Friday, January 15, 2010

Luke and Chronology

Some pastors I know say that, in the first chapter of Luke, Mary's song (the Magnificat) is the greeting that she spoke to Elizabeth when she arrived for her visit. They say that the Gospel message in that song is what caused the baby John to leap for joy in Elizabeth's womb.

Other pastors say "Poppycock. The Magnificat is recorded after Elizabeth told about her joy and her baby's joy at Mary's arrival." They say Mary sang the Magnificat after the incidents connected with Mary's arrival at Zachariah and Elizabeth's home.

Interestingly enough, the story from Luke 3 shows unequivocally that Luke does tell a story and then go back and fill in some details. The reading for the Baptism of Our Lord tells about John the Baptist's ministry and preaching and that he was shut up in prison by Herod. And then Luke goes back and tells about Jesus baptism ... which happened before John was thrown into prison.


  1. I don't know what Dr. Scaer would say specifically about the Magnificat, but he's the one who introduced me to the idea that the Gospels aren't (gasp!) always very concerned with exact chronological order. He did say that Luke seems more concerned than, say, Matthew - but they're writing a theology, too. He says Matthew especially ignores chronology in favor of writing a "catechetical gospel" that is more concerned with the teachings of Jesus then when Jesus taught what he taught.

    In any case, ever since those same pastors taught me that the Magnificat is that Gospel which caused the baby to leap for joy, I've never been able to read that section any other way. In fact, I think it's the only reading that truly makes sense. Otherwise, you have an image something like Mary entering the house and saying, "Hi, Elizabeth! I'm pregnant!" And then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and says something very similar to a "truncated Magnificat."

    Plus, I think Luke is very concerned about flow, and to put the Magnificat in right where he first mentions Mary's greeting would have severely interrupted the flow the story.

    In fact, since the pastor's talked about the Magnificat, I actually have wondered if when Zacharias' tongue was loosed and he spoke, praising God, if what he spoke that caused others to ask, "What kind of child will this be?" might have been the prophesy recorded right after that section.

    I don't know. It's just a thought.

  2. :-) I guess I didn't say that the same thing goes for the Benedictus. But yes, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel..." IS what Zechariah said when his tongue was loosed at the circumcision party.