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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Michael Wolter on the Meaning of κατάλυμα in Luke 2:7

Yesterday my facebook feed was abuzz with posts about where Jesus was born. In particular, Margaret Mowczko asked if Jesus was born in a barn, and Brice C. Jones (for me via Anthony Le Donne) summarized Stephen Carlson’s article on this topic. And these posts, of course, stand alongside older discussions on this topic by scholars such as John Byron, Ian Paul, and Mark Goodacre (NT Pod). And so, having followed all things semi-carefully from the beginning, this week’s post will look at what Michael Wolter has to say about this longstanding question.

As usual I will alternate between the English translation and the German text.

The Gospel According to Luke (p. 123): The meaning of κατάλυμα is unclear only if one merely asks about the reference (cf. the overview in R. E. Brown 1993, 400). If, by contrast, one asks about the functional meaning of this term in the present context in light of its usual contextual usage, then a clear answer emerges.

Das Lukasevangelium (p. 126): Die Bedeutung von κατάλυμα ist nur dann unklar, wenn mann lediglich nach der Referenz fragt (vgl. den Überblick bei Brown* 400). Fragt man hingegen von den literarischen Verwendungszusammenhängen her nach der funktionalen Bedeutung dieses Begriffs im vorliegenden Kontext, gibt es eine eindeutige Antwort:

The Gospel According to Luke (p. 123): Time and again κατάλυμα designates a place where one stays temporarily, i.e., when one is on a journey and not at home (cf. e.g., Exodus 4.24; 1 Samuel 1.18LXX; 2 Samuel 7.6 = 1 Chronicles 17.5; 1 Chronicles 28.18LXX; Jeremiah 14.8; 40.12LXX; Letter of Aristeas 181; Diodorus Siculus 36.13.2; Polybius 2.36.1; the denotation is different in every case, but the function is identical; see also LaVerdiere 1985, 552ff).

Das Lukasevangelium (p. 126): Mit κατάλυμα wird immer wieder ein Ort bezeichnet, an dem man sich vorübergehend aufhält, d.h. wenn man unterwegs und nicht zuhause ist (vgl. Ex 4,24; 1 Sam 1,18LXX; 2. Sam 7,6 = 1.Chr 17,5; 1Chr 28,13LXX; Jer 14,8; 40,12LXX; EpArist 181; Diodorus Siculus 36,13,2; Polybius 2,36,1; das Denotat ist in allen Fällen unterschiedlich, die Funktion jedoch identisch; s. auch LaVerdiere* 552ff).

For Wolter’s discussion of Luke’s placement of the Quirinius Census, see here.

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Matthias Konradt on Jesus as Son of God by Birth and Son of David by Adoption

In today’s post I will share another key quotation from this year’s BMSEC volume, namely Matthias Konradt‘s book Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew, which has been translated with great precision and elegance by Kathleen Ess. For my other posts on this book, see here

Since it is nearly Christmas, I have chosen a quotation from Konradt’s discussion of Matthew 1, and since it is rather long, I have decided to forgo my usual grammatical analysis. (For a related post on Romans 1.4, see Chris Tilling/Tom Wright here; cf. also Jens Schröter, From Jesus to the New Testament, p. 233, which compares Rom 1:3-4 and Acts 13.32-34, and Michael Wolter, The Gospel According to Luke, which develops a similar line of argument as Konradt in relation to Luke 1.32).

