good news to the poor; the proclamation of the messianic age; the hostility of the Jews; and the mission to the Gentiles. The rejection of Jesus by his fellow townsmen prepares the reader for the rejection of Christ by the Sanhedrin, and the rejection of the gospel by the Jewish nation. We are prepared at the beginning of the work for Paul's statement with which it ends: "Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen" (Acts 28:28; cf. Intro., p. 7).
B. JESUS' MINISTRY IN AND ABOUT CAPERNAUM (4:31-5:16)
There are unmistakable traces of the use of Mark in 3:1-4:30, but the first great block of Marcan matter is incorporated in 4:31-44. Only minor changes in the interests of clarity, brevity, and style have been imposed on the source.
1. HEALING OF A DEMONIAC (4:31-37=Mark 1:21-28)
31-32. Went down: from the Galilean highlands to a town situated 686 feet below sea level. Capernaum has been identified with Tell Hûm, the site of extensive ruins on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus' day it was an important toll station on the trade route from Ptolemais to Damascus and a port for maritime trade with Philip's tetrarchy and the Decapolis. It was therefore strategically located as a center for Jesus' Galilean ministry. For the benefit of non-Jewish readers Luke describes it as a city of Galilee.
33-34. The synagogue at Capernaum is said in 7:5 (Q) to have been built by an officer in the Roman army. The ruins of the most ancient synagogue yet found in Galilee are at Tell Hûm. Although it dates from about A.D. 200, Jack Finegan believes that "the Capernaum synagogue stands on the site and follows the plan of an earlier synagogue or of earlier synagogues, and therefore may be safely regarded as a reconstruction of the one in which Jesus himself taught" (Light from the Ancient Past [Princeton: University Press, 1946], p. 228). The spirit of an unclean demon: the widespread Oriental belief in demonic possession as the cause of disease is scarcely to be found in the O.T. but it flourished in late Judaism under Babylonian and Persian influence. It pervades the gospel tradition. It is likely that many of the miracle stories in the Gospels have been borrowed from popular Jewish and Hellenistic cycles and attached to Jesus. There is also an observable tendency on the part of the evangelists to heighten and embellish the reputation that Jesus had in their sources as a healer and exorcist. Nevertheless even in his own lifetime it is clear that Jesus was widely known as a healer, particularly of what we should now describe as mental and nervous diseases. Ah! is an interjection of dismay. Have you come to destroy us? i.e., into the world. The demon speaks for the whole regiment of Satan. In late Judaism the freeing of men from enslavement to Belial and the destruction of all evil spirits were acknowledged functions of the Messiah (cf. Test. Simeon 6:6 and Test. Zebulun 9:8). The Holy One of God is a messianic title (cf. John 6:69).
Mark had imposed a theory of "the messianic secret" on his source material. By virtue of their supernatural knowledge the demons had recognized Jesus as Messiah, but he had ordered them not to betray the fact. Luke takes over Mark's phrase but not his doctrine (cf. also vs. 41b). Having done him no harm is a Lukan addition to heighten the miraculous.
36-37. Read What is this word? with the RSV. It is to be understood in the light of its Marcan source: "What is this? A new teaching!" (Mark 1:27.)
This story of miraculous healing exhibits the more or less stereotyped form of such narratives in the Gospels: (a) the demon recognizes the exorcist and attempts to evade his authority; (b) the exorcist reproves the demon and employs a formula of exorcism;(c) the demon takes a violent departure from the individual he had possessed; and (d) the bystanders are astonished at the event.
2. HEALING OF SIMON'S WIFE'S MOTHER (4:38-39=Mark 1:29-31)
38-39. The reader is unprepared for Simon and his intimacy with Jesus. Luke had omitted Mark's account of the disciple's call (Mark 1:16-20) and has not yet given his own (5:1-11). Paul confirms the fact that Simon (Cephas) was a married man (I Cor. 9:5). In Mark, Andrew and James and John are mentioned as well as Simon, and an editorial slip on Luke's part allows the plural to remain in they besought him (and in the them of vs. 39). And he stood over her, i.e., at the head of her bed. Luke gilds the lily. The fever was high, and after the exorcism the woman rose immediately. Vs. 39b emphasizes the success of the miracle. The detail may be unhistorical, for the Talmud expressly prohibits the table service of men by women (Kiddushin 70a). In the early days of the church "the twelve" were accustomed "to serve tables" as well as to preach (Acts 6:2).
