The Death and Resurrection of Jesus, by Donald J. Goergen, O.P.
Chapter 6 (Part 3)
The Infancy Narratives
The prologues to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the infancy narratives, make clear that Jesus was of God and from God from the moment of his conception. Although we refer to these prologues as infancy narratives, they do not actually give us information about Jesus' infancy and childhood. Rather, they answer the question, "Who is Jesus of Nazareth?" that he is a man of God, God's Son. As Joseph Fitzmyer writes of the Lucan infancy narrative, "Its obvious purpose is to introduce and identify these two children [John and Jesus], especially Jesus, as agents of God's salvation-history: both come from God."74
The Gospel of Matthew. The theology in Matthew was influenced by the Christian community for which he wrote, which consisted of both Jews and Gentiles. In contrast, Luke's Gospel was written primarily for Gentiles. According to Matthew, Jesus directed his ministry to Israel (10:5-6; 15:24), but the risen Lord sent his disciples to the Gentiles (28:18). This missionary emphasis reflects Matthew's ecclesial and pastoral situation.75
The effort to appeal to both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians is reflected in the first verse of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus, the Christ, is both son of David (which ties Jesus into Jewish history) and son of Abraham (which ties Jesus into an even broader plan of salvation). This relation of Jesus to both David and Abraham predates Matthew (e.g., Rom 1:3; Gal 3:16) but nevertheles is important to Matthew's situation and theology.76 Matthew's infancy story identifies Jesus not only as being of David and of Abraham, but also as being of God and another Moses.
Another important theological aspect of the infancy narrative is its perception of "the christological moment." At what point in time did Jesus become the Christ, the Messiah? The understanding and response of the early church to this question was the moment of the resurrection. Later reflection then maintained that the christological moment was at the time of the baptism. Jesus is thus already the Messiah or Christ during his life and in his ministry. This is the conviction of Matthew's Gospel (16:16). Further reflection understood the moment to be Jesus' conception. This is the opinion of the infancy narratives. Thus, there was no time in his life when Jesus was not already the Messiah. This means that the church grew in its awareness that Jesus had already been what they, his followers, came to perceive only after the resurrection. Fitzmyer describes it thus:What is involved here is the growing understanding of the early church about the identity of Jesus. Though at first such titles as Son of God became attached to him primarily as of the resurrection (besides Rom. 1:4, see Acts 13:33), the time came when early Christians began to realize that he had to have been such even earlier in his career, even though it had not been recognized. It is not so much that the 'christological moment' ... was pushed back as that there was a growth in awareness as time passed among early Christians that what Jesus was recognized to be after the resurrection he must have been still earlier.77Matthew's intent in his genealogy (1:1-17) was to point to Jesus as a son of Abraham but especially to demostrate that he was of David. Matthew's genealogy begins with Abraham. Jesus was not only of Abraham but also of David through Joseph, though Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. Luke's genealogy goes back to Adam, but his genealogy serves a different purpose. It lies outside his infancy narrative and intends to show that Jesus is Son of God. There are not only differences but disagreements between Matthew's and Luke's genealogies.
The presence of the four women in Matthew's genealogy is unusual. But all four have this in common: there is something irregular in their union with their partners and yet all have played an important role in God's plan. In Jewish piety these irregularities were seen as the workings of the Spirit in helping to bring about salvation. For Matthew these four women foreshadowed the role of Mary which Matthew will have to deal with shortly. Already in the genealogy Matthew implies that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. Note the phraseological shift in verse 16: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Amos the father of Josiah, etc. But not: Joseph was the father of Jesus. Rather, "Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born."
In the section 1:18-25, Matthew indicates that Jesus was not only the son of David but also Son of God. He does this by pointing to the how of Jesus' conception -- namely one effected through the power of the Holy Spirit without a human father. This irregular conception which strengthens the "Son of God" motif does not prevent Jesus from being son of David through the ancestry of Joseph since Joseph accepted Jesus as his own.
"Son of David" is a more important title to Matthew as an evangelist than for any of the other evangelists. John never uses it. Mark and Luke use it four times; Matthew ten times. Yet the title "son of David" is not adequate for Matthew. The only adequate answer is -- Son of God (Mt 22:4146; 16:1-17). The fact that Jesus is Emmanuel, however, God-with-us, does not follow from the genealogy but from the message made by an angel of the Lord to Joseph (1:20-21).
Jesus became God's Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. Matthew disallows a human father who plays a sexual role in the begetting of Jesus. This divine begetting is not sexual. The Holy Spirit is not a sexual partner. The conception through the creative activity of the Holy Spirit is the begetting, the becoming, the coming-to-be of God's Son, the Messiah. It is not an incarnation but a new creation. We see here "the christological moment" of Matthew's infancy narrative. Raymond Brown writes:Conception christology and pre-existence christology were two different answers to adoptionism. In the former, God's creative action in the conception of Jesus (attested negatively by the absence of human fatherhood) begets Jesus as God's Son. Clearly here divine sonship is not adoptive sonship, but there is no suggestion of an incarnation whereby a figure who-was previously with God takes on flesh. Incarnational thought is indicative of pre-existence christology ("emptied himself taking on the form of a servant"; "the Word became flesh"; and works reflecting that christology show no awareness of or interest in the manner of Jesus' conception.78Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph (1:18-23) and yet his Davidic ancestry is traced through Joseph (1:16). In accepting the son as his own, Joseph gives Jesus a Davidic genealogy ( 1:24-25).79 Although Joseph is the source of Davidic descent, this descent was not handed on via normal sexual relations between husband and wife. Davidic descent comes, not through natural paternity, but through legal paternity. Joseph, in exercising the father's right to name the child, becomes the legal father, the legitimate father, according to Jewish law. Both Mary and Joseph have their role to play. Through Joseph, Jesus is of Davidic descent. Through Mary, he is begotten as Son of God.
