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The Interpretation of Luke 2:49 and the Significance of the Temple in the Gospel of Luke

14 years ago

2851 words

I’ve been doing a series on the life of Jesus for the youth. I was looking through some old seminary papers and came across this one. I wrote it for Dr. Bock at DTS in a class on the Gospel of Luke. I got an A on it! It reminded me of the important part the temple played in the life of Christ and it caused me to think about the temple and my life as a Christian. Sorry the Greek messed up… I hope you enjoy it.

Introduction and Background

At the end of Luke’s preface and introduction of John and Jesus, a unique interpretative challenge emerges along with a repeated theme that proves to be important throughout the book. At the beginning of the section, in 2:41, the reader is informed about Jesus’ faithful parents’ yearly tradition of going to Jerusalem. According to the text, Joseph, Mary and family were with a larger group traveling to the temple for the feast of Passover. Whether or not this was Jesus’ first time to make the dangerous journey, the text gives no indication but simply says that Jesus accompanied them on this trip. The text also states that Jesus was twelve years old, not considered an adult by Jewish standards. This indicates that Jesus had probably already been taught a significant amount of the Law, but under the custom of the current time he was not responsible for keeping his vows until his Bar-Mitzvah. By these first two verses, the reader knows that Jesus’ parents were faithful Jews and provided for their son’s spiritual well-being and faith development.

Next, Luke displays the total devotion of the Jesus’ family telling the readers the family stayed until the completion of the holy time, a full seven days instead of the customary two. After the festival, “when the days were completed,” the caravan set their course toward Nazareth to return home, but Jesus remained. We are not told whether or not this intentional or unintentional, the reader can only assume by his comments in 2:49 that there was some intentionality involved in the stay. Jesus’ parents were unaware for the first day of the journey home that their son had stayed behind. Though this might be viewed as neglect from some 21st century Western readers, it is most likely a mistake or oversight because there was a large group. Moreover, one can only speculate that Jesus had always been very obedient. Realizing their son was gone Joseph and Mary look for him in the group and returned the day’s journey back to Jerusalem, making Jesus two days missing. After looking for him the next day, they found him seated in the temple listening and questioning the teachers. But while everyone was amazed at his insight, his mother and father were less than impressed with his behavior. His mother asked the boy why he had done this to them and sought to make him feel guilty for causing his parents grief.

The Answer and the Problem

In 2:49 Jesus responds to his angst-ridden mother with a reply that reveals the priority of Jesus’ task and his purpose from the Father. He answers with a rhetorical question. In that question appears an ellipsis and that is, rather what is to be supplied is, the main point of contention. The phrase evn toi/j tou/ patro,j mou, which is literally translated, “in the … of my Father,” is the subject of much debate. There are three possibilities to what the ellipsis is referring. The first is “those of my Father’s house,” referring back to the toi/j as a spiritual family, but this interpretation is almost impossible because of the way Jesus speaks about those same teachers and experts throughout his whole ministry.

The second possibility must be given more credence than the first because its supporters make a valid argument. (BAGD 552 §II.7 & BDF §162.8) It also has the support of several English interpretations such as the KJV, NKJV, Webster’s, and Young’s, which adds to its support. Supporters argue that linguistically ei=nai, evn can mean both “to be in,” and “to be engaged in.” Plutarch spoke of Alexander in the same way when he said Alexander was “wholly occupied with the most important matters of government.” The linguistic argument from Classic literature also makes a strong case when they site Euripides where “koina gar ta tôn philôn” is translated “for friends have all things in common.” In classic Greek syntax, the primary use of the elided word is to be translated “affairs” or “things,” especially, “if the Greek article is plural used with the genitive of the substantive.” Another source to back this view is the LXX in 1 Maccabeus 6:57 “evpi,keitai h`mi/n ta. th/j basilei,aj” =”the affairs of the kingdom are pressing upon us” where the ellipsis, while also having a plural article, has to be interpreted affairs. Also, in the NT several examples of ellipsis meaning “affairs” are given to support this view. Just one example is 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul suggests that he literally “abolish the…of the child.” Here, “affairs” or “things” fit well with the context and the usage. The last argument made to support this view is one from deduction. Some would say that because Jesus did not stay in the temple the whole three days, referring to where he stayed at night, that “house” would not apply in all instances. Moreover, these same commentators would emphasize what Jesus was doing instead of where Jesus was at the time his parents found him. This leads them to understand that Christ’s relationship with the Father was focused on the “affairs” of the Father rather than the temple, or “house” of the Father.

