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Luke 2.40-52 September 5, 2009

Posted by Lee in i: 2.40-52: Jesus the Child.

Jesus the Child

[40] And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
[41] Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. [42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; [43] and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, [44] but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; [45] and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. [46] After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; [47] and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. [48] And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” [49] And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” [50] And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. [51] And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
 [52] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2.40 and 2.52 act as bookends to the story of Jesus’ childhood experience in the temple. At the age of twelve, Jesus accompanied his parents on their customary annual journey to Passover (2.42). Upon returning to their hometown, Jesus’ parents noticed his absence, and turned back to Jerusalem to find him in the temple with the Jewish teachers, who were astonished at his questions and answers.

It might be asked why Luke alone among Gospel writers includes this story of Jesus’ childhood. Why would Theophilus be interested in such an episode? There are a number of reasons.

Theophilus was the son of Annas, high priest from 6-15 CE. Annas would have been the high priest during the twelve-year-old Jesus’ visit. Theophilus would perhaps have been familiar with the story from his own childhood. The fact that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2.47) might have resonated with Theophilus.

Secondly, Luke 2.40-52 is a strong parallel to 1 Samuel 2-3. Luke three times mentions the “growth” of a child: 1.80, of young John the Baptist; 2.40 and 2.52, of young Jesus. Between the latter two we find the story of Jesus in the temple. There are three such comments in 1 Samuel 2-3 as well: 2.21; 2.26; 3.19, all concerning young Samuel. Between the latter two we find a detail of the corruption of the priesthood and God’s plan to make adjustments. Is Luke suggesting that the priesthood of Jesus’ day was corrupt just as the priesthood of Samuel’s day? Perhaps…

Like Jesus’ family, little Samuel’s family was accustomed to making an annual trek to make sacrifice (1 Samuel 2.19; see also 1.3, 21). Though the text of 1 Samuel does not give Samuel’s age, Jewish historian Josephus has somehow come to conclude he was twelve at the time of God’s calling him (Ant. 5.10.4 [348]). (There is also a slight parallel of Luke’s comment about Jesus’ growth with that of a young Moses in Jos. Ant. 2.9.6 [228-231].)

After the “growth” comment in 1 Samuel 2.26, the writer details why God has turned against the priesthood, blaming Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (2.12ff.). God promised that they would drop dead, and that he would raise up a faithful priest. (2.34-35). Samuel’s mother had made for him a “linen ephod” to wear on the annual trips to sacrifice (2.18). This is one of God’s requirements of the priests when “going before [him]” (2.28). Eli had favored his sons more than God (3.29). So, God promised to remove Eli’s sons and place his own priest in charge. From 3.1-18, we get the idea that Samuel fits the requirements God had established for the priests, thus seemingly fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest” (2.35). Though Samuel did not serve as a priest proper, he did perform many of the priestly duties.

The high priestly family members of Theophilus ruled for 35 years between 6 and 43 CE. It was a corrupt priesthood for most of those years. Jesus’ outstanding character before the teachers in the temple demonstrated that God’s hand was upon him, that just as young Samuel was called by God for service so God was calling young Jesus. Jesus’ question to his parents upon their finding him was, “Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” (Luke 2.49). Doubtless this is an allusion to God’s fulfilling his promise to raise up a faithful priest in “a sure house”, “your father’s house” (1 Samuel 2.27, 28, 30, 31, 35). And the little editorial detail from Luke, that Jesus’ parents “did not understand the saying which he spoke to them“, is a clue for Theophilus. It is Luke’s rhetorical way of indicating to Theophilus that this episode is significant. In paraphrase, Luke is saying, “They did not understand what Jesus meant by ‘my father’s house’. But there is a meaning there, Theophilus.” And that editorial note is meant to draw attention by way of allusion to 1 Samuel 1-3.

Luke tells the story of Jesus’ childhood to establish to Theophilus that Jesus is the eschatological priest, fulfilling the promise God made in 1 Samuel 2. Luke has subtly pointed to data personal to Theophilus (such as Annas’ witness of the twelve-year-old Jesus) to prove his case. The story of Eli’s sons is perhaps the best known story of the Jewish priesthood’s corruption. For Luke to parallel Jesus’ childhood experience to that of Samuel’s in a context where the corrupt priesthood is specifically targeted by God, who promised to raise up a faithful priest for his house, would have given his story special leverage, being addressed to a certain high priest.

