Friday, December 22, 2017

Material Against Luke's Interest In Luke 1-2

Some examples of how Luke's material on Jesus' childhood is different than we'd expect under skeptical scenarios:

- Even though so much space is given to discussing John the Baptist, there's no anticipation of his work as a baptizer. Francois Bovon remarks that "The lack of any preliminary announcement of John's baptizing [in Luke 1:13-17] is surprising…The Benedictus surprisingly conceals John's primary activity, his baptizing." (Luke 1 [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2002], 37, 75) Bovon goes on to say (75) that there's probably an allusion to baptism in the reference to forgiveness of sins in Luke 1:77, though he acknowledges that baptism doesn't "grant forgiveness" in Luke's writings. It's doubtful that Luke is alluding to baptism. Even somebody who thinks he is alluding to it, though, like Bovon, finds it "surprising" that baptism isn't referred to explicitly anywhere in Luke's material on Jesus' childhood.

- Not just with regard to baptism, but more broadly as well, Bovon notes that "the Christian traces are minimal in the birth legend of the Baptist" (ibid., 30).

- The premarital timing of Mary's pregnancy is unnecessary, a departure from the precedent of Old Testament accounts of supernatural births, and highly susceptible to moral objections. As Raymond Brown wrote, if Luke or his source made up the account, "one must deem it a great religious blunder; for it gave rise to the charge of illegitimacy against Jesus that was the mainstay of anti-Christian polemic for many centuries." (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], n. 28 on 143) Bovon refers to the premarital timing of the pregnancy as "shocking" (Luke 1 [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2002], 85).

- The Messianic hopes of figures like Mary and Zechariah seem more nationalistic, political, and militaristic than what Jesus' ministry and his movement in general would turn out to be later in Luke's gospel and Acts. Bovon goes as far as to contrast the highly nationalistic views of Luke's infancy material with how "at the end of his two volumes, Luke has little hope left for the people of Israel" (ibid., 103).

- The portrayal of Jesus' parents and their relationship with him at the close of Luke 2 is unusually negative. James Edwards makes a lot of good points on the subject in his recent commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015). For example:

"In the male-dominated temple one would expect Joseph rather than Mary to address Jesus [in Luke 2:48]….She addresses him not as pais (v. 43, 'boy, young man'), but with a more juvenile and subservient term, teknon (v. 48; 'child,' NIV 'Son')…. Her reproach expresses less concern for Jesus than for what he has done to them….Mary's distress is a first fulfillment of Simeon's prophecy that a 'sword will pierce her soul' (v. 35)." (94-95)

Additionally, Jesus rebukes them in verse 49, and Luke comments on their lack of understanding in verse 50.

Brown comments that Mary's reproach of Jesus in verse 48 is "all the more startling since Luke tends to avoid reproaches to Jesus by the disciples during the ministry….For instance, in 9:21-22 in reporting Jesus' reaction to Peter's confession, Luke drops the reproach by Peter found in Mark 8:32. The Lucan disciples are more reverential to Jesus." (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], 489 and n. 35 on 489)

- John the Baptist is referred to as having had an unusual upbringing in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), reminiscent of Moses' upbringing in the house of Pharaoh and Samuel's upbringing in a sanctuary setting with Eli, for example. But Jesus just grows up in an ordinary home with his parents (Luke 2:51). Luke gives Jesus a less auspicious upbringing than John and makes no attempt to parallel Jesus with individuals like Moses and Samuel, even though we're so often told that the infancy narratives are unhistorical efforts to parallel Jesus to such Old Testament figures.

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