3. HEALINGS ON THE EVENING AFTER THE SABBATH (4:40-41=Mark 1:32-34)
40-41. When the sun was setting: i.e., when sabbath regulations were no longer binding. By adding he laid his hands on... them, Luke specifies the technique of healing that Jesus used on this occasion. In Mark, Jesus healed "many" (Mark 1:34); in Luke, every one. "Natural" diseases are apparently distinguished from illnesses due to demon possession. The best MSS support the RSV reading: You are the Son of God! This messianic appellation, and the following phrase but he rebuked them, were inserted by Luke at this point from Mark 3:11-12, which has no parallel otherwise in the Third Gospel. Luke's narrative--as well as Mark's-is an enthusiastic generalization of Jesus' healing powers.
4. EPILOGUE TO A DAY AT CAPERNAUM (4:42-44=Mark 1:35-39)
42-44. The Marcan version of this narrative leaves the impression that Jesus' departure from Capernaum was a flight. He sought to escape the insistent demands of the residents. By omitting Mark's "and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35)--the Third Evangelist more often adds some such statement (3:21; 5:16; 6:12)--Luke implies that Jesus departed in order to extend his mission. It is the people who seek Jesus, rather than the disciples as in Mark 1:36, for the latter--according to Luke--had not yet been chosen. For the same reason Luke omits Mark's "Let us go" (Mark 1:38). I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also is a clarification of Mark's "that I may preach there also" (Mark 1:38) and the first occurrence in Luke of Jesus' characteristic message. I was sent for this purpose is a christological interpretation of Mark's "for this is why I came out" (Mark 1:38). For a similar phrasing of Jesus' sense of commission see John 8:42. The weight of MS evidence supports Judea (RSV) rather than Galilee (KJV), though the latter stands in Mark 1:39. Luke often uses Judea for Palestine (1:5; 6:17; 7:17; 23:5; Acts 10:37) and would seem to do so here. Did he wish to correct Mark's picture of a ministry strictly limited at the outset to Galilee?
5. CALL OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES (5:1-11)
Luke had omitted Mark's account of the call of Simon and his associates to discipleship (Mark 1:16-20) but now, at a later point in the sequence of events, he inserts this variant. The story makes no mention of Andrew.
5:1-3. In Luke the word of God is Jesus' own preaching (8:11, 21; 11:28); in Acts it is the apostolic message (Acts 4:31; 6:2; etc.). The lake of Gennesaret is a name derived from the plain that lies to the south of Capernaum (Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53), a designation peculiar in the N.T. to Luke, and more accurate than Mark's "sea" (cf. Josephus Antiquities XVIII. 2. 1). According to Luke, Simon had been associated with Jesus for some time before his formal call.
4-9. The story of the miraculous draught of fish has a parallel in John 21:3-14, where it appears to foreshadow the success of the later Christian mission and is associated with the senior disciple's rehabilitation after disgrace. In Luke's source, or in the oral form in which the story reached the evangelist, it may also have been a postresurrection narrative with some similar symbolical purpose. But Luke has obscured this by making the miracle the occasion of Simon's call. The temptation to allegorize Luke's version must be resisted. Whatever the original symbolism in Luke's source--and in John's version--Luke's fish are fish, not Christian converts. Master appears six times in Luke as a title for Jesus. Nondisciples employ "teacher." The great shoal of fish numbers "a hundred and fiftythree" in John 21:11. Their partners in the other boat are the sons of Zebedee (vs. 10), but need not have been specified in the original story. Simon Peter occurs nowhere else in Luke as a double name. Codex Bezae omits the nickname and its reading may be original. In that case "Peter" is first used in 6:14. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord may originally have presupposed the story of Peter's denial. In its present setting it is an expression of dismay evoked by the supernatural. Lord as a title for Jesus appears twenty-one times in Luke. Twelve of the instances are in material peculiar to the Third Gospel.