Scholars generally agree that the Matthean and Lucan infancy narratives are independent of each other. Yet similarities between them indicate pre-Gospel traditions that each writer used in his own way. Raymond Brown places the virginal conception within this pre-Gospel tradition. Matthew and Luke did not create it.80
In chapter two there is a geographical motif (Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth) as well as further theological development. Matthew has presented Jesus in chapter one as Messiah, son of David, Emmanuel. This theme continues within the geography of chapter two. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and thus fulfilled messianic expectation. Matthew's use of Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2 which both mention Bethlehem reinforce his theme. (For Matthew, Jesus seems to have been born in Bethlehem because that was where his parents lived. There is no journey to Bethlehem as in Luke. For Matthew the problem is to get Jesus to Nazareth, which he accomplishes by the night into Egypt. For Luke the problem is to get Jesus to Bethlehem.) The flight into Egypt further identifies Jesus with the history of the Jews. In this journey he symbolically relives both the Exile (the massacre of the children is lamented by words Jeremiah used to describe the exiled northern tribe) and the Exodus (passing over from Egypt to settling in Nazareth), the two most significant events in Jewish history.
Yet Matthew's concern for Jesus as the son of David is secondary in the first part of chapter two. Chapter 2:1-12 is a focus on the coming of the magi, a focus that will develop the other side of Matthew's theology, that Jesus has also come to save the Gentiles, which was hinted at in 1:1 by reference to him as son of Abraham. The first to pay homage to Jesus are the Gentiles from the East. Jesus has come to the Gentiles as well.
Matthew 2:13-23 then goes on to narrate Herod's failure to kill the child because of the move of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He concludes the infancy story with the family's settling in Nazareth. The geographical motif in chapter two mentions Bethlehem, the city of David, Egypt, the land of the Exodus, and Ramah, the mourning place of the Exile. Just as Jesus summed up the history of his people in chapter one (genealogy), so he does here. The massacre of the children in Bethlehem parallels Pharaoh's slaughter of male children in Egypt. Moses, however, escaped. So did Jesus. The angel's words to Joseph in 2:20 almost repeat the Lord's words to Moses in Exodus 4:19 which pertain to the pharaoh's death. The pharaoh's death allowed Moses to lead his people from Egypt. Herod's death allowed Jesus to return to the Promised Land.
In the fourth and final section of the infancy narratives (2:13-23), Jesus recapitulates the experience of Moses.81 The infancy narrative patterns the birth of Jesus on the birth of Moses and there are five episodes in the infancy narrative centered around five scriptural citations which Jesus fulfills. These are Matthew 1:22-23 (citing Is 7:14); 2:5-6 (citing Mic 5:1 and 2 Sam 5:2); 2:15 (citing Hos 1 1:1); 2:17-18 (citing Jer 31:15); and 2:23 (citing perhaps Is 4:3 and Jud 16:17).82
Matthew cites the Hebrew Scriptures to portray Jesus as their fulfillment: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet" (1:22). The fulffillment formula indicates Matthew's intention and theology -- the new events fulfill that which was anticipated.83 In his use of Scripture, Matthew does not attempt to convey the previous meanings of the text but rather the way in which there is resemblance to Jesus as fulfillment. George M. Soares Prabhu speaks of Matthew's targumizing translations that make the christological relevance of the texts plain.84 Matthew seems to be continuing a practice begun in early Christian preaching and influenced by Christian liturgy. Yet his use of these citations is his own. As we have seen, Matthew frequently uses preexisting narratives or traditions (e.g., pre-Matthean genealogies, pre-Matthean annunciation stories). Yet the final product becomes his own.
Neither the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14, for example, nor the Septuagint version imply a virginal conception.85 The text refers to an imminent birth of a child whose birth will manifest that the Lord is still with God's people and is still their God. The Septuagint translation implies (in contrast to the Hebrew text) that the young woman to give birth would be a virgin but not that there would be a virginal conception. Emmanuel would simply be the firstborn of this virgin. Not the manner of conception but the presence of the Lord to the people lies behind Isaiah 7:14. Thus early Christian reflection on Isaiah 7:14 by itself would not have given rise to the idea of a virginal conception.
Although the Isaian text did not give rise to the notion of a virginal conception, which was pre-Matthean, it was an important text for Matthew. It helped him to articulate Jesus' identity and his divine origin. Matthew has adapted the passage to his purpose. He reads more into the text than had been understood in it previously and sees in it that which has now come to fulfillment in Jesus.
It is better to see chapters one and two of Matthew as a theological prologue to his Gospel than as an historical narrative. This interpretation does not imply that there is no factual history in the infancy narrative but rather that such history is not Matthew's primary intention. The history contained therein is not intentional history. His intention is to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the Son of God, another Moses. Matthew points out carefully that Jesus fulfills Jewish history and at the same time has a mission to the Gentiles. Therefore all are called and can legitimately respond to Jesus. This is already Matthew's Gospel in miniature. The infancy narrative is a well constructed theological story in which many preMatthean elements are given the stamp of Matthew's theology.
The Gospel of Luke. Many scholars maintain that Luke's audience was more or less contemporary with that of Matthew's, the Gospel probably being written in the 70's or 80's. Luke's audience, however, seems to have been primarily Gentile Christian. The Gospel is only one part of Luke's work as the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles really form one whole. For Luke, the mission to the Gentiles is as determinative of his theology as Matthew's audience was for his. The "revelation to the Gentiles" was part of God's plan from the beginning.86
Matthew seems to have begun his Gospel with chapter one, verse one, and composed the Gospel as it has come to us. Both Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer maintain that chapter three, verse one, was probably the original opening of Luke's Gospel and that the infancy narrative was added later, perhaps even after the Book of Acts was completed.87 Matthew's and Luke's infancy narratives are distinct. Neither was a source for the other. Brown postulates two stages in the development of Luke's infancy narrative. In the second stage Luke added four canticles and the story about the boy Jesus in the Temple. Luke himself composed the narrative from beginning to end.
