Lucan Infancy Narrative

December 24, 2009 | 4 comments
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[Once again, these are just notes, and they do not even begin to do the subject justice, but yesterday's Matthew notes were able to spark some good discussion. I will response and comment as I can today, but, hey, it is Christmas Eve Day!]

While Matthew’s is largely from Joseph’s perspective, Luke’s from Mary’s

  • This does not mean, however, that Joseph and Mary were necessarily the sources—rather that the evangelists focused on them and what they represented

Luke included poetic passages or songs to personalize the characters of his infancy narrative (canticles, more below)

Luke adds the stories about John the Baptist as literary foils to compare and contrast with the story of Jesus

While Matthew and Luke differ, and even conflict, on some details, the important facts are all confirmed by the Book of Mormon

  • Mary was a virgin from Nazareth, where she divinely conceived Jesus (1 Nephi 11:13–20)
  • Jesus was the son of God and his mother was named “Mary” (Mosiah 3:8)
  • Jesus was born near Jerusalem (Alma 7:10; Bethlehem is 9 km south of Jerusalem, hence “at,” or in the region, of Jerusalem)
  • Mary was a precious and chosen vessel, who conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Alma 7:10; not of the Holy Ghost as in Matt 1:18, 21)

Luke’s Infancy Narrative. Doublets: John the Baptist and Jesus

  • [Luke’s prologue to his gospel (1:1–4)]
  • Birth of John the Baptist Foretold (1:5–25)
  • Birth of Jesus Foretold (Annunciation, 1:26–38).
  • The Visitation (Mary visits Elizabeth, 1:39–56)
    canticle: Magnificat (1:46–55, “My soul doth magnify the Lord”)
  • Birth of John the Baptist (1:57–80)
    canticle: Benedictus (1:68–79, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel”)
  • Birth of Jesus (2:1–7)
  • Shepherds and Angels (8–20)
    canticle: Gloria in Excelsis (2:14, “Glory to God in the highest”)
  • The Presentation (Jesus named and temple requirements fulfilled, 2:21–40)
    canticle: Nunc Demittis (2:29–32, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace)
  • The Boy Jesus Teaches in the Temple (2:41–52)

Exegetical Excursus: Lucan Canticles
Canticle: simply “a song,” and especially a liturgical song taken from the Bible

Historical Questions (diachronic exegesis: how the text originated and how it came to be in its current form)

  • Actual, inspired hymns sung by the character at the time? How did Luke learn them?
  • Early Christian hymns reflecting the sentiments of the character?
  • Lucan compositions?

Literary Questions (synchronic exegesis: what is the text’s current form, structure, and rhetorical approach)

  • Genre: poetic expression of praise, specifically a canticle
  • Serves a parallel function in Luke to a Matthean formula quotation
  • Structure: hymn format, poetic
  • Example: Magnificat has an introduction praising God, a body listing motives for praise, a conclusion (this usually includes a blessing or a request)
  • Rhetorical approach: personalizes the characters, ties NT characters to OT themes, etc.

Theological Questions (existential exegesis: what does this text teach us about Jesus? How does it engage and affect the reader?)
How does it reflect Mary’s testimony of who her son was?
How do we feel when reading these songs?

Lucan Themes and Characters

Christ in salvation history (Heilsgeschichte)

  • God working in Israel, God working in the person of Jesus, God working in the Church
  • chs. 1-2 represent OT history
  • Luke writes in an the style of the Septuagint to give his Infancy Narrative and OT feel!

Righteous Israel has a part in Christ: Luke portrays these couples as “just,” that is, living in harmony with Mosaic law

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth
  • Joseph and Mary
  • Simeon and Anna

Role of Women

  • Marian focus: angels come to Mary (in Matthew, dreams came to Joseph)
  • confinement details, women’s relationships, details of Christ’s youth

Misconceptions Quicklist (Luke)

“ . . . a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world the world should be taxed (enrolled)”

  • Judea was not a Roman province at the time
  • No empire-wide census is known

Supposition: this census is intended as an accurate date marker

  • P. Sulpicius Quirinus (“Cyrenius”) was legate of Syria in A.D. 6 (Herod died in 4 B.C.)

Supposition: the inn (or katalyma) was necessarily a hostel or a caravansary

  • the same word is used in Luke 22:11 for the upper room of the Last Supper (a guest chamber)
  • perhaps Joseph brought his new bride to his ancestral (or current) home town, and when he arrived at his parents’ or relatives, the small house’s only guest room was full; when she went into labor, the most private place was where the animals were kept (though note that the text never uses the word “stable,” it only says that she placed the baby in a “manger” (next)

Supposition: the manger (or phatne) was primarily a sign of humility

  • lexically it was a reference to Isaiah 1:3 “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (NIV)

Supposition: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”

  • the Greek in the critical text at 2:13 actually reads “and on earth peace to those of good will” or “towards those for whom God has good will”

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4 Responses to Lucan Infancy Narrative

  1. J. Madson on December 24, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Eric

    do you get the same sense as some that Luke is concerned with social justice in that he focuses more on women here and throughout his gospel, he emphasizes the economic relations between rich and poor throughout whether it be the Magnificat’s idea of reorienting society, shepherds instead of magi, announcing a year of jubilee with a program of social justice (Luke 4), various texts on voluntary redistribution of wealth, or things like instead of blessed are poor in spirit (Matthew), blessed are the poor, woe unto rich (Luke)?

    He certainly seems to have more women, more marginalized individuals, and more statements on economic disparity than the other gospels. The infancy story seems to emphasize that his mission has particular meaning to those considered less valuable to society.

  2. Dennis on December 24, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    It’s interesting how almost several of the events in Luke 2 conclude with a commentary about Mary’s secrets in her heart. I’d be curious to hear from Eric or anyone else some commentary that might help us understand why Luke continually returns to this theme in this chapter.

  3. Dennis on December 24, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Doh, I meant “several” not “almost several.”

  4. John Hamilton on December 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    My biggest question is how does Luke know all this personal stuff about Mary? I’ve heard somewhere that some people think Luke was a woman. Interesting, but if not, at least he seemed to understand women pretty well (an amazing feat worthy of eternal awe, in my opinion).

    A side note: Luke is also the writer of Acts. That book seems to follow the pattern of Greek novels of the time, or so they say, not an expert on that at all myself. It does seem to have a more literary quality to it than most of the other books of the NT. I wonder how much “literary license” was considered acceptable in those days.

    The Greek for “Inn” might have meant any room available for rent. The upper room for the Last Supper might have been rented for the evening from the proprietor. So, “inn” could go either way, maybe?

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