Israel, Church, and the Gentiles in the Gospel of Matthew (p. 28-29; trans. K. Ess): With the correlation of Jesus’ divine and Davidic heritage that comes to light here—Jesus is, so to speak, the Son of God by birth, and the Son of David by “adoption”—Matthew is to be distinguished from other such correlations found in early Christian texts. In the Jewish-Christian tradition behind Rom 1.3-4, Jesus’ double sonship appears to be fixed in a two-level Christology, in which Jesus’ earthly mission is linked with his status as the Son of David, while his status as the Son of God is connected with his exaltation in the resurrection. Similarly, in conjunction with a quotation from Ps 2.7, Acts 13.33-34 (cf. Acts 13.23) links Jesus the Son of David’s divine sonship with his resurrection. In Ps 2.7 itself, God accepts as his son the king who sits on the throne of David in the sense of an “adoption” procedure (cf. Ps 89.27-28; 2 Sam 7.14). In Matt 1, however, we see an inversion of this process: rather than Jesus the Son of David being adopted as the Son of God, Jesus the Son of God is adopted as the Son of David. The status as Son of God, which expresses Jesus’ unique proximity to and affinity with God, takes precedence and appears as the overarching identity of Jesus. This appears, at first glance, to confirm Kingsbury’s approach. But Matthew does not thereby seek to diminish the value of the status as Son of David. Matthew 1 does not intend to express that Jesus is the Son of God and not just a son of David. Rather, the emphasis here lies on the assertion that Jesus the Son of God is integrated into the history of God’s promises to Israel and first makes his appearance as the Son of David—that is, he first has to fulfill the task that is assigned to him as the messianic Son of David. In other words, with the motif of the Davidic sonship, the fulfillment of the promises of salvation given to Israel emerges already in Matt 1 as a principal aspect of Jesus’ mission. One fundamentally misses the point of Matthew’s conception if the significance of Jesus’ divine sonship is pitted against that of his Davidic sonship. Indeed, already in Matt 1, the two sonships are positively correlated, whereby Matthew, as we have seen, takes up and modifies the Old Testament and Early Jewish tradition. At the same time, the inversion of the process of adoption goes hand in hand with the fact that Jesus’ status as the Son of God encompasses other and more extensive aspects than his Davidic sonship. The second framing text (22.41-46), where Jesus’ two sonships are again made the central theme, suggests this very idea. On the other hand, we must remain mindful of the fact that both titles form one conceptual nexus: behind Jesus’ appearance as Son of David lies his dignity and majesty as the Son of God, and conversely, the earthly ministry of the Son of God is centrally defined by the task assigned to him as the Davidic Messiah.

Israel, Kirche und die Völker im Matthäusevangelium (p. 30): Mit der hier zutage tretenden Zuordnung von Gottes- und Davidssohnschaft Jesu—Jesus is sozusagen von Geburt an Sohn Gottes, während er zum Sohn Davids durch Adoption wird—unterscheidet sich Matthäus von anderen Zuordnungen, die in frühchristlichen Texten griefbar sind. So erscheinen Davids- und Gottessohnschaft Jesu in der Röm 1,3f zugrunde liegenden judenchristlichen Tradition in eine Zweistufenchristologie eingespannt, in der Jesu irdisches Wirken unter dem Vorzeichen seiner Davidssohnschaft steht, während seine Gottessohnschaft mit seiner Erhöhung bei der Auferstehung verbunden erscheint. Ähnlich verknüpft Apg 13,33f im Zusammenhang einer Zitation von Ps 2,7 die Gottessohnschaft des Davidssohns Jesu (vgl. Apg 13,23) mit dessen Auferweckung. Blickt man auf Ps 2,7 selbst, so geht es hier darum, dass Gott den König auf dem Throne Davids im Sinne eines Adoptionsvorgangs als seinen Sohn annimmt (cf. Ps 89, 27f; 2Sam 7,14). In Mt 1 liegt dagegen ein umgekehrter Vorgang vor: Nicht der Davidssohn Jesus wird als Gottesohn adoptiert, sondern der Gottessohn Jesus als Davidssohn. Die Gottessohnschaft, die Jesu einzigartige Nähe zu und Verbundenheit mit Gott zum Ausdruck bringt, geht voran und erscheint als übergreifende Identität Jesu. Dies scheint prima facie Kingsburys Ansatz zu bestätigen. Aber Matthäus sucht damit gerade nicht die Davidssohnschaft abzuwerten. Aussageintention von Mt 1 ist nicht, dass Jesus nicht bloß Daviddsohn, sondern Gottessohn ist. Der Ton liegt hier vielmehr darauf, dass der Gottessohn Jesus in die Verheißungsgeschichte Gottes mit Israel eingestellt wird und zunächst wesentlich als Davidssohn, d.h. in seiner ihm als Davidssohn zukommenden Aufgabe in Erscheinung tritt. Anders gesagt: Mit dem Motiv der Davidssohnschaft lässt schon Mt 1 die Erfüllung der Israel gegebenen Heilsverheißungen als zentrales Moment der Sendung Jesu hervortreten. Man verfehlt Matthäus’ Konzeption grundegend, wenn man die Bedeutung von Davids- und Gottessohnschaft gegeneinander ausspielt. Schon in Mt 1 sind sie vielmehr positiv einander zugeordnet, womit Matthäus, wie gesehen, alttestamentlich-frühjüdische Tradition modifiziert aufnimmt. Davon bleibt unbenommen, dass die Inversion des Adoptionsvorgang damit einhergeht, dass die Gottessohnschaft Jesu noch andere und weiterreichende Aspekte umfasst als die Davidsohnschaft. Der zweite ‘Rahmentext’ 22,41-46, in dem Davids- und Gottessohnschaft Jesu erneut gemeinsam thematisiert werden, deuten ebendies an. Umgekehrt ist aber eben nicht weniger zu beachten, dass beide Titel einen konzeptionellen Zusammenhang bilden: Hinter Jesu Auftreten als Davidsohn steht seine Würde als Gottessohn, und umgekehrt ist das irdische Wirken des Gottessohn zentral durch die ihm als davidischem Messias zukommende Aufgabe bestimmt.