Brown maintains that some traditions were pre-Lucan, e.g., the names of John the Baptist's parents, the tendency to compare the conception of Jesus to the conception of previous salvific figures by use of the annunciation pattern, a virginal conception which took place while Mary was betrothed to Joseph but had not yet come to live with him. Luke combined and developed these traditions, incorporated portraits of John the Baptist and Mary, and constructed an annunciation of John's conception to parallel the annunciation of Jesus. Later Luke added four canticles and the story of Jesus in the Temple in a second stage of composition drawing upon Jewish Christian sources for the canticles (the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria, and Nunc Dimittis).88
The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist comes first in Luke's narrative (1:5-25). In verses 5-7 he gives four items of information: the setting was the reign of Herod; the names of John's parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth; the parents were advanced in age and Elizabeth was barren. The Herodian dating, found also in Matthew, is probably historical and pre-Lucan. The names of the parents and their priestly lineage is probably also a pre-Lucan tradition, and more difficult to determine whether historical or not. There is no other confirmation of this elsewhere in the New Testament, yet Luke seems to convey fairly precise knowledge. Fitzmyer favors their reliability as historical. That Elizabeth was barren probably reflects, however, Lucan theology more than history. The motif of barrenness is common in biblical annunciations of birth, and Luke is placing the parents of John within this history. The parallelism with Elkanah and Hannah (Samuel's parents) and Abraham and Sarah is present and links Zechariah and Elizabeth to God's acts in Israel.
The appearance of the angel Gabriel links Luke's message to the prophet Daniel (Dan 8:16 ff. and 9:21 ff.). In Daniel 9:20-21 Gabriel appears at a time of liturgical prayer, in 10:12 Gabriel tells the visionary not to fear, and in 10:15 the visionary is struck mute. The theme of the seventy weeks, as interpreted by Gabriel in Daniel 9:24-27, is in the background of the annunciation to Zechariah. The end of the seventy weeks is a time of fullness in Daniel; this time of fulfillment has come.
Luke portrays John as an ascetic, a Nazarite from his infancy (1:15). "Being filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:15) indicates his prophetic vocation, and specifically a vocation like Elijah's (1:17).89 What Luke says here of John is consonant with what he says of him later in 3:1-20 and 7:18-35. The reason for introducing John is to provide a contrast with Jesus, not only to provide the background for the ministry of Jesus.
Historically, Jesus was baptized by John and may have been temporarily a disciple of John's, later receiving some of John's disciples as his own after the death of John. Because the historical parallels between Jesus and John are strong, John's career became the object of Christian interpretation in which he is represented as the forerunner of Jesus. John and Jesus are brought into harmony but John remains subordinate to Jesus. The miracle of Jesus' birth (virginal conception) is also greater than that of John's birth (barren parents). Further, when Elizabeth and Mary meet, Elizabeth praises Mary.
At the annunciation of the birth of Jesus (1:26-38), Luke's christology is not unlike Matthew's. Neither is speaking in terms of an incarnation of a pre-existent Son of God. Luke seems unaware of the kind of christology we have in John's Prologue; for Luke and Matthew, the virginal conception and divine sonship are causally related.90 The annunciation of John's birth and Jesus' are in many respects parallel. Contrast verses 5 and 26, 11 and 28, 13 and 31, 15 and 32, 18 and 34. The annunciation of Jesus' birth fits the pattern of angelic annunciations of birth. There are several peculiarities in the composition of the annunciation of Jesus' birth narrative, however, especially the virginal conception, the future accomplishments (32-33, 35), the portrait of Mary (34, 38).
Raymond Brown posits for Luke as he does with Matthew a pre-Gospel annunciation tradition upon which both Matthew and Luke drew. Matthew, however, developed an annunciation to Joseph while Luke developed an annunciation to Mary. It would appear that the tradition of a virginal conception was a pre-Gospel tradition as well. Yet the virginal conception in Luke plays a different role where it completes the contrast between Jesus and John and the emphasis on the superiority of Jesus. According to Brown, the entire annunciation including the virginal conception was composed by Luke who gave it the stamp of his theology.91 The strangeness of Mary's question in verses 34-35, part of the original Lucan composition, enables Luke to tell the reader how Jesus was conceived and thus who he is: Jesus is the Son of God begotten through the creative power of the Holy Spirit. This relationship is even more stressed in Luke than in Matthew (v. 35). In response to Mary's question, Luke has Gabriel explicitly tell us who Jesus is, the Son of God. Luke's christology, as Matthew's, is not an adoption; it is the begetting of God's Son in the womb of Mary through the creative action of the Spirit. The christological moment is the moment of conception.
Fitzmyer points out the two stages in the announcement made to Mary in verses 28-37. The first stage indicates the "extraordinary character of the child" and the second stage indicates the "divine involvement in his origin." The passage shows "that he comes from humanity, just as he comes from God." The two stages and the careful parallelisms between John and Jesus indicate Luke's acceptance of the virginal conception.92
Already we have gained insight into Luke's christology-Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, a new creation at the moment of conception, greater than John, with a mission to the Gentiles. Next Mary visits Elizabeth (1:38-56). Without the Magnificat, which we will discuss later and which Brown considers part of the second stage of composition, the visitation (vv. 3945, 56) is not so much a separate section of the narative as much as it is an epilogue to the previous annunciation. As the main characters of the two previous annunciation scenes meet, Mary and Elizabeth, the superiority of Jesus to John is made even more explicit by Elizabeth's praise and John's "leaping in the womb."
