[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
Anna is the third of three witnesses to the birth and presentation of the Messiah (cf. Green 1997:150). She is presented by Luke as the female counterpart to Simeon (Green 1997:143). Anna is not mentioned by the other gospel writers, and serves to bring together several key Lukan themes. First is Luke’s emphasis on women being used by God. Luke refers to the ministry of women in a positive light more than any other New Testament writer. Second, by calling Anna a prophetess, Luke once again reveals that God is at work speaking to and through certain individuals.
Finally, Luke is trying to show the universality of the Messiah Jesus. In the first two chapters, Luke has written of a religious spiritual leader whose prayers are answered after years of service, an older woman who finally receives a child, a young unmarried woman who is surprised by a miracle from God, a working class man who must uproot and move to obey the government, a group of young men who are the first to see what God is doing in their country, a older man whose spiritual insight and understanding allows him to be the first to bless the Messiah, and now, an older woman, whose life of pain and loneliness is matched by her prayerfulness and love for God, gets to be the final witness that the Messiah has arrived (cf. Wright 2004:27).
2:36-37. Just as with Simeon, the account of Anna begins with a description of her characteristics. First, here name, Anna, comes from the Hebrew words for grace, Hannah and reminds the reader of the account of Hannah and her son, Samuel (1 Sam 1-2), which will play a part in 2:41-52. The grace of God clearly was upon her, for Luke reveals next that she was a prophetess. There are several women in the Bible who have this privilege and distinction; Miriam (Exod 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) and Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9) are examples of others. Anna’s work as a prophetess was to speak the Word of God, and share what she knew about Jesus with all who would listen to her. This is what the text says she did (v 38), according to the basic ministry task of all prophets in the Bible.
Third, Luke informs his readers that Anna was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. We are not sure who Phanuel was, but the tribe of Asher was one of the ten northern tribes of Israel carried off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Some call them the “Ten Lost Tribes” because unlike the two Southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, these northern tribes were unable to maintain their Hebrew distinctiveness and identity while in captivity, and never returned from exile the way the southern tribes did. But Scripture reveals here (and elsewhere; cf. 2 Chr 15:9; 30:11) that not all members of the ten northern tribes were carried off into captivity. There were many who had relocated to the south, into Judah.
There is some speculation that the reason Luke mentions that Anna is from the tribe of Asher is that women from Asher were known for their beauty, and as such, the only women fit to marry a High Priest or King of Israel (Edersheim 1988:200). While this seems chauvinistic, the terms Luke uses later to describe Anna seems to portray her as being married to God, in that she devotes all her time and energy to serving Him.
Fourth, Luke writes that Anna was of a great age. While it is also believed that Simeon was of great age, Luke gives specifics as to the age of Anna. However, what he writes is not as clear as it could be. Luke writes that she had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years. Does Luke mean that she had been a widow for eighty-four years? If so, and assuming she got married as young as 15, she would be 106 years old (15+7+84; cf. Bock 1996:94). The second option, that she was an eighty-four year old widow, would still have her being a widow for over 60 years (cf. Bock 1994:252). Either way, she had lived well beyond the normal life expectancy of a person at that time, which was about 44 years. God certainly gave her much grace in giving her a long life.
But her life was not spent in futile pursuits, nor filled with bitterness and anger at losing her husband after only seven years of marriage. A widow at that time would be nearly destitute unless there were extended family members who were willing and able to take care of her. Luke does not tell us how her physical needs were met, but he does tell us about how she relied night and day on the Lord.
The final descriptive element about Anna is that she did not depart from the temple. This probably doesn’t mean that she lived at the temple, or slept as a homeless person in its courtyards. Not even Priests lived in the temple. The High Priest alone had chambers there, but even he did not live there. Rather, Luke uses some hyperbole to say that she was at the temple as much as possible, with nearly every waking moment, at all the times of prayer (Lightfoot 1989:42). And what did she do there? Sheserved God with fastings and prayers night and day. In a sense, Anna had taken God as her husband. While most wives were at home, serving their husband and children night and day, giving them food and talking with them, Anna served God in the temple night and day, not eating any food (maybe she didn’t have much?), and talking with God in prayer (cf. 1 Tim 5:5).
2:38. As a woman of God who spent her life in prayer and fasting, she is the perfect person to be the third witness to the birth of Jesus the Messiah. She was coming in that instant, as Simeon was speaking to Joseph and Mary, and after seeing Jesus, and most likely hearing from Simeon that this was the one he had been waiting for, she gave thanks to the Lord. Like Simeon, she directs her thanksgiving and blessing toward God.
But Anna did not stop with thanking God for sending the Messiah, she also spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Like the shepherds, she told everyone what she had seen and heard, especially those who, like her, were looking for the Messiah to arrive. The term redemption in Jerusalem has a threefold meaning in this context. First, it recalls what Mary and Joseph were doing in Jerusalem in the first place. As was revealed in 2:22-27, they were there to redeem Jesus. As their firstborn son, they needed to “buy him back” from the Levites. So Anna’s message plays on this picture. She saw the Redeemer of Jerusalem being redeemed in Jerusalem.
