Last April 30, 2007, before I began my commentary on the Book of Micah, I posted these words. Today I delete the last paragraph of my previous posting and provide a new ending that better explains why Luke has no birth pangs.
Birth pangs and labor pains signal destruction in sight with new beginnings promised from the ruins of that destruction. According to the War Scroll the final age was to be preceded by a period of tribulation or "birth pangs [of the Messiah]" (1QH 3:7-10), which "shall be a time of salvation for the People of God ..." (1QM 1)(B.C.E.). This 1st statement is best illustrated by three verses from the fourth chapter of Micah where the Prophet states:
9: Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in travail?
10: Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.
11: Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, “Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
With respect to verses 9-11 in Micah, Stephen L. Cook, The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism, writes: “New life will come for the people only after they have suffered the fall of Jerusalem to their enemies.”
Beginning in the mid-first century, we see the first reference to birth pangs in one of Paul’s earliest letters. In 1 Th. 5:3 we read: “When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.” The emergence of false prophets appear to reflect the circumstances from the mid-fifties CE to the end of the Jewish War as described by Josephus. Both Matthew and Mark include “all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.” The calamities existing at the close of the present age and the beginning of the new age are said to present the birth-pangs of the new age.
The Greek word ἀρχὴ occupies the same role in Matthew and Mark as does the three instances of “now” in Micah. Cook writes: “Each passage begins with the word “now” followed by a vivid description of Jerusalem besieged by enemies. These descriptions of the contemporary suffering of Jerusalem, right “now,” use striking quotes and rhetorical questions, forcing Judah to realize that Jerusalem is vulnerable to defeat.”
But Luke has already announced the birth of the new age. Danker said: “All ceremonial requirement is shattered with this one piece of good news, for even unclean shepherds are welcomed in God’s presence.” I suspect that the title of Danker’s book, Jesus and the New Age, A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, explains why Luke does not include the birth-pangs. For Luke, the new age has already begun. “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”
Matthew and Mark, by rewriting Luke to include the birth pangs, have postponed the arrival of the new age the beginning of which Jesus had already announced. Matthew and Mark have demonstrated their utter lack of understanding of the good news. The followers of Jesus have already experienced new life. They do not have to witness the fall of Jerusalem to experience the beginning of the new age.
I am perplexed that I did not realize this earlier. I have been studying Micah hoping, inter alia, to understand why Luke did not include birth pangs when I could have looked in my own library to see the answer on the spine of the book I read nearly twenty years ago.
Gospel of Luke