As the two annunciation scenes provide a contrast and parallel, so likewise do the next two scenes. Again, setting aside for the moment the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis since they may well represent a second stage in the composition, the major portion of the next section (1:57-80) concerns the naming of John. Without knowing what the angel had said, Elizabeth picks the name John. To everyone's surprise, Zechariah agrees to the name. Immediately his speech returns. This is followed by an account of the birth and naming of Jesus (2:1-21).
Both Brown and Fitzmyer reject the historicity of Luke's census. The only census conducted while Quirinius was legate in Syria affected only Judea, not Galilee, and took place in 6-7 C.E., a good ten years after the death of Herod the Great. Luke was able to use the census, based on a confused memory, to explain Joseph and Mary's presence in Bethlehem, something necessary to explain since Luke (unlike Matthew) assumed that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before Jesus was born.93
The core message in this section, and indeed in the whole infancy narrative, is 2:1 1, "For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." The background for this is Isaiah 9:6-"To us a child is born; to us a son is given." In Isaiah further royal titles follow: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Luke substitutes three Christian titles: Savior, Christ (Messiah), Lord. These same titles, in different christologies, were applied to Jesus either at his resurrection or his baptism and Luke's christology applies these now to Jesus at his birth. Philippians 3:20 applies all three to Jesus at the Par ousia.
Although it may appear that there is duplication in the proclamation made by the angels to the shepherds and the one made by Simeon (2:2240), both scenes are important. The earlier one to the shepherds, following upon the birth of Jesus, identified Jesus in continuity with the hope of Israel (2:10-11). Simeon's proclamation places Jesus in the context of his role for the Gentiles (vv. 30-32). Brown again suggests that the canticle in verses 29-32 is a later addition and part of the second stage of composition.94
Two different customs, which Luke has confused, are the background for Luke's setting in the Temple. First, there is the presentation of the firstborn child to the Lord (Ex 13:1 and 13:11 ff.). Second is the purification of the mother forty days after the birth (Lev 12:1-6). Verses 22-24 reflect primarily the second custom, but Luke seems to imply that the reason for going to the Temple was the presentation of Jesus (v. 27) which did not require a trip to the Temple. Only the purification of the mother required this. Luke's inaccurate knowledge of the details of Judaism may renect his background. The need to explain the practice may also reflect his Gentile audience. A biblical background for the story, however, can be found in I Samuel. Elkanah and Hannah brought Samuel to the sanctuary at Shiloh (I Sam 1:24-28) where they encountered the aged priest Eli who blessed them (I Sam 2:20) in the presence of women ministers (2:22). That story concludes (2:21, 26): "The young child Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord . . . Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men." The conception of John the Baptist had been patterned on that of Samuel; now the conception of Jesus is so patterned. Verse 40 concludes the infancy narrative in its first stage.
Brown maintains that the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52) was not part of the original version of the narrative which ended with verse 40. It was added later and is reflective of "hidden life" stories. These stories may reflect another stage in christological development. Just as the christological moment varies from resurrection to baptism to conception, these "hidden life" stories show that Jesus was God's Son even in his youth, but not, however, that Jesus knew as a boy that he was Son of God. Jesus' changing water into wine at Cana in John's Gospel may be similarly interpreted, that is as a part of an older tradition recorded later by the evangelist-a pre-Johannine hidden life story.95 Verses 51-52 is Luke's second conclusion. When the story of Jesus in the temple was added, Luke, rather than moving the previous conclusion, added a second conclusion which was comparable.
There is little support for the view that the canticles were composed by Mary, Zechariah, or Simeon themselves. Nor is there strong support for Lucan authorship. It appears more probable that they were composed in a non-Lucan circle and were praises of God's salvific acts without reference as such to the events with which Luke associates them. Many scholars have proposed a Jewish setting. The tone of a salvation accomplished, however, leads other scholars, including Brown, to postulate a Jewish Christian setting, and more specifically that of the Jewish Christian Anawim.96 The Magnificat (1:46-55) resembles the psalm type known as a hymn of praise. Brown proposes that it originally referred to a general salvation in Jesus given to Jews who had become Christians. The Psalm begins with the motives for praise (w. 48-50). The poverty of the Anawim is both spiritual and physical (vv. 51-53). They see themselves as the remnant of Israel, as the suffering servant (vv. 54-55). The Benedictus (1:67-79) also reflects this Jewish Christian Anawim mentality. It is a christological hymn. The Lord is blessed because of what God has done (or is about to do) in Jesus as God fulfills the promises to Israel.
In concluding our discussion of these two prologues, and not without risking repetition, the following points can be made:
1. The infancy narratives are not historical narratives in our historiographical sense of the word. They are not primarily motivated to provide us with factual data concerning a sequence of events. This does not mean, however, that they do not contain some history in this sense. Nor does it mean that something which cannot be asserted as historical (historiographically) is then necessarily unhistorical (did not happen). It may be that something is factually true, but that we are not able to determine historiographically or scientifically whether or not it is. There are: (a) factual history which is historiographically ascertainable and capable of being judged as probably true, (b) material which is capable of being judged historiographically as probably not true, and (c) material which is not capable of being judged historiographically with respect to its factuality or not -- this may be true or may not be. That Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great and that he was baptized by John are facts (category a). That Joseph and Mary were prompted to go to Bethlehem because of a census is not factually accurate (category b). The names and priestly character of John's family may be factually accurate or may not be; we cannot speak with probability one way or the other (category c above). Something is wrongly described as unhistorical when what is really meant is that it is not historiographically verifiable.
The genealogies, the virginal conception (although very early pre-Gospel tradition), the annunciation stories, birth in Bethlehem, the night into Egypt, the massacre of the children, the barrenness of Elizabeth, that Jesus and John were relatives, and the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple are not historiographically verifiable (category c). This does not necessarily mean that they are not based on fact or some historical memory. These items vary with respect to their historical probability. Although we cannot determine the historical factuality of these events, they can be nuanced further. We can be historiographically quite sure that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (category a, practical certainty favoring historicity).
