Michael Wolter, Luke 2:13, and “the multitude of the heavenly host”

In this year’s Christmas post, I will look at Michael Wolter’s striking interpretation of the significance of Luke’s mention of “the multitude of the heavenly host” in Luke 2:13. As usual I will alternate between the English and the German version for those (re)learning German. For my other Christmas posts, see here

ET (vol. 1, p. 128): Something happens that never occured before in the history of Israel. Not only a single angel but the whole heavenly host, which surrounds the throne of God (cf. 1 Kings 22.19: στρατιὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ; Joseph and Aseneth 14.8 speaks of the στρατιὰ τοῦ ὑψίστου [“army of the Most High”], Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 6.16, 17 of the στρατιὰ ἀγγέλων [“army of angels”]), arrives on earth in order to perform its incumbent task of praising God (the plural αἰνούντων . . . καὶ λεγόντων is constructio ad sensum). …

GV (p. 130): Es ereignet sich etwas, was in der Geschichte Israels noch nie gab: Nicht nur ein einzelner Engel, sondern der gesamte himmlische Hofstaat, der Gottes Thron umgibt (vgl. 1 Kön 22,19: στρατιὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ; JosAs 14,8 spricht von der στρατιὰ τοῦ ὑψίστου “Heer des Höchsten”, griechApkEsr 6,16.17 von der στρατιὰ ἀγγέλων “Heer der Engel”), findet sich auf der Erde ein, um der ihm obliegenden Aufgabe des Gotteslobs nachzukommen (der Plural αἰνούντων . . . καὶ λεγόντων ist constructio ad sensum). …

ET (vol. 1, p. 128): Luke describes what has never happened before and in this way expresses the significance of the birth of Jesus. The distance that separates heaven and earth from each other is removed for a moment; the earth becomes the place of the heavenly praise of God and humans become its earwitnesses.

GV (p. 130): – Lukas beschreibt noch nie Dagewesenes und bringt dadruch die Bedeutung der Geburt Jesu zum Ausdruck: Die Distanz, die Himmel und Erde voneinander trennt, ist für einen Moment aufgehoben; die Erde wird zum Ort, und Menschen werden zu Ohrenzeugen des himmlischen Gotteslobs.

Analysis: What I find striking about Wolter’s analysis is the fact that he interprets πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου as a reference to the whole heavenly host rather than simply to a big group of angels, which functions on his reading as a way for Luke to highlight the great significance of the birth of Jesus.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne


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