10-11. Although the sons of Zebedee are also mentioned in John 21:2, they appear to have been introduced into this narrative--rather inadroitly--in order to adapt it to Mark 1:19. Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men is Luke's substitute for the invitation in Mark 1:17. Simon alone is addressed (cf. the singular thou of the KJV),but as in Mark 1:20, his partners also left everything and followed Jesus. Codex Bezae smooths out such roughnesses by rewriting both verses: "James and John, sons of Zebedee, were his partners. He said to them: 'Do not remain ordinary fishermen. Come and let me make you fishers of men!' And when they heard the invitation, they left everything on the land and followed him."
6. HEALING OF A LEPER (5:12-16=Mark 1:40-45)
Luke resumes his use of Mark at the point at which he had interrupted it to introduce the preceding narrative.
12-14. As it is described in Lev. 13:1, leprosy was a term that covered a variety of ulcerous diseases, some of them curable. The leper was expected to separate himself and to cry "Unclean, unclean" as a warning to others of his condition (Lev. 13:45-46). Not until a priest had pronounced him "clean" and he had made the prescribed offerings, could he be readmitted to society (Lev. 14:1-32). Jesus touched the leper as part of the healer's technique. Go and show yourself to the priest is a command that is repeated in 17:14, the only other story in the Gospels about the healing of lepers. An offering for... cleansing would have to be made by the officiating priest in the temple at Jerusalem. The story assumes that Jesus contemplated no break with Jewish sacerdotalism. Like most other miracle stories, it served originally to satisfy the widespread interest of early Christians in Jesus' activities as a wonderworker.
15-16. According to Luke, Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to escape the throng of suppliants. Mark appears to assume that he was already "in the country" where people flocked to him "from every quarter." Luke again emphasizes that Jesus prayed at a crisis in his ministry.
C. CONTROVERSIES WITH PHARISEES (5:17-6:11)
Luke 5:17-6:11 (Mark 2:1-3:6) is a collection of stories about Jesus in controversy with Pharisaic opponents, together with some auxiliary matter. By recalling the words and example of Jesus they support the church's right to preach forgiveness of sins, to associate with those whom the synagogue had excommunicated, to disregard Jewish fasts, and to break Jewish sabbath laws. No doubt Mark found them already assembled, and Luke took them over almost as they stood in Mark.
1. HEALING OF A PARALYTIC (5:17-26=Mark 2:1-12)
The first narrative in the series combines a vivid account of Jesus as a healer (vss. 17-20a, 24b-26) and a pronouncement story about Jesus' authority to forgive sins (vss. 20b-24a).
17. Pharisees were members of a Jewish sect distinguished by its strict adherence to the written law and the supplementary interpretation. The name (or nickname) was derived from a Hebrew word (!y`wrp) meaning "the separated," i.e., those who avoided ceremonial defilement. They themselves preferred to be called "companions" (!yrbj). Teachers of the law is a Lukan paraphrase (for Gentile readers) of Mark's "scribes"--professional experts in Jewish legalism. The Lord is a reference in this instance to God. Luke appears to think of the power... to heal as a sporadic gift (cf. 6:19).
18-20a. The bed would resemble a stretcher. The narrative has in mind a one-story (and probably one-room) house. The crowd, spilling out into the courtyard, prevented access to Jesus through the door. The roof would be a flat thatch of straw or branches, coated with clay, and reached by an outside staircase. Luke presupposes non-Palestinian architecture when he speaks of tiles that could be lifted.
20b-24a. If these verses were originally part of a separate narrative, they do not necessarily imply a correlation of sickness and sin, although that was common enough in Judaism. Jesus' exercise of the right of absolution--referred to elsewhere only in 7:47-would serve to support the church's proclamation of forgiveness, a divine prerogative according to the O.T. and rabbinical tradition. Vs. 23 (Mark 2:9) links this bit of early Christian apologetic with the miracle story in which it is embedded, and which demonstrated Jesus' right to say: Your sins are forgiven you. The Son of man occurs in the Gospels only on the lips of Jesus. In the Similitudes of Enoch (46:2-4; 69:26-27, 29) the title is applied to the supernatural being who is to be God's vicegerent at the end of the present age and in the Day of Judgment. In the Gospels, also, it is ordinarily an apocalyptic synonym for "Messiah." Whether Jesus himself employed the term, remains a debated question. The hypothesis that it is to be explained as an overliteral translation into Greek of an Aramaic phrase meaning nothing more than "man" does not commend itself in this instance. It is clear that both Mark and Luke have Jesus' messianic authority in mind.