We can also be sure historiographically that there was no census under Quirinius at this time (category b, practical certainty arguing against historicity). But between these two, although we cannot be certain historiographically (category c, incertitude), there may be something to incline one more in one direction or the other. For example, with respect to the masacre under Herod, although it may have happened, I am inclined to see it as not based on fact even granted Herod's evident tyranny and cruelty (category c 1, incertitude but probability argues against historicity). I am inclined to see the flight into Egypt, however, more neutrally. It may have happened, indeed could well have happened, but may not have happened and could well express only Matthew's theology of the relation between Jesus and Moses (category c 2, simple incertitude). The birth in Bethlehem, however, although we cannot be sure about it, I am inclined to see it as more likely true than not (category c 3, incertitude but probability favors historicity). I would argue in favor of the birth in Bethlehem (also Davidic descent and virginal conception of Jesus) as reflecting category c 3.
The birth in Bethlehem is attested by both Matthew and Luke whose infancy narratives are independent of each other. Even though the context for birth at Bethlehem in each infancy narrative differs, this is no argument against the possible historical nucleus of the birth at Bethlehem itself. Certainly it is a tradition that pre-dates both Matthew and Luke. There is no other reasonable way to account for the origins of such a tradition. It was not a strongly attested Jewish opinion that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.97 Matthew brings Micah in as a witness, but Matthew's targumlike translations of biblical texts are more interpretative than creative. If there had been no historical basis for birth at Bethlehem, there would have been insufficient reason for Luke to bring Joseph and Mary there. The different contexts surrounding birth at Bethlehem in Matthew and Luke argue as much in favor of it as against it. Those who reject the historicity of birth at Bethlehem generally opt for birth at Nazareth.98
With respect to the virginal conception, we also encounter difficulties.99 Both Matthew and Luke seem to have regarded the virginal conception as historical although the primary importance of it was not its historical factuality but its christological significance. There is no other explicit or implicit reference to the virginal conception in the Scriptures outside the infancy narratives. This does not mean no other authors of the New Testament accepted a virginal conception. Most probably the belief in virginal conception pre-dated Matthew and Luke, yet there is no way of knowing how widespread a belief it was. Although there is much evidence which resists its historicity, there is much to support historicity as well. There is no reason to maintain that the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14 was interpreted as necessitating a virginal conception. There is no evidence for the idea of a virginal conception present in Judaism which would have influenced Jewish Christians. Brown concludes, "The scientifically controllable biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal coneption unresolved."100 Again, this does not mean that it was not therefore historical, but rather that it is not historiographically determinable. One can see different levels of determinable historicity from a scientifically historiographical point of view.
2. A common theological point in the two prologues is the sonship of Jesus from the moment of his conception, a christology for which the virginal conception is important, one that is neither adoptionist nor incarnational.
At first, the resurrection was the time after which Jesus' identity was revealed and with which his divine sonship was associated. (It may well have been that there was an even earlier christology focused simply on the parousia.) A resurrection christology is found In Acts (2:32, 36, 5:32; 13:32-33) and Paul (Rom 1:34; Phil 2:8-9). It is through the resurrection that the disciples came to know Jesus more fully and they associated this moment of revelation with his becoming God's Son.
Further reflection, however, led to the expanded awareness that Jesus had already been Messiah and Son during his ministry. The resurrection had revealed who Jesus already was. Jesus was what he was before the disciples knew it. This awareness had already developed by the time the Gospels were written and it is reflected in Mark. For Mark, although the disciples never recognized Jesus (and Jesus never disclosed his full identity to them), Jesus already was Messiah and Son from the time of his baptism (1:11).
Just as there is development between the christologies reflected in Paul and Acts and that of Mark, so there is continuing development after Mark. Eventually the time of Jesus' becoming God's Son is perceived to be even earlier. It is important to distinguish the christological moment of his becoming Messiah and the moment of the recognition of this by others. In a resurrection christology these moments are the same. In Mark they are distinguishable. Jesus became God's Son at the baptism but the disciples do not recognize this Sonship until after the resurrection. In Matthew even the moment of recognition gets moved up to Jesus' lifetime, but the moment of his becoming God's Son gets moved even earlier, to the moment of conception. In the infancy narratives, Jesus was who he was from the moment of his conception, although recognition of this did not take place until during his ministry. At this point we are saying nothing of Jesus' self-recognition but of his recognition by others. (Another example of this may be found in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel where the moment of becoming Son is pushed back prior to his conception, even prior to creation. He was before anything else came to be. He was with God in the beginning. His pre-existence becomes a part of christological understanding.) The infancy narratives manifest then a christological understanding all their own.
3. Different theological emphases reflect the two different settings of Matthew's and Luke's Gospels. Matthew's community reflects mixed Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian membership; Luke's reflects a primarily Gentile Christian setting. Thus Jesus has a mission both to Jews and to Gentiles for Matthew. Luke sees Jesus as primarily a light to the Gentiles. For Matthew, Jesus is the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, Son of God, Emmanuel and the new Moses. For Luke, Jesus is primarily son of Adam and Son of God.
Although the tradition of virginal conception assists both writers in sustaining a christology from the moment of Jesus' conception, it serves a different function in both Gospels. For Matthew, the virginal conception helps to establish the how of divine sonship and Davidic descent. For Luke it points to the superiority of Jesus over John. In Matthew, Joseph's accepting Jesus draws Jesus into Jewish history, and in Luke Mary plays an important role as Jesus' disciple in establishing continuity between Israel and Christianity. Luke gives much attention to Jesus being greater than John, a motif not present in Matthew. Both, but especially Matthew, construct their prologues to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and history. Matthew shows this genealogically, geographically, and through his use of biblical citations. Luke does so in his linking Jesus, through Gabriel, to the prophecy of Daniel, and through the numbered pattern in Daniel's theology of history.