There are other elements in common between Luke 1-2 and 1 Samuel 1-3. The stories of Mary and Hannah are quite similar in their respective tellings. First, there is the Song of Mary (Luke 1.46-55) mirroring the song of Hannah (1Samuel 2.1-10), both with reference to the respective infants. Second, Mary was called “highly favored one” (Luke 1.28) by the angel, and responded with the statements, “Behold, I am the handmaid [doule] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1.38). Similarly, Hannah, upon hearing that God would grant her request to bear a child, said, “Let your maidservant [doule] find favor in your eyes” (1 Samuel 1.18). And when she decided to ween little Samuel before taking him on the annual trip to sacrifice and dedicate him to the Lord in Shiloh, her husband Elkanah said, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weeed him; only, may the Lord establish his word” (1.23). The similarities are striking.

Additionally, Luke mentions a prophetess named Hannah/Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (2.36-39). This is the only NT occurrence of the name. It means “grace, favor”. Luke makes much use of grace and favor in the early chapters of his Gospel (1.28, 30; 2.40, 52). As Fitzmyer notes, “Such favor was claimed for Mary in 1.30. …This entire v40 [of Luke 2] echoes the Samuel story, especially 1Sam2.21c … and 2.26…” (Luke, 1.432). Like Luke’s Hannah/Anna, Samuel’s mother Hannah is called a prophetess in later Jewish writings (Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, and Megillot 14a; cf. also, R. Youngblood, ABD, “Hannah”, III.52). The later text of the Protoevangelium of James tells of the legend of Mary’s presentation at the temple. Her mother, also said to be named Anna, was a widow who begged God for a child. God granted this wish, and Mary was born. Anna presented Mary to the temple at an early age, just as Hannah did Samuel. The writer of the Prot. James includes a “growth” comment with regard to Mary (6.1), just as is found in 1 Samuel 2 and Luke 2. If this later writer saw certain similarities between his story and that of 1 Samuel, and if he/she employed the very elements of parallel with 1 Samuel as we find in Luke’s telling of the childhood Jesus, we can surely conclude that Luke has 1 Samuel 1-3 in view here.

A few more similarities between Luke and 1 Samuel are worth noting: 1) There is in both a comment that “this shall be a sign unto you” in close proximity to the stories in question (Luke 2.12; 1 Samuel 2.34). 2) There is a forumlaic “X blessed X” found in both contexts (Luke 2.34; 1 Samuel 2.20).  3) In 1 Samuel 2.36 God says that the destitute will come to his faithful priest begging for a piece of silver or a morsel of bread. Perhaps this is fulfilled throughout Luke’s Gospel (14.1-24, esp. v15; 15.8, 17).

As mentioned above, Luke’s intention in including this story of Jesus’ childhood is to demonstrate the corruption of the (present) priesthood and to present Jesus as the Samuel-like fulfillment of God’s promise. 1 Samuel 2-3 represents the epitome of priestly corruption, in the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. There we find God’s promise to raise up a faithful priest. Young Samuel appears to fulfill this role sufficiently in that day, even performing the regular priestly duties in Shiloh. It is no stretch, then, to conclude that Luke is subtly presenting Jesus as the eschatological [high] priest promised of old. For, if he were intending to present Jesus in this way, what better text to conjure up than that of 1 Samuel 1-3? Though subtle, Luke’s presentation would have been easily identifiable to his addressee, Theophilus the high priest.



1. Matt Neely - September 7, 2009

Many do not understand all that Jesus fulfilled. You hit on an important one. Jesus fulfilled the promised high priest. The whole OT is filled with priests…some good, some bad. All throughout this time God is allowing man to try and fulfill the position, all while knowing they can’t. Jesus is the only high priest who can bring the ultimate sacrifice to God, and that sacrifice is Himself.
Not only was Jesus the only who could fulfill that position in its entirety, but He was also the last high priest needed. Through His final sacrifice of Himself, He does away with the need for the Old Testament atonement rituals.
Your explanations and parallels are really good. Not only good, but they are a very easy read. Simple, yet insightful. Someone with zero training or studying could pick this commentary up and understand it.

2. Eric (i.e., not_a_theist) - October 11, 2009

Although I do not agree with everything you said and think several things are contrived with respect to identity of Theophilus, nevertheless I found some things enlightening.

Good overall.

Lee - October 11, 2009


Thanks for reading and commenting. I do not expect for anyone to embrace the Theophilus proposal on the grounds of the meager data I’ve posted so far. However, there is so much more to be said on the matter. And these little posts enable me to unfold only the data relevant to the pericope at hand. Please continue reading as I write.

That said, I’m extremely busy these days, but do foresee a time of leisure approaching. I intend to post again very soon, probably on the genealogy.

Thanks again.


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