NT Sunday School Lesson 3 (JF): Luke 2; Matthew 2
Posted by Jim F. on January 9, 2011
Verse 1: Who were the wise men? The phrase “wise men” is a somewhat odd translation of the Greek word magoi, “astrologers.” It is because of this word that sometimes we refer to the wise men as “magi.” We get the word “magician” from magoi. “The east” may refer to Mesopotamia, the center of astronomical studies at the time. Compare Numbers 24:17, Psalms 72:10-11, and Isaiah 60:1-7. What do such verses suggest to us about the wise men? Why does Matthew tell us about the homage paid to Jesus by the wise men, but Luke tells us about the homage paid to him by shepherds? Why does each story emphasize what it does? For an interesting recent piece on the wise men, see: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705364024/Ancient-manuscript-tells-of-journey-of-the-3-wise-men-text-has-ideas-Mormons-will-relate-to-BYU.html?s_cid=Email-4. Are these visitors Gentiles or might they have been members of the Jewish diaspora? What is the reaction of Herod’s advisors to the news of this birth? What might that foreshadow? Given that foreshadowing, how might this chapter be an excellent introduction to Matthew as a whole?
Verse 2: What do the wise men mean when they say that they have seen his star? Notice that, in spite of our traditions, they do not say that they have followed his star. Note also that they literally say, “We have seen his star at its rising” rather than “we have seen his star in the east.”
Verses 3-4: Why is Herod troubled (or, more literally, frightened)? What would Herod’s counselors know that the magi wouldn’t know? In other words, why did the magi consult with Herod and his court? (Note that Herod died in 4 B.C.)
Verse 6: Matthew quotes Micah 5:1-3. Since his quotation doesn’t correspond to either the Greek version of the Old Testament that was commonly used in Jesus’s day (the Septuagint) or the established Hebrew version, he is either quoting somewhat loosely, or he may be quoting a version of Micah that we no longer have.
Verse 11: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are now living in a house. How long do you think it has been since Jesus’ birth? Why does Matthew mention the gifts the wise men gave? What is frankincense? What is myrrh? (Look in your Bible Dictionary.) How might Jesus’ family have been able to use these gifts?
Verses 13-15: Why does Matthew quote scripture so often when he tells what happened to Jesus?
Verses 13-23: The parallels between the story of Moses and that of Jesus are striking, as are the parallels between the Pharaoh and Herod: the Pharaoh tried to kill all male children (Exodus 1:22); Moses had to flee because his life was in danger (Exodus 2:15); when the Pharaoh died, Moses returned (Exodus 4:19-20). In addition, as Word Biblical Commentary points out (33a:34), the language of Matthew 2:19 is almost identical to that of Exodus 2:23 (of the Septuagint, of course). What are we to make of such parallels? What is Matthew doing by drawing our attention to them?
Verse 16: How many children would you think were living in Bethlehem at the time?
Verse 17:”Jeremy the prophet” means “Jeremiah the prophet.” Matthew is quoting Jeremiah 31:15. As with Micah 5, he is not quoting the same text we have or he is not quoting exactly.
Verse 23: No scripture in the Old Testament mentions Nazareth, so what prophets can Matthew be thinking of? Some (e.g., Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Joseph Murphy, The Jerome Biblical Commentary 2:68) have suggested that Matthew has Isaiah 11:1 in mind: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (nsr) shall grow out of his roots” (but see W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew: Translation, Notes, and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible Commentary 26:20-21).
As in chapter 1, Luke goes out of his way to tell the story of Jesus’ birth as a parallel to the story of John the Baptist’s birth: the joy at the birth of the child, the circumcision and naming, prophecies of expectation by someone closely associated with the temple, and a concluding remark about the growth and development of the child. Why do you think he does tells the stories with these parallels?
Verse 6: The Greek word translated “accomplished” could also have been translated “fulfilled.” Luke uses that Greek word, “fulfilled,” eight times in chapters one and two. Why?
Verse 7: Swaddling clothes are strips of cloth four or five inches wide and about six yards long. They were used to bind children when they were born. The belief was that if the baby’s arms were bound tightly its sides, they would grow straight and firm (Jerome Biblical Commentary 2:124). The word translated “inn” literally means “guest room” or “dining room.” It may have been no more than a lean-to attached to the front of a cave, with a family living in the lean-to and keeping their animals in the cave (Jerome Biblical Commentary 2:124).
Verses 8-20: Though Matthew shows us Jesus’ birth (or at least his infancy—the magi probably came some time after he was born) as it relates to the rich and powerful, Luke shows us that birth in relation to the poor. Why do you think Luke tells the story this way?
Why is it significant that, from among the many poor people living around Bethlehem, the angel appears to the shepherds? What symbolic significance could that have? What was David the king’s occupation? How is Jesus sometimes described?