One Jesus, Many Christologies
Although there is and was but one Jesus of Nazareth, we are more than aware today that there are many interpretations of his life and mission. This was already eminently true in the New Testament period. There never was only one christology, nor even only one valid christology. Diversification accompanied the proclamation as far back as we can go historiographically. This does not mean that the diverse New Testament christologies were all incompatible, or even conflictual. Nor does it mean that they can be harmonized. They are distinctive and remain so.
We have primarily concerned ourselves with Synoptic materials thus far, although Pauline and Johannine materials have been essential for interpreting the death and resurrection event. If we were to look at all the New Testament material more closely, which is not our purpose here, we would see much diversity. In Galatians Paul speaks of his own gospel for the Gentiles as well as the gospel for the Jews (2:7). The most Jewish of the early Christian writings, Matthew and James, could hardly be acceptable in their entirety to Paul. The two christologies of the two infancy narratives are quite compatible, but both are clearly distinct from that of the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. The theology of the Johannine community has a history and a character all its own.
All of the kerygmata and confessional formulae in the New Testament have at least this much in common: their focus is on Jesus. But that focus can vary from Jesus, a new Adam, for Paul, to Jesus as Son of God for Luke, to Jesus as the pre-existent Son for John. That Jesus was the Christ was the earliest confession of faith among the Jews, that Jesus was Lord was the primary confession of the Pauline churches. But even the central christological titles are quite flexible or wide ranging in meaning.
This New Testament diversity, however, does not imply that there is no common christological core. James D. G. Dunn concludes that there is, although this core never existed as such in the concrete, historical situations of the first-century churches.101 In the concrete one has only the varying christologies from which one can abstract a common element. The common core or unifying element in the diverse first-century christologies was the affirmation of the identity of the man Jesus with the risen Lord,102 between the exalted Christ and the earthly Jesus, that Jesus and the Christ are one and the same person; namely, that he who was, is -- or he who is, was -- an understanding of Jesus in two stages. It is Jesus that all the christologies proclaim, but this Jesus lives. All the christologies proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and invite us to believe in him.
The common element, however, is not the core emphasis of each of the christologies; it is simply common to them. The primary emphasis may be Jesus saves (as in Paul) or Jesus will come again (as in Mark). Although christology affirms the resurrection of Jesus, christologies understand the implications of that differently. The earliest christologies seem barely distinguishable from eschatology. Later eschatology is hardly distinguishable from christology. A christology which primarily asserts, "Jesus will come again" is still an eschatology. The resurrection had primarily eschatological implications.
Christianity moved from being an eschatological expectation and sect to a developing understanding of the person of Christ. This shift does not imply decades of theology. Indeed, it may have taken place with the earliest preaching. But it does manifest a shift from a future, eschatological understanding of the Christ event to the present activity of the Risen Lord.
The development of christology involved a shifting of the "christological moment" from an eschatologically oriented resurrection back to Jesus' being anointed with the Spirit on the occasion of his baptism, which is characteristic of Mark's christology, and even further back to the moment of conception, as is the case in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The concepts of pre-existence and incarnation may reflect the last stage in such a growth of insight.
In the first century there was no one christology nor one normative expression of Christianity. Yet the diverse christological traditions had at least one thing in common: the humanity of a man Jesus who was one and the same person as the Risen Lord; the Jesus whom we knew had been raised from the dead and still lives. The story of Jesus was a story with two major stages to it.
The Synoptic accounts have given us a life of Jesus, not in any historiographical or biographical sense, but more in the sense of a theological interpretation which understands Jesus to be still alive, thus an interpreted life of Jesus in two stages. We learn that there are in fact two stages in the life of this one person, a pre-death-resurrection stage and a post-death-resurrection stage (which is true of us as well). Thus the very early christologies, albeit varied, were two-stage christologies. They affirmed both that there was more to the life of Jesus than his earthly existence and also that the Risen Lord of their present experience was that selfsame Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified. Jesus is one person whose life had been experienced in two ways which revealed two stages in that life.
Although other events or moments in the life of the earthly Jesus would acquire interpreted significance (the transfiguration, Caesarea Philippi, the baptism, the Temple at the age of twelve, the conception), none of these would acquire greater significance than the resurrection -- the moment or period of greatest revelatory character for the disciples as well as the moment of being transformed into a new and eschatological mode of existence for Jesus himself. The two stages are there both from the perspective of the church's experience and understanding as well as from the perspective of the life of Jesus itself. It was an event which happened both to Jesus and to the disciples. Jesus was raised and made his ongoing presence known to them. As they came to understand more fully, they began to see that Jesus was who he was before they knew it or before they truly recognized it. They could now begin to see in the earthly life of Jesus what they had at first seen only after the resurrection. Already on earth Jesus had been God's Son. But this sonship had been lived out in an earthly mode as it was now being exercised in a heavenly way. This Jesus was made Son of God not only with his resurrection but had been so while he was still on earth-although we failed to recognize him fully. There are a variety of two-stage christologies (Jesus becoming God's Son at the moment of resurrection, or baptism, or conception), but all affirm that Jesus and the Risen Lord are one and the same Jesus Christ and that this Jesus cannot be understood in terms of one stage only. Before long, however, there would be another distinctive christology in the church which would interpret the life of Jesus in three stages.