The last possibility, interpreting the ellipsis as “house,” is the one that seems to be the most probable because it has the most support. (BDAG §2.g.) This reading is favored in most of the modern English translations such as the NET, NIV, NRSV, and the NASB. While “affairs” or “things” are proven to be a possibility, “house” is also a proven possibility by the examples from classic literature in the previous sections. But, there are also examples from classic literature that show where house is elided. One such example is Aristophanes, Wasps where in line 1445 should be translated “I will now carry you into the house.” (author’s own VERY rough translation from “eis ferovn su; evnteu/qen”) The Greek Father’s are surely on the side of “house” in this case. Such is the case of Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses V, 36, 2) uses the same phrase in Luke 2:49, “evn toi/j tou/ patro,j mou,” when quoting John 14:2, “In My Father’s house.” Also, Origen, St. Cyril and others interpret the ellipsis as “house” in their writings. Another strong support for the use of “house” is within the contemporary Jewish writer Josephus. In Against Apion (I, 118) and Antiquities (XVI, 302), Josephus uses “evn toi/j tou/ Dio.j” and “evn toi/j VAntipa,trou,” respectively, and each one is translated “in the house of…” Moreover, the context makes the usage of “house” a necessity. The LXX contains three examples of this type of ellipsis meaning house. Genesis 41:51, Ester 7:9, and Job 18:19 all contain the construction of en with the neuter plural definite article, and a genitive. In each case, “house” is the word the reader should supply. And though there are no NT usages where “house” should be supplied, there are some deductive arguments that confirm those who support this view. First, Jesus’ parents are continually portrayed as searching where to find him. Secondly, to offset the supporters of the previous view, Jesus could “be involved in the affairs of my Father” anywhere, but there was only one place Jesus could be “to be in my Father’s house.” Lastly, the context must be given its proper respect. The text is not focused on what Jesus was doing, though what he was doing, listening and asking questions to the teachers in the temple, was done in a manner that amazed all who heard. But the text is focused on where Jesus was found by his parents. And while the scene is context enough to warrant this view, the verbal antecedent, evn tw/| i`erw/|, is not too far to prove the point.

Conclusion and Implication of Textual Problem

Based on the context and a thorough study of this form of ellipsis, the third view seems to fit best. The heart of this argument was not based on what should go where the ellipsis is, rather what Jesus is saying about himself and the temple. Jesus is making a profound statement about his parentage in these verses. When Mary asks Jesus in verse 48 “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously,” Jesus gives an answer that contradicts what his mother said. He basically says to them, where else would I be than in my Father’s house. Joseph is not the referent that Jesus speaks of, rather Jesus is referring to his Father in Heaven. This statement sets a new precedent in the relationship Jesus has with the Father. It also recognizes the temple as the place of God’s presence, and the necessity of Jesus to be in the presence of the Father. This statement by Jesus reinforces the way Luke’s readers perceive the temple in Jerusalem. The next section will examine the significance of the temple in the book of Luke.

The significance of the Temple in Luke

The temple is referred to over 20 times in Luke; sometimes using the word “temple” and at other times “house.” Throughout the Gospel of Luke the primary view of the temple is an overall positive regard for his Father’s house.

