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The Predictions to Elizabeth and Mary

I am working through Ben C. Smith’s Synoptic Project page and Mahlon H. Smith’s Hyper-Synopsis. Read the verses in Luke 1:5-25 (here, here), 1:26-38 (here, here), 1:39-56 (here, here, here), and 1:57-80 (here, here, here, here).

In this section, we have unique Lukan material (“L”) that provides predictions of the births of John and Jesus. There are many important key themes in these verses that will be echoed throughout Luke:

Whether one judges Luke to be independent or dependent on Matthew, I can see why Luke wanted to include these stories because they are so positive and memorable. On the other hand, if one were to judge Matthew to be dependent on Luke, I have a harder time seeing why Matthew would want to exclude these stories. Sure, Matthew’s infancy story echoes some of Matthew’s themes elsewhere too, but one would wonder why Matthew would pass over this section if he either knew Luke or these underlying traditions:

  • John’s parents (cf. Luke 3:2): their Torah-observant piety might have appealed to Matthew and, to explain how John the Baptizer recognized Jesus when he tried to dissuade him from getting baptized (Matthew 3:15-16), Matthew could have found Luke’s notice that John’s mother Elizabeth was Mary’s kinswoman to be helpful (Luke 1:36, 40-45).
  • Continuity with the Jewish Scriptures:
    • the fulfillment of promises made to Abraham and his descendants (1:55, 68-75)
    • the scriptural trope of the barren woman who is granted fertility (Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, and especially Hannah who dedicated her hoped-for child in the temple),
    • the name of the angel “Gabriel” (cf. Daniel 8:16; 9:21)
    • the Nazarite vow (Luke 1:15; cf. Luke 7:33/Matthew 11:18)
    • the allusion to the prediction in Malachi 4:5-6 about Elijah redivivus (Luke 1:17), especially when Matthew makes the connection of Elijah and John more explicit than Mark (Matthew 17:13; Matthew 17:10-12/Mark 9:11-13).
    • the expression “house” or “throne” of David (Matthew 1:1, 20 describes Jesus and Joseph as “son of David”).
    • the explicit explanation of how the Holy Spirit enabled the virgin Mary to conceive and the link to Jesus’s divine sonship (1:34-35; compare to Matthew 1:18, 23).

Nevertheless, there are a few potential agreements that are worthy of further consideration:

  • It is not unfathomable that Matthew and Luke independently supplemented Mark’s account with an infancy narrative given that this was a feature of other ancient bioi or “lives,” while it is harder to explain Mark’s omission of Jesus’s birth (e.g. perhaps Mark begins with the church’s proclamation of the preaching of John the Baptizer like in the speeches in Acts).
  • Nevertheless, the focus on Joseph in Matthew and on Mary in Luke could either be a coincidence (e.g. Luke distinctly spotlights other named women in 1:5-25, 39-45, 59-80; 2:36-38; 8:2-3; 10:38-42) or could be a deliberate shift in response to the other Gospel.
  • There is an agreement in Luke 1:31 and Matthew 1:21: Luke’s “you will bear a son” [texē huion] and Matthew’s “but she will bear a son” [texetai de huion] differs due to the weak conjunction de and the second person address to Mary in Luke or third-person reference to Mary when addressed to Joseph in Matthew. There is a six-word verbatim agreement in the line “and you will call the name of him Jesus” [kai kaleseis to onoma autou Iēsoun] which Matthew follows with an explanation of the name. Does this demand literary contact between the Gospels, a shared infancy source, or a short saying preserved intact in the oral tradition and put in two different contexts in the respective narratives?
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