Both historiographically objective scientific knowledge and a personal experiential faith are necessary if we are to understand Jesus of Nazareth, the earthly Jesus, the Jesus of history. The personal experiences in which the first disciples experienced Jesus as raised from the dead, or the personal experiences by which women and men through the centuries have experienced the Risen Lord, are constitutive of our knowledge of who Jesus is. Apart from faith, apart from the personal knowledge or conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead and revealed as having been from God, one would not know Jesus any better than his disciples who had daily contact with him understood. It took another kind of experience, the resurrection and appearance-experiences, before they recognized who he truly was. But faith, which reveals Jesus to us as alive, raised from the dead, and sent by God, cannot be a substitute for the historiographical knowledge of Jesus as a prophet to Israel, a sage, and servant of the Lord. For Jesus was a person on earth in whom heaven and history met. The earliest written accounts we have, the Scriptures, which give us historical data about Jesus, at which we can arrive by historiographical, scientific, and critical methods, are all primarily confessions of faith. Both history and faith, events and interpretations, historiography and theology are woven together in all four of the Gospels in order to convey something of who Jesus is -- a response to which requires both kinds of knowledge. Both the nature of the event (both historical and meta-historiographical) and the possibilities for interpretation permitted a diversity of faith expressions, but all focused on the one Jesus. Thus the Gospels, and the written tradition as a whole, give us access both to the Jesus of historiography and the Jesus of faith, both pre-resurrection Jesus material and post-resurrection oral tradition, both the Jesus of history and the faith of the first-century church.
Although the expressions of that faith are diverse, the whole of the New Testament gives witness to the Risen Lord as the selfsame Jesus of Nazareth whom many had known. Jesus is from God. And this Jesus, baptized by John, an eschatologically and socially conscious prophet to Israel, preacher, healer, and teacher, who so authoritatively proclaimed God's presence to the people, unrecognized by many as Ood's true and faithful servant, was crucified and put to death as a socio-economic, political, and religious threat. God raised up this Jesus and proclaimed him as his own eschatological messenger for Gentiles as well as for Jews. Understanding Jesus requires theology. Historiography by itself alone is insufficient. Only an historically sensitive theology of Jesus can do justice to Jesus who even on earth and most clearly in his resurrection was both "of history" and "from above," both historical and meta-historiographical.
Soon another theology, that of the Johannine community, would contribute its understanding of Jesus as well. It too will see Jesus as both "from heaven" and "of earth," but that is the beginning of the next volume.
The End of The Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Volume 2 of A Theology of Jesus
74 Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, Anchor Bible 28 (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1981), 309.
75 Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1977), 47, 90. Also see Benedict Viviano, "Where Was the Gospel According to Matthew Written?" The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 41 (1979), 533-546, who also points to the mixed character of the setting for Matthew's Gospel.
76 Brown,The Birth of the Messiah, 66-69.
77 Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 340. See Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 29-32, 133-43, 179-83, 311-16, and Raymond Brown, "Gospel Infancy Narrative Research From 1976 to 1986: Part II (Luke)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986), 677-78.
78 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 141, also 160-6l, 517-33.
79 Ibid., 132.
80 Ibid. 161, 521-31. Also Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 341-42.
81 See W.D. Davies, The Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1977), 10-18.
82 For Matthew's use of the biblical citations in the infancy narrative, see George M. Soares Prabhu, Formula Quotations in the Infancy Narrative of Matthew (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1976). Soares Prabhu indicates that the infancy narrative is not midrash (14-16), that the ten formula quotations in the Gospel are clearly Matthean redaction (104-6), that Matthean redaction is more interpretative than creative (135), and that the Matthean versions of the biblical citations are a deliberate, ad hoc, targumizing translation, with Matthew selecting passages relevant to Christ and "targumizing" these passages in order to make their christological relevance clear(157-61).
83 In Matthew there are ten of these fulfillment or formula citations (Soares Prabhu, 40-49; Brown, The Birth of the Messiah 98). If one includes Mt. 2:56 of the infancy narrative, there are eleven. Soares Prabhu considers this citation "a formula quotation by adoption" (36-40).
84 Soares Prabhu, 157-61.
85 See Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 145-53. Also Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh. The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism, trans. G.W. Anderson (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954), 110-22. Also fn. 91 below. The word in the Hebrew text is 'almah (young girl) and in the Septuagint parthenos (virgin), but neither word suggests a virginal conception.
86 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 235-39. For introductory background to Luke, see Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 3-283.
87 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 239-43. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 290, 310-11.
88 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 244-53, 397-99. Fitzmyer is less insistent on a two-stage composition for the infancy narratives. He writes, "The absence of a tight connection between the Magnificat and its context, and the Benedictus and its context might suggest that at least these passages were added at a later date than the rest. Whether other verses should be put in that category must remain guestionable." Luke I-IX, 311. Fitzmyer does, however, agree with Brown that the infancy narrative in Luke was composed after the Gospel as a whole was written (290, 310-11). The question is whether there were two stages in the composition of just the infancy narrative itself. For the differences and similarities between Matthew's and Luke's infancy narratives, see Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 306-8. Also Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 33-37.
89 The Elijah role in Luke is not clear. In the infancy narrative, and perhaps in 7:27, it is associated with John. Yet such association seems lacking elsewhere in the Gospel. Brown suggests (274-75) the possibility of two different Christian views of the Elijah role, one associating it with Jesus and another with John. The Gospel of John, 1:21, does not associate it with the Baptizer. Mark and Matthew do. Perhaps the earlier stage of Luke identified Jesus and Elijah and the later stage attributed the Elijah role to John after stressing Jesus as God's Son. See Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 318-20 and note on verse 15 on pp. 325-26.
90 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 290-91. Fitzmyer agrees, Luke I-IX, 340.
91 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 301-3. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 336, makes clear that the Lucan announcement story is not derived from Is. 7:14. Matthew, not Luke, is the one to relate Mary's condition to a Greek form of Is. 7:14. "That Matthean theologoumenon should not be imported from the interpretation of the Lucan account" (Fitzmyer, 336). Also see fn. 85 in this chapter.
