Monday, December 7, 2009


Although some question the hypothesis, many scholars now presume that Luke was a Greek-speaking Gentile Christian writing for other Gentiles that likely was an outgrowth of Paul’s ministry. It was a probably written during the 80s, or about a generation later that Paul. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE, the focus of religious history had moved from Jerusalem to Rome. Like the rest of the Gospel, the infancy narrative reflects this transformation.

In 1:1-4 Luke sets his version of the story within unique context. He wrote for a particular person identified only by a possibly assumed name: Theophilus (Eng. = God-lover). No one knows who this person really was and some suspect he may have been a figment of Luke’s imagination.

Immediately thereafter Luke attempts to date his narrative. The problem is that if the two births subsequently described occurred during the reign of Herod the Great, they had to happen before that brutal despot died in 4 BCE. Further historical references in 2:1-3 complicate the date and render it virtually useless.

Most scholars now place the date in a range between 7 and 4 BCE. The year 1 AD/CE was fixed as the Jesus’ birth year only in the 6th century CE by a monk, Dionysius Exiguus (470-540 CE). However inaccurate he may have been, Luke was trying to place Jesus in an historical context to show that he was a real person, which some still doubt.

Historical references dealt with, Luke went on to present the birth of John the Baptizer to Zechariah, a priest descended from Aaron, brother of Abraham, and his wife, Anna, as the prelude to the announcement of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit. This extended prelude (1:5-25) is typical of similar births of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:1-19), and of Samuel to Elkanah and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-28). In each of those instances, God had intervened to give children to barren women.

Raymond E. Brown believed that this part of the narrative came about by Luke drawing on the annunciation of the birth of Jesus as a pattern for the earlier birth of John as the forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah. John and Jesus were contemporaries, both known as charismatic preachers “each proclaiming the imminence of God’s eschatological action and each dying a martyr’s death.” After John’s earlier death, there may have been an attempt to recruit some of John’s disciples (cf. Acts 19:3). This may have failed to some extent, but John’s role in preceding and preparing the way for Jesus did not diminish as all four Gospels witness.

Thus by Christian interpretation John became the one whom the prophet Malachi had described as “Elijah” who would herald the coming of the Messiah. (Mal. 3:1; 4:5) At this point in Luke’s Gospel history, scripture and theology coalesce in a carefully constructed narrative. Well into the 20th century, a Gnostic sect, called the Mandeans and claiming to be John’s disciples, still existed in modern Iraq.

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