Substantive analysis

I like three things about this quotation. First, I think Konradt convincingly points out that in Matthew Jesus the Son of God is “adopted” as Son of David rather than vice versa. Secondly, I think he effectively shows both the problem with pitting the two sonships against each other and the value of fleshing out the particular associations of each sonship. Finally, while giving proper attention to the distinctive aspects of each sonship, I think Konradt rightly stresses the fact that the two titles belong to one conceptual nexus, so that they must be held together and allowed to mutually inform each other.

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Michael Wolter on Luke’s Correct Placement of the Quirinius Census

As I press towards the completion of my translation of Christoph Markschies’ book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, I am already looking forward to starting my next translation project, namely Michael Wolter’s commentary The Gospel According to Luke. With this in mind, today’s key quotation will be excerpted from his comments on Luke 2:1-3.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις refers back not to 1.5 but takes up 1.80 and thereby dates the narrated event in the time of the growing up of the Baptist … Thus, the temporal distance between the events narrated in chapter 1 and the newly opened narrative collecting bowl remains unspecified…

2… This information  has the function of clearly distancing the following nexus of episodes chronologically from the time of the reign of Herod the Great. Between his death and the provincial census carried out under Quirinius lay a period of time of about 10 years in which Herod’s son Archelaus reigned as ethnarch over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea (cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.342; see also at 19.11-27). A contradiction to the relative chronology of the Lukan presentation does not thereby arise (see on v. 1). The longstanding debate over this problem … started, to this extent, from false presuppositions. There is admittedly an irreconcilable contradiction to the dating of the birth of Jesus in the time of the reign of Herod the Great by Matthew.

Das Lukasevangelium (pp. 121-122):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις bezieht sich nicht auf 1,5 zurück, sondern knüpft an 1,80 an und datiert damit das erzählte Geschehen in die Zeit des Heranwachsens des Täufers … Der zeitliche Abstand zwischen den in Kap. 1 erzählten Ereignissen und dem neu eröffneten erzählerischen Sammelbecken bleibt also unbestimmt…

2… Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu, den folgenden Episodenzusammenhang von der Zeit der Herrschaft Herodes’ d.Gr. chronologisch eindeutig zu distanzieren: Zwischen dessen Tod und dem unter Quirinius durchgeführten Provinzialzensus lag ein Zeitraum von ca. 10 Jahren, in dem der Herodessohn Archelaus als Ethnarch über Judäa, Samaria und Idumäa herrschte (vgl. Josephus, Ant. 17,342; s. Auch bei 19,11-27). Ein Widerspruch zur relativen Chronologie der lk Darstellung entsteht dadurch nicht (s. Zu V. 1). Die langjährige Debatte über diese Problematik … ging insofern von falschen Voraussetzungen aus. Einen unausgleichbaren Widerspruch gibt es freilich zur Datierung der Geburt Jesu in die Regierungszeit Herodes’ d.Gr. durch Matthäus.