24b-26. He said to the man who was paralyzed is stylistically as awkward in Greek as in English, and this observation supports the hypothesis that two originally disparate narratives have been fused. According to an almost stereotyped formula, the cure by fiat is verified by the subsequent behavior of the patient and the impression it made on the onlookers. Amazement and awe were emotions evoked by the successful healer rather than the successful controversialist.
2. LEVI'S CALL (5:27-28=Mark 2:13-1)
27. A publican (KJV; publicanus in the Vulg.) was a lessee of the right to collect a Roman tax, and tax collector (RSV) is a better translation into English of the Greek name for a mere henchman. Levi is identified in Mark as a "son of Alphaeus." A certain James "the son of Alphaeus" is included in all Synoptic Gospel lists of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:18; etc.), but there is no suggestion in either Mark or Luke that Levi became a member of that inner circle. The author of the Gospel of Matthew has apparently confused Levi with Matthew, substituting the latter name in Matthew 9:9 and describing him in Matthew 10:3 as a "tax collector." The tax office need not have been more than a roadside table.
3. JESUS AS A GUEST IN LEVI'S HOUSE (5:29-32=Mark 2:15-17)
29-32. It is an open question whether Mark thought of Jesus as the host or the guest at the great feast, but Luke leaves no room for difference of opinion (cf. 19:5). Sitting at table is a modernization of the Greek word for "reclining" (RSV mg.). The presence of the Pharisees and their scribes at such a meal appears to be an incongruous element in the narrative, and many interpreters believe that the statement that they murmured against his disciples probably reflects a situation in which Judaism was charging the church with admitting riffraff to its membership. Nevertheless Jesus' association with men and women outside the pale of Jewish legalism is well fixed in the gospel tradition, and it would be hazardous to assume that the whole story has been derived from the saying in vs. 32. Sharing a meal with those who did not observe the law was included by the rabbis among the "things that shame a pupil of the scribes" (Berakoth 43b). Luke's addition of to repentance narrows the reference in vs. 32, which may originally have implied "to the kingdom."
4. PARABLE OF THE WEDDING GUESTS (5:33-35=Mark 2:18-20)
33-35. The better MSS support the RSV punctuation of vs. 33 as a statement rather than a question (contrast Mark). The disciples of the Pharisees is a peculiar phrase, for a Pharisee as a rabbi could have disciples, but not as a Pharisee. It is a plausible conjecture that the Pharisees were introduced into the story--at some pre-Marcan stage--to make it another "conflict." In that case the earlier contrast was between the practice of the disciples of John and that of Jesus' followers. "Groomsmen" is the specific meaning of the Semitism translated wedding guests. The gospel tradition makes it clear that neither Jesus nor his disciples practiced fasting, but the Didache, an early second-century Christian catechism, indicates that the early church did so: "Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites [Jews], for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays" (Did. 8:1). Therefore vs. 35 may be an early allegorical addition to a parable that originally compared the kingdom of God to a wedding festival. It makes Jesus declare that his disciples were justified in fasting after his death, although it was known both that they had not done so during his lifetime and that this omission had been approved by Jesus. It is improbable that Jesus predicted his death and justified a later ecclesiastical practice after this fashion.
5. PARABLES OF THE PATCH AND OF THE WINESKINS (5:36-39=Mark 2:21-22)
36-38. According to Mark, the first of these two parables declared that a patch of unbleached cloth will shrink after it has been sewed on a coat, and leave a tear that is worse than ever. Its parallelism with its twin is not as direct in Luke's version, which deplores ruining a new garment in order to patch an old, since the piece from the new will not match the old. New wine is unfermented wine (therefore "must"). Old wineskins are hard and dry, and will burst when the fermentation occurs. The parables teach that one must not mix the new with the old, but pass no judgment on the relative merits of the one and the other. In their Marcan and Lukan application they point the moral that the new Christian message and the old ceremonial forms of Judaism are incompatible; more specifically, that the new gospel has nothing to do with the old rite of fasting. Since their original context cannot be recovered, it is idle to speculate on the truth Jesus meant them to illustrate.
39. Omitted by Codex Bezae and its allies, and probably to be regarded as an interpolated apology for the relative failure of Christian missions among Jews.