Before answering this question, we need to find out what this question actually means. To do this, I feel that we need to find out why the birth and infancy narratives are important. First of all, theses narratives can only be found in the Gospels written by Mathew and Luke. They do not feature in Mark and John’s accounts, or Paul’s letters to different people. Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s letters were written much earlier than the gospels in question.
This seems to suggest that the birth and infancy narratives are a late addition to the accounts. The evidence that we can find to support this, is by cross-referencing the first chapter in Luke, with the third one. In the latter, the chapter looks like the introduction to the orderly account promised in the prologue, found in the first chapter of the gospel. When looking at this Gospel, and particularly these narratives, I think that it is helpful to keep in mind the following Quote from Morna Hooker, which tells us the narratives ‘are the keys to the gospels’.
In the essay, I will also look to how we can understand Luke’s intentions, and to understand them, we need to understand the man that the author was. To help do this, it would be helpful to look at the author’s background and what the cultural setting of this particular gospel. During the time when it was written for example, most people would have thought that Jesus was a Galilean and was crucified. Luke thought that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the Messiah. Overall, this leaves us with the question; ‘Who was Jesus Christ and what is his importance to the reader?’
One of Luke’s main intentions, when writing this account, was to link Jesus’ life to Old Testament prophecies. Luke, when wanting to involve the continuity of Jesus with Judaism, shows that he wants to highlight the theological significance of the life of Jesus as embedded in a rich Old Testament background. The reason for doing this, was to get support from other people, as the Church was under persecution and this newly found faith needed more followers.
Therefore, Luke thought that if he showed that Christianity was following on from where Judaism finished, he could get more followers and it would not be as much of an isolated sect as it was when this gospel was written. The evidence for Luke writing like this, is mainly the style of writing that he chose. This is called Haggadah and is the style that many Old Testament writers used. This basically, features different things to get the point you are arguing for across. For example, many people in the Old Testament including things such as: angels, miraculous births and minor characters.
The first time we see Luke drawing on his rich Old Testament background, is when we are shown ‘Mary’s Magnificat’. This is very similar to the song that Hannah sings in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Luke’s use of minor characters in these narratives would also cause Jewish people to remember certain stories in the Old Testament. We can see this when Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were an elderly and pious Jewish couple, were blessed with children. This happens twice in the Old Testament, the first of these, in Genesis.
Abraham wife, Sarah had been barren but they were given a child, Isaac, which God had promised to them. The other story occurs in the first book of Samuel, where Hannah and her husband Elkana, finally have the child that God had promised. The other minor characters would have also reminded Jewish people of books in the Old Testament. Simeon’s ‘Nunc Dimittis’ for example, quotes Isaiah 49:6 which says that God has sent a ‘light to the Gentiles’ and is fulfilling his old promises. Anna backs up Simeon’s praise and is also a woman. This theme of involving women in his writings goes on throughout the gospel and also through his second book, Acts of the Apostles.
When Luke was writing his gospel, there was no specific of the term ‘Messiah’. There were two different types of messiah seen by different groups around this time, the first being priestly and the second being kingly. A priestly messiah is a saviour who takes on the role of priest. A kingly messiah is one that is omnipotent and takes the role of a supreme ruler.
One of Luke’s main intentions, when writing the gospel, was to link Jesus to the ‘Messiah’ prophesied about in the Old Testament. The first way he tries to do this, is when we are told that Jesus’ birthplace is Bethlehem. This fulfils the prophecy in Micah 5:2 which says, ‘for you, Bethlehem, will come a king for me … in Israel’. The second of his references that Luke makes, comes when he tells us that Jesus is a descendant of King David found in Luke 2:69 which reads ‘a strong deliverer from the house of his servant David’. This idea is backed up again in Luke, where he writes, ‘today is born to you in the city of David, the Messiah’. Luke then goes on to show Jesus as both a kingly and a priestly messiah. He does this to grab different audiences and hopes that by doing this, he has more support for Christianity.
The first time we are shown that Luke does this, is when are told of Jesus sitting at the ‘throne of David’. This obviously presents Jesus as a ruler and therefore as a kingly messiah. Not only has he done this, but also in writing the same line, he has referred back to the book of Isaiah. There is also evidence showing us that Luke presents Jesus as a priestly messiah. This can be found in Luke 1:76-77. These verses say, ‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the most high; for you will go on before the Lord and prepare his ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins’. From this quote, the later of the two verses is the most important as it shows Luke highlighting the most important aspect of Jesus Christ’s ministry, the fact that he can provide ‘the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins’.
Luke also used ‘Elijah Typology’ to get his points across. This time, he wanted to show as Jews expected the prophet Elijah to return the arrival of the long awaited messiah, he would use John the Baptist as an ‘Elijah figure’, to symbolise this. To make this clear to the Jewish audience reading the gospel, he had to relate back to the Old Testament. In 1:17, he does this by saying that John the Baptist was, ‘possessed by the spirit and power of Elijah’.
This refers to the book of Micah 4:5 which says, ‘I will send you prophet Elijah before the great and terrible of the Lord’. Jews generally thought that prophecy had ended by the first century but there was also an expectation that a prophet in the manner of Elijah, preaching repentance, would precede the Messiah. Luke also writes that John the Baptist will be ‘the Lord’s forerunner’ and the one to ‘prepare his way’. This refers to the book of Malachi 3:1, which says ‘I am about to send my messenger to clear a path before me’.
The point we need to establish, is who the reader was before we can answer the question. Luke, I feel, wanted everyone to be a recipient of Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry. He aimed his account at lots of different people. We know the book was for the Gentiles, because Luke, when describing Jesus’ birth, puts the date in perspective by using a Greek emperor, rather than King Herod, which Mathew uses. We also know that Luke was writing to the Jews, because he shows Jesus as a kingly and a priestly messiah by using different examples.
This is something aimed at a Jewish audience as only they would no of it. Not even all would no of this concept, however, as it was developed by a religious group, known as the Essenes. The main recipients of Jesus’ ministry were the outcasts of society, women, and the poorer people. This is shown in the birth story, as Angel Gabriel comes to visit Mary before Joseph and also, shepherds come to visit Jesus, whereas in the Gospel according to Mathew, wise and powerful men came to visit the baby born of a virgin.