Selective Grammatical Analysis

1. knüpft an (anknüpfen) is often challenging: here I chose “takes up”, but “links to” or “picks up on”, or “follows on from” would also work. damit is often best left untranslated, but I sometimes translate it as “thereby”, “here”, or even “thus”, depending on the context. I usually translate both Ereignis and Geschehen as “event” instead of translating Geschehen as “happening” or the like (but cf. Translator’s Notes 1: Eugene Boring [378n2]). Sammelbecken could be translated as “collecting bowl”, “collecting basin”, “collecting tank”, “reservoir”, etc. I wanted to retain the word “collecting” and felt that “bowl” provided the most helpful image. I initially translated as “unbestimmt” as “undetermined”, but then decided that “unspecified” conveyed the sense more clearly.

2 Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu [verb: zukommen] could be rendered more woodenly as “the function is given to this information of…” but I think “This information has the function” conveys the meaning more clearly.  Episodenzusammenhang: I often translate Zusammenhang with “context” or “connection”, but decided here to change my initial translation “connection of episodes” to “nexus of episodes”. zu distanzieren depends on Funktion (the function of distancing). I translated herrschte as “reigned”, though “ruled” would also have been possible. I chose to write Herod’s son Archelaus rather than the Herod son Archelaus, choosing readability over precision in this case. I often translate entstehen as “emerge” but “arise” seemed better here.  ging … aus [verb: ausgehen] can usually be rendered as started from. Insofern is often difficult: Depending on the context, I have adopted a range of solutions, such as “to this extent”, “in this respect”, “from this perspective”, “insofar”. I couldn’t find a way to capture the precise sense of unausgleichbaren/uncompensatable, so it seemed best to adopt the phrase “unreconciliable contradiction”, which seemed to capture the basic thrust. Gibt es [es gibt] can often be translated as “exist” but “there is” sometimes works better. The sense of “freilich” is sometimes best captured with “of course”, sometimes with “however” or “though”, and sometimes with “admittedly”.

Substantive Analysis:

For me at least, Wolter’s argument added a new option to a classic interpretative crux, so that I now see five possible options before me: 1) Luke dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great, which  stands in contradiction to the testimony of Josephus who correctly dates the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 2) Luke correctly placed the Quirinius census at the time of Archelaus, while previously placing Jesus birth during the reign of Herod the Great, so that there is a chronological contradiction within his Gospel, 3) Luke correctly dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great in contrast to Josephus’ incorrect dating of the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 4) This passage of Luke can be translated and interpreted in such a way that no contradiction emerges in relation to other ancient sources, including Josephus and Matthew, 5) Luke has correctly dated the Quirinius passage to the time of Archelaus (in agreement with Josephus), which does not result in a contradiction to Luke’s chronological statements elsewhere, though it does stand in contradiction to Matthew’s placement of Jesus’ birth in the time of Herod the Great. At present I think option 1 is the most convincing view, while regarding the arguments for 4) and 5) as worthy of continued study and debate. Perhaps options 2 and 3 should also be considered further, but from my present perspective they seem less likely.

Other Resources on the Quirinius Census

For Michael Wolter’s position, see further M. Wolter. “Erstmals unter Quirinius! Zum Verständnis von Lk 2,2.” Biblische Notizen 102 (2000), 35-41 and M. Wolter. “Wann wurde Maria schwanger?” Pages 405-422 in Von Jesus zum Christus. Christologische Studien. FS Paul Hoffman. BZNW 93. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998 (also published in Theologie und Ethos in Frühem Christentum. Tübingen: Mohr, 2009. here).

For an overview of some of the key texts from Josephus and Luke and various translations of Luke 2:1-3, see Bruce Fisk PDF.

For some of the many other discussions of this topic on the web (listed in alphabetical order), see Paul Barnett, Darrell BockJohn Byron )cf. here), Stephen C. CarlsonRichard Carrier, Jared Compton (cf. here), N. F. GierMark Goodacre (cf. here), Bill HeromanBrian LePortJames McGrath, Ian Paul, Jason Staples, Daniel B. WallaceWikipedia.

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