Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Priestly Blessing

Contrary to academia, Luke does present Jesus as a priest. Augustine had noted the sacerdotal concerns of Luke but modern scholarship has not investigated this issue until recently. The most notable example is the Priestly Blessing conferred by the Lucan Jesus at the Ascension. Although Luke did not provide the words because he expects that Theophilus knows the words, he was probably alluding to Numbers 6:22-27 where we can read:

And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying: ‘Thus you shall pronounce the blessing on the community of Israel, saying to them:

“May Yahweh bless you and guard you. May Yahweh cause his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. May Yahweh raise his face to you, and establish peace for you.”’

And they will place my name on the community of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Luke relies upon the knowledge of Theophilus of the LXX.[i] In 11.20, Jesus uses the phrase, “the finger of God.”[ii] Luke mentions the division of Abijah and the daughters of Aaron and various other examples without any explanation of the priestly regulations of the Torah such as ritual impurity from contact with a corpse[iii], the healing of a leper and circumcision on the eighth day.

Protestants are familiar with the blessing because it was that troublesome monk from Germany, Martin Luther, who introduced these words into the liturgy of the Formula Missae in 1523.

One of the functions of the priests in the Old Testament was to bless the people in God’s name. The Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:22-26 is one of the few examples in the Hebrew Bible of a text intended for liturgical use in the Temple. The Scriptural benediction consists of three short verses, comprising of 15 Hebrew words in all, which was ordained to be recited only by the priests. This priest calls down divine favor on the community so that they may enjoy the benefits of Yahweh's patronage. It is Yahweh who bestows these powers of life and protection, not the priest. The priest acts as the mediator of grace; and this takes place in a liturgical setting.

Notable is the threefold repetition of ‘the Lord’ in the threefold blessing. It is the name by which God was known by his people Israel. This invocation of his name was the invocation of his person, of his power, of his love and peace. The final petition is for a constant awareness of the Lord’s presence. This final petition is thus appropriate at the Ascension because within a short period of time, the Holy Spirit becomes an important narrative character in the life of the community fulfilling this petition of the prayer.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] S. John Roth, The Blind, the Lame and the Poor: Character Types in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield, 1997), 84.

[ii] Woods, Edward J., The 'finger of God' and pneumatology in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield, 2001), takes 261 pages to explain as the Jewish meaning of “the finger of God” within Luke 11.14-26.

[iii] The Parable of the Good Samaritan.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great post! This is included in the Christian Carnival, up tomorrow at Diary of 1.

I love this blessing. When my first son was born 9 years ago, I made up a song, using the words of this priestly blessing, to sing over him day and night. I've been singing this over all my children since.

1:45 AM


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