Verse 11: The angels announce the good news, the gospel: the Savior, the Messiah in Hebrew, the Christ in Greek (meaning “the Anointed One” in both languages), the Lord has been born. How does each of these titles differ in meaning? Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospel writers who uses the title “Savior,” and he uses the verb “save” more than Matthew and Mark put together. Why might that be? Does that fact tell us something about his gospel?
Verses 21-28: Notice that Luke shows us here that Jesus was raised according to the Mosaic law. He is circumcised and named, and his parents follow the law regarding the sacrifices to be made. Why would that have been important to Luke’s audience? Oddly, however, Luke seems to be confused about the rituals required by the law. According to Leviticus 12:2-8, forty days after the birth of a male child, a woman was to be purified by offering a lamb at the temple, or a pair of doves if she was poor. Exodus 13:2 and 13:12-13 says that the first-born male belongs to God and could be redeemed by an offering by the father. Luke has conflated the two offerings. Does his confusion suggest anything about his background?
Verses 22-24; verses 25-27: In the first set of verses, Luke refers to the law three times. In the second set, he refers to the Spirit three times. What do you make of that parallel?
Verse 25: Some have speculated that Simeon is a member of the priestly class who, having seen the corruption of the temple priesthood, is waiting for its restoration. This speculation based on the fact that he calls himself a servant in verse 29 and that word is generally reserved for those with the priesthood. Simeon has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” What does that mean? His name means “God has heard.” Do you think that Luke knows about that etymology? If so, how might it be relevant to this story? A rabbinic tradition has it that the phrase refers to the last, unrecorded words spoken between Elijah and Elisha, words that will be revealed when Elijah returns (Jerome Bible Commentary 2:125). Could that rabbinic tradition have significance for Latter-day Saints?
The word translated “consolation” is paraklēsis. It is closely related to the word translated “comforter” in places like John 14:16 and 26, and 15:26. Literally the Greek word means “one who calls out” or “one who calls to.” It comes to mean “one who encourages or emboldens another.” It is often translated to mean “an exhorter” or “one who beseeches.” How is it possible that a word that means “exhorter” can also mean “comforter”? What was the 17th-century meaning of “comforter,” in other words the meaning at the time of the King James translation? Luke uses the word in Luke 3:18 to describe John the Baptist’s preaching. How does this word describe Jesus?
Usually we would expect someone to be looking for comfort or consolation for himself. But Simeon is looking for “the consolation of Israel.” What does that mean?
Verse 32: As Luke reports Simeon’s testimony, Simeon recognizes that Jesus is the Savior of all people, Gentile and Jew. Why is that theme important to Luke’s account of the good news? How did Matthew include that theme in his story?
Verses 34-35: What do you make of the fact that Simeon blesses “them,” but he doesn’t seem to bless the baby? When he speaks of the fall and rise of many in Israel, he may have Isaiah 8:14 in mind. Note also that the only other times that Luke uses the Greek word that is here translated “rise,” he is referring to resurrection, so he may also mean that here. Some suggest that the falling and rising refers to the stumbling block prophecies that we see in places such as Isaiah 8:14-15 (John Holland, Luke 1-9:20, Word Biblical Commentary 35A:121). Does that help makes sense of Simeon’s blessing? With what does Simeon bless Mary? When Simeon says that Jesus will minister so “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” what does he mean? When Simeon says “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,” the Greek is emphatic: a sword will pierce Mary’s very being. Is Luke putting Mary’s suffering in parallel with the falling and rising of many in Israel?
Verses 36-38: Anna confirms Simeon’s testimony. Four women in the Old Testament are called “prophetess”: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3). The rabbis also recognized Sarah, Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:32), and Esther as prophetesses, though they didn’t include Isaiah’s wife in their number (Jerome Biblical Commentary 2:125). By calling Anna a prophetess, Luke explicitly compares her to these women. In what ways is she comparable to them? If we think of Simeon and Anna as types, who might they represent? Phanuel means “face of God” and “Asar” (Asher) means “good luck.” Is Luke mentioning these names because he believes they add an additional layer of symbolism to his story?
Verses 41-51: Notice how important the Temple is to Luke’s story. It begins in the Temple, with Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharias. As an infant Jesus’s divinity and calling is confirmed by witnesses in the temple. And the only incident we know from his childhood is one in the Temple. When we get to the end of Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:53), we will see that his story ends with the disciples in the Temple. Why do you think the Temple was so important to Luke’s understanding of the gospel? He is, after all, not himself a Jew. Luke shows us a young boy who knows the scriptures, who is at home in the Temple, who understands that God is his father, and who obeys his parents. The person we see here is anything but a rebel. Why might Luke have thought it important to show his audience that?
Verse 49: This verse could summarize Jesus’ life. Did Luke write it with that in mind? The phrase translated “about my Father’s business” is probably better translated “in my Father’s house,” and is, therefore, another place in which Luke is emphasizing the importance of the Temple.