Through the Bible: Anna’s Prophecy, Luke 2:36-39

We have been going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are at the end of Section II, which is taken from Luke 2:36-39. This is Anna’s prophecy, and I wanted to look at it in more detail:

Anna

Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, was also [in addition to Simon, who was mentioned in the previous passage] advanced in years. She dwelt with her husband seven years from her virginity, and she remained a widow about eighty-four years.

If we take this literally, then Anna was over 100 years old. The commentaries were divided on this, but I lean towards thinking that Luke was trying to say she was 84 years old. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, ch. 9, Polycarp says that he has been serving Jesus for 86 years, and most historians take this to mean that he was 86 years old. No one knows how or when Polycarp was converted, so we can’t use that to help interpret his statement. I suspect that Luke and the writer of Martyrdom of Polycarp were both trying to tell us the age of the person as they wrote their book.

There’s no way to know this, however.

All the commentaries do seem to agree that “lived with her husband seven years from her virginity” is just a long way of saying she was married for seven years then had not remarried.

Finally, the fact that she is called a prophet is significant. Orthodox Jews believe the age of prophecy ended with Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (Chabad.org, par. 4). It is apparent that the first-century Jews did not know about this because they were calling Simeon, Anna, and John the Bapist prophets.

An interesting side note to this is that Justin Martyr, in a discussion with a Jew in the middle of the second century (about 120 years after Jesus’ death), told him that the prophetic powers all rested in Jesus and ended prophecy among the Jews. He tells Trypho, the Jew to whom he was talking, “… this fact you plainly perceive” (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 87).

She did not leave the temple and served night and day with fasting and prayer. She also rose in that hour [that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in the temple] and thanked the Lord. She spoke of him with everyone who was expecting the deliverance of Jerusalem.

Again we see that the Jews were expecting the Messiah that they knew about from Psalm 2, the one who would rule the nations with an iron rod. Jesus will come back to fulfill Psalm 2, but until then we live in an age of mercy (2 Pet. 3:9). It is a time for God to bring the Gentiles under his rule in willful submission to the Gospel (Rom. 11). Once the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, then he will save Israel (Rom. 11:25-26).

When they had accomplished everything according to what is in the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to Nazareth their city.

The reference here is to the offerings they had to make when a child is born and to her offerings for cleanliness after birth. For a boy this would be 33 days (Lev. 12:4-5). We discussed this in the previous post.

At this point, Tatian moves from Luke back to Matthew, and the translators insert a section break. Let’s leave this post as a short one, and I’ll write up a post for tomorrow on section III and the Magi.

Up to now, there has typically been three days between these “through the Bible” posts. I hope to speed those up, but the Lord is the controller of circumstances. I have been dealing with a leak in the basement of my house in Memphis, which is rented out, and we have finally found it. I am going on vacation June 1, though I hope to be able to write these posts even then. If God will allow, I will try to put them up every other day once we get back.

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