92 Fitzmyer. Luke I-IX, 337-39.
93 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 412-20, 513-16, 547-55. Also Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 315, 393-96, 401-6.
94 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 446. A difficulty I have with Brown's interpretation of the Gloria as being pre-Lucan and added later is that this would relegate to the second stage in the composition of the infancy narrative a very important element in Luke's theology, the revelation to the Gentiles. Fitzmyer offers another reason for viewing the Gloria as part of the first and Lucan stage.
95 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 378-9S. As Fitzmyer points out, the Infancy Story of Thomas reports what Jesus did at ages five (2:1), six (11:1), eight (12:2), and twelve ( 19:1 -S). For Fitzmyer's discussion of the episode of Jesus in thc Temple, see Luke I-IX, 434-39.
96 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 346-55. Brown holds that all four canticles are pre-Lucan and part of the second stage of the composition of the infancy narrative of Luke. Fitzmyer, however, considcrs only two, the Magnificat and Benedictus, and possibly a third, the Nunc Dimittis, to be pre-Lucan. The Angel's Song or Gloria in 2:13-14 is Lucan for Fitzmyer. See Luke I-IX, 358-59. See fn. 94 in this chaptcr.
97 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 513-14. Many Jews of Jesus' time probably expected the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem, but the evidence for this in Jewish writings is late. Granted the expectation of the Messiah being born at Bethlehem, we cannot prove that it was strong enough to create the story of Jesus' birth at Bethlehem. There were varied messianic expectations, e.g., the hidden messiah, which Christians could have utilized as well. Thus it is difficult to say that thc opinion that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem was so strong that Christians would have invented Jesus' birth at Bethlehem once they proclaimed him to be the Messiah.
98 Raymond Brown points out that there is no basis suggested which accounts for the origin of the tradition of birth at Bethlehem. Yet he is cautious about affirming birth at Bethlehem. (I read Brown as placing birth at Bethlehem in my category c 2; I prefer to place it in c 3. I read Brown as placing Davidic descent, however, in c 3.) He gives two objections to birth at Bethlehem. Neither of these hold up, however. First, he argues that the only two witnesses, Matthew and Luke, do not agree in their presentation. Matthew implies that the parents of Jesus lived in Bethlehem (2:11) and were natives of Judaea (2:22). For Luke, Mary and Joseph are natives of Nazareth and Galilee and come to Bethlehem where they have no house (2:7). These conflicting contexts as to why Jesus was born in Bethlehem do not invite re-assurance. On the other hand, however, they do not argue against birth at Bethlehem either. With different theological contexts and different presuppositions about family background, both still affirm birth at Bethlehem. The fact that both do have different presuppositions argues equally in favor of and not against birth at Bethlehem. At least it points in the direction of an old tradition that both retain.
And how does one explain the origins of this tradition? I would suggest by the fact of Jesus' birth there, unless there is a more cogent and rational explanation. Even Brown, however, has shown that its origin is not in the expectation that the Davidic Messiah would necessarily come from David's city of Bethlehem. The most reasonable explanation for the fact that two independent sources affirm a birth in Bethlehem is because Jesus was in fact born there (although I would agree that we cannot be certain on historiographical grounds). Brown's second argument against birth in Bethlehem as historical fact is the evidence for Nazareth and Galilee being Jesus' hometown or native region. But, again, this is no argument. Nazareth was indeed Jesus' hometown. It had always been held that Jesus grew up there. The fact that he was born in Bethlehem and that his family moved to Nazareth would not incline people to think of Bethlehem as his home or native region. Mark 6:14 indicates Nazareth and Galilee as his home and Mark shows no knowledge of a birth at Bethlehem. True, but Mark was not interested in the infancy and childhood of Jesus. Brown writes, "It is possible that the original idea was that the patris of Nazareth and Galilee was where Jesus was born" (515). It is true that this is possible. But it is also purely speculative. The evidence points toward being born in Bethlehem and growing up in Nazareth. Brown also writes, "Certainly, in the dialogue of Mark 6:2-3, none of Jesus' neighbors betrays any knowledge that Jesus had an auspicious beginning by being born in the Davidic city of Bethlehem" (515). But why would they? Brown already indicated earlier that we cannot assume a widespread belief within Judaism that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Why then would being born in Bethlehem be so auspicious? The silence about Jesus' birthplace docs not indicate an ignorance of it. People simply considered him as from Nazareth because that is where he was from, where he grew up. That was his home, even if his parents had originally come from Judaea.
There is no other way to account adequately for the tradition of birth at Bethlehem. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's statement makes the most sense:
Mary and Joseph were natives of Bethlehem, and only moved to Nazareth because of the atmosphere of insecurity generated by the Herodian dynasty (Mt. 2); their long residence in Galilee gave Luke the impression that they had always lived there and he had to find a reason which would place them in Bethlehem at the moment of the birth of Jesus (Lk. 2:1-7). The Greek underlying the phrase, 'she laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn' (Lk. 2:7) can also be rendered, 'she laid him in a manger because they had no space in the room.' (The Holy Land, An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 [Oxford University Press, 1980], 147; or Second Edition, 1986, p. 166.)
99 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 517-33. Also see Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 341-50. Also, Brown, "Gospel Infancy Narrative Research From 1976 to 1986: Part II (Luke)," 662, 675-80.
100 Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 527. Also see Raymond Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), 21-68 .
101 James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977). Although one might not accept all of Dunn's conclusions in this earlier work of his, it is a wide ranging treatment of important materials on an important theme. Also see Joseph Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism, 62-67; Jeromc U. Neyrey, Christ Is Community, the Christologies of the New Testament (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1985).
102 Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, 29-32, 56-59, 199-205, 226-31, 369.