Old Testament Figures, New Testament Saints: How Luke evokes the Old Testament

by Eric D. Huntsman, from his book Good Tidings of Great Joy , 49

Luke’s Infancy Narrative evokes the Old Testament in many ways. On a stylistic level, in the Greek that Luke uses for these chapters he actually imitates the style of the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament.[1] Significantly, in harmony with his interest in women elsewhere in his text, Luke presents his characters in the Infancy Narrative in gender pairs, with a female character matching each central male figure.[2] Thus Zacharias is matched with Elisabeth, Joseph with Mary, and Simeon with Anna, thereby emphasizing that both men and women played a vital role in the coming forth of Jesus. These characters resonate with Old Testament prototypes, with Zacharias resonating with Abraham, Elisabeth with Sarah, and both with the parents of Samson. Mary echoes several prophetic women but especially Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Finally Simeon and Anna are prophetic figures reflecting characters such as Isaiah and Huldah.[3] Like Old Testament patriarchs, figures in the Infancy Narrative, such as Zacharias, are not always perfect, but they are nonetheless portrayed as righteous Israelites whose faith has prepared them for the roles they will play. Further, Luke’s New Testament saints are, in fact, prophets, moved upon by the Holy Ghost to bear witness of or praise God.

Although Luke is generally characterized as “a Greek writing for Greeks,” his Gospel nonetheless reveals a great familiarity with Jewish scripture and history. Indeed, scholars of Luke’s texts often see his Gospel as serving as a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament Church. In what is sometimes called a “Salvation History” approach, Luke seems to have viewed God’s interactions with his people as occurring in three distinct phases: first, he worked through his chosen people, Israel; next, he worked through the person of his Son, Jesus; finally, after the ascension of Jesus, he began to work through Christ’s Church. While the Gospel of Luke obviously represents the period of God’s working directly through his Son, as the bridge between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church, this Gospel actually contains all three phases in its text. The Infancy Narrative (Luke 1:1–2:52) overlaps with the earlier, Old Testament period, and the Gospel’s closing passage documenting Jesus’ final commission to his apostles and his ascension into heaven (Luke 24:44–53) anticipates the same stories in Luke’s Book of Acts, which chronicles the rise and growth of the New Testament Church.[4]

[1] I. Howard Marshall, Gospel of Luke (Eerdmans, 1978), 46–47, 51.

[2] Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part (Liturgical Press, 1996), 2–3, 55, 57.

[3] S. Kent Brown, Mary and Elisabeth (Covenant, 2002), 25–26;

[4] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 227–28.