How does one extract theology from a narrative? The infancy material in Luke 1:5—2:52 is an example of a narrative text that is full of theology. It (1) reviews and previews events, (2) uses scriptural quotations and allusions to reveal God's purpose, (3) reveals that purpose through dialogue from God's commissioned agents, and (4) gives testimony through reliable characters within the account (Tannehill 1986:21). In fact, these first two chapters serve as an overture to the Gospel, revealing the major themes that Luke will develop throughout his portrayal of Jesus. Even the style in these chapters differs from the rest of the book, as it mimics the style of the Greek Old Testament. This is a neat literary touch, for it signals the recounting of sacred events. By explaining the relationship of John the Baptist to Jesus, Luke notes how the torch of God's plan is relit and moves ahead.
John is the major focus of Luke 1:5-25, 46-80, while Jesus is the subject in Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-40. Technically the infancy material ends at 2:40, since the scene of 2:41-52 involves Jesus' actions as a young adolescent. However, in literary terms the section extends through this passage, since the note about Jesus' growth in 2:52 parallels the note about John's growth in 1:80. As we shall see, the section is rich in theology, but three points stand out: (1) Jesus is superior to John, (2) God is bringing to pass what he promised long ago, and (3) what God promises now through his Word will come to pass. Even the amount of time spent on Jesus versus John reveals the first point, while the second and third points emerge in how the infancy story is told.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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