This points secondly, to what Jesus will do for Jerusalem. Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel, stands for the nation (Bock 1994:253). So just as He Himself was redeemed, or “bought back,” He will buy back Jerusalem, or Israel. Though it had become enslaved both to corruption and foreign powers, the Messiah was expected to provide redemption and deliverance from such things. In this way, He would be like Moses, who delivered and redeemed Israel out of bondage to Egypt about 1500 years earlier. The idea of redemption, with it’s ties to the Tenth Plague and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, would recall all of these images and expectations to the mind of any Jewish reader. This point is supported by documents and coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD) which spoke of the “redemption of Israel” and the “freedom of Israel” from her enemies (Evans 2003:56).
Finally, since Jesus the Messiah would accomplish all this, He could be called the Redeemer of Jerusalem. He was the embodiment of Redemption in Jerusalem. And it was He that Anna proclaimed. These things she proclaimed are mirrored in the statements of Mary and Zacharias of Luke 1:46-55, 68-79.
2:39. He now writes that Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the the law of the Lord.The term law of the Lord is used interchangeably with law of Moses (cf. 2:22, 24) and refers to the law of God given through Moses. Luke is careful to show that Joseph and Mary were very observant Jews, and did everything required of them by the law.
He also reports that they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. Luke often signals a transition by the use of travel. This transition will bring Luke to write about a significant event in the life of Jesus when He was twelve. What Luke does not record, which we know from Mathew 2:13-23, is that before they returned to Nazareth, the wise men showed up in Bethlehem, where Joseph and Mary had probably been living and working for about two years. Joseph had probably just gotten his business back up and running again in Jerusalem. However, after the Wise Men came and left, Joseph was warned that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, and so they fled to Egypt. Since Herod died in 4 B.C., they were not in Egypt long before Joseph was told to go home (Pentecost 1981:71; Edersheim 1988:202-220). Only then did they return to Nazareth.
2:40. This verse might better be placed as an introduction to 2:39-52, but since it also serves as a conclusion to 2:1-38, it will be discussed here. Luke 2:40 is more than just a summary of the first twelve years of Jesus’ life. Luke completes his account of the birth of Jesus and the three Israelite witnesses who testified about Him with the using an inclusio which both points back to a similar statement at the beginning of this section (1:80). There, however, the statement was about John. However, the inclusio is not yet complete. Luke employs a rare three-part inclusio which concludes in 2:52. This shows that the text of 2:41-51 builds on all the expectations of Jesus that were announced in 2:1-39, and also reveals that since two of the three statements are about Jesus, He will surpass John. Chapter 3, however, begins talking about John. But this is going too far ahead.
Here, as with the parallel statement about John in 1:80, Luke records that Jesus grew, which refers to His age. But Jesus did not just grow physically, He also grew spiritually and mentally. Like John, Hebecame strong in spirit. This means that He learned to be filled, or controlled by the Holy Spirit, to rely on His leading and guidance. These are the two phrases with which Luke points us backward to 1:80. He now introduces two phrases which point the reader forward to 2:52 and the account in between.
The first is that Jesus was filled with wisdom. Wisdom is a distinctly Greek virtue (cf. 1 Cor 1:22), and yet all Jews knew that wisdom came only from God (cf. Prov 1-2; Jas 1:5). So nearly everybody in the Hellenistic-Jewish culture would desire wisdom. And furthermore, from the Jewish perspective, to befilled with wisdom is to know God’s will for your life (Bock 1994:254). Jesus, from a very young age, knew what God expected of Him. The account of 2:41-52 will prove this.
Alfred Edersheim provides a fascinating and detailed account of how the education of Jesus might have progressed (1988:221-234). He concludes by saying that from earliest childhood, the Scriptures “must have formed the meat and drink” of Jesus (Edersheim 1988:324). Here are a few of the details:
While the earliest teaching would, of necessity, come from the lips of the mother, it was the father who was ‘bound to teach his son.’ …Very early the child must have been taught what might be called his birthday-text – some verse of Scripture beginning, or ending with, or at least containing, the same letters of his Hebrew name. …The regular instruction commenced with the fifth of sixth year…when every child was sent to school (230).
The children were gathered in the Synagogues, or in School-houses, where at first they either stood, teacher and pupils alike, or else sat on the ground in a semicircle, facing the teacher… The principle was always the same, that in respect of accommodation there was no distinction between teacher and taught (231).
Up to ten years of age, the bible exclusively should be the text-book; from ten to fifteen, the Mishnah, or traditional law; after that age, the student should enter on those theological discussions which occupied time and attention in the higher Academics of the Rabbis. …The study of the Bible commenced with that of the Book of Leviticus. Thence it passed to the other parts fo the Pentateuch; then to the Prophets; and finally, to the Hagiographa. What now constitutes the Gemara or Talmud was taught in the Academics, to which access could not be gained till after the age of fifteen. …The teaching in school would, of course, be greatly aided by the services of the Synagogue, and the deeper influences of home life (232).
Secondly, Luke writes that the grace of God was upon Jesus. This is the first and only time grace is explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, but it has been hinted at in stronger and stronger ways all the way through the first two chapters of Luke. Zacharias doubts God, but is not struck down. Elizabeth conceives in her old age. Mary is blessed with being the virgin mother of the Messiah. Zacharias receives his voice back at the circumcision ceremony of his son. Lowly shepherds in the field are the first to witness the newborn Messiah. Simeon is allowed to live well past the normal life span just to bless the Messiah. Anna, whose name means “grace” is similarly allowed to see Jesus. But now, the grace of God is explicitly mentioned, and it is not said to be upon any of these other, though they did receive grace, but rather upon Jesus. It is He who is the embodiment of God’s grace.