After a brief introduction as to the purpose of Luke, the author introduces the reader to the temple as a place of honor, service, and worship in 1:9. What was going to be a unique and honorable opportunity in the temple, to help with the national sacrifice, was intensified with a visit from an angel of the Lord. From this temple experience announcing the birth of Zachariah’ son and his subsequent quite-time for not taking the announcement seriously, the reader sees that the temple is a special place for God’s people. The next time the subject of the temple arises is in chapter 2, after Jesus is born, while Joseph and Mary are carrying out the religious rituals set forth by the Law concerning the birth of a child and the commandment given to them from the angel. While at the temple Joseph, Mary and Jesus are greeted by two righteous, holy, and devout individuals, Simeon and Phanuel, who understand that this child was not ordinary. After completing every ritual necessary at the temple, a show of righteous devotion, the family travels home, and the temple is not mentioned again until the end of chapter 2. In 2:41, Luke explains to his readers the devoutness of Joseph and Mary by telling about compliance with the annual command to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. Jesus, who at the time was 12 years of age, accompanied his family to Jerusalem and they stayed there the entire duration of the feast. The parents leave without him and return to the temple to find him sitting under the tutelage of the temple teachers. In verse 49, Jesus reveals important information about himself and his special relationship with the Father by saying that he must be in the Father’s house, i.e. the temple. After Jesus’ baptism and commencement of his ministry, the temple emerges as a point of temptation from Satan. In 4:9, Satan asks Jesus to jump from the top of the temple, his daddy’s house that he will not hurt himself. Jesus reaffirms that special relationship with the Father in his reply to the devil. During the bulk of Jesus’ ministry the temple is not specifically mentioned until chapter 18. In a parable, Jesus speaks about two people of opposite character who go up to the temple to pray. Jesus tells this parable in a way that ends unexpectedly for each person involved.26 Chapter 19 finds Jesus in the temple cleaning out the swindlers and crooks that were doing business in the temple. Then after protecting the honor of his Father’s, house he teaches in the temple daily, captivating his audiences with his words while the Jewish leaders were trying to destroy him. Once during his time of teaching in the temple, in chapter 20, some of the Jewish rulers questioned him about his authority. Seeing through their scheme Jesus was able to confound them and sent them reeling. In Luke 21:5, Jesus reveals to some who were admiring the beauty of the temple that the temple would be utterly destroyed in the coming days. Furthermore, Jesus continued to teach daily to packed crowds in the temple while sleeping at night at the Mount of Olives (21:37). The last two mentions of the temple in Luke are a result of Jesus’ death. First, the temple curtain is torn when Jesus dies, showing that the temple is no longer the centerpiece of God’s activity, immediate judgment, and that the Law commanding temple worship had been replaced. The last mention is the praising of God by God’s people in the temple after the resurrected Christ had reappeared to his disciples.

Based on these occurrences of the theme of the temple some general observations should be noted. First and foremost, the temple in the Gospel of Luke is portrayed in a very positive light. From the stories of the nativity, until the end of the book, the temple is a place where good things happen between mankind and God. Unlike the 21st century thought of the temple as a “slaughter-house,” there was much more to the temple than a modern reader realizes. Generally, the temple symbolized not only animal sacrifice but service. The execution of a rite as well a place where information, i.e. teaching was carried out in worship. It was the epicenter for the oversight and maintaining of justice, transmission of the Law, a place of asylum for those on the run, an archive of the Jews, depository for the nation, and the ideal center of Jewish life in many ways. In the infancy literature of Luke, the temple plays two major roles. The first is the role of being the place where God dwells and blesses the remnant that is truly faithful. We see this in the life of Zachariah, Simeon, and Phanuel. These are all humble servants of Yahweh who are truly faithful who each received a great blessing in the temple from God. Also, the infancy narrative shows there was a faithful remnant even among the poorest of Israel waiting on the promised blessing of God. Through the life of Jesus and his parents Luke consistently demonstrates that righteous people in the OT keep the Law, which means temple worship. This portion of Luke if full of righteous people doing things that righteous people do. After the infancy material is exhausted the temple moves to a more elevated place in the life of Jesus and his righteous people. In 2:49, Jesus attempts to use his connection with the temple to speak about his punctilious relationship with God the Father. Further, it also shows how Jesus valued the teaching of the Gospel, a.k.a. Kingdom of God, in the temple. The temple is not a prominent topic from the end of chapter 2 until Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In fact, some commentators argue that the triumphal entry is not connected with the city at all but exclusively with the temple. Likewise, in 19:45, Jesus symbolically takes possession of the temple from the thieves that were occupying it. Therefore, when Jesus enters the temple it is truly the Temple because Jesus and the kabod & (doza) are connected. Immediately, after arrival, Jesus devotes himself to teaching in the temple, showing its importance. In no way did Jesus ever associate the religious leaders, including temple personnel, with the temple itself. Instead, Jesus constantly associates the temple with Israel’s righteous and the presence of Yahweh. Even at the end of Luke, the Christian’s central place of worship was at the temple. Showing that the temple, and what it stood for, was still a significant part of the faith.

The temple is oft overlooked by Christians today because it has been gone for so many years. In addition, there exists a prevailing attitude that the temple was a point of worthlessness, or even contention, with Christ and his followers. This simply is not true. Luke shows his readers over and again how the temple serves as God’s chosen site for promoting service to God, prayer, praise, and public testimony. It is also the perfect place to showcase Jesus’ ministry before his death. And long after Jesus’ death the temple is still highly regarded and considered a place of worship by Christians (Acts 21:26). Therefore, Christians should maintain high regard for the temple.

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