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The Birth of Jesus: Two Gospel Narratives

The Infant Jesus in the Temple (2:22-40)

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As with previous scenes, the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple recalls Samuel and his presentation to the priest Eli by his mother Hannah. She had declared, “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” In mentioning “their purification”, Luke seems to have confused the Jewish rituals of the purification of the new mother and the dedication of the firstborn male to God. In any case, he repeatedly stresses to his readers that Mary and Joseph do everything “according to the Law of Moses.”

Two prophetic figures, Simeon and Anna now appear. They correspond to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Elkanah and Hannah, parents of Samuel. By their words, Luke depicts the Torah and the prophets testifying to Jesus in the Temple. Simeon utters two prophecies in the Nunc Dimittis that speak of the child’s destiny for the world and for Israel. Simeon’s first prophecy weaves several themes from Isaiah into a declaration that the child is important for the whole world.

Simeon’s second prophecy is addressed to Mary. He speaks of the child as bringing a crisis of decision upon the people of Israel, causing some to rise and some to fall. Some will see his significance and some will oppose him. As a daughter of Israel, Mary, too, will know this “sword of decision.” The phrase about a sword piercing her heart is not referring to Mary witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion since she is not present at his execution in Luke’s Gospel. Rather, Mary will struggle with the decisions that confront all of Israel. She, too, will face “the sword of decision.”

This scene, then, asserts that the child is destined to fulfill God’s promise that all the nations will benefit from the light that will shine from Israel. In Luke’s view, however, Israel will be divided into belief and unbelief because of the child. It is likely that Luke 2:40 was the end of Luke’s infancy narrative in an early form of the Gospel. The following separate episode of Jesus in the Temple at age 12 seems to have been added as the Gospel achieved its final form.