Jesus and the Jewish Lectionary System

04 Sep
Year of the Lord's Favor

from Google Images

Luke sums up Jesus’ Galilean ministry with his coming into Galilee from the Jordan (see John 1:43; cf. 1:35-39 and Luke 4:1)[1] and teaching in the synagogues, concluding that all of what Jesus said and did was under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit. In doing this, Luke wasn’t saying that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit when he returned into Galilee in contrast to other times when he was not filled. Rather, Jesus was always filled with the Spirit in all of what he said or did, and Luke so concludes here in his summation of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:14-15).

Luke begins his account of what Jesus said and did (cf. Acts 1:1) with Jesus coming to his hometown of Nazareth and entering the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16). Many believe by the time of Jesus’ appearance in Nazareth’s synagogue, he had been living in Capernaum (cf. Luke 4:23). If this is so, in Luke 4 Jesus would be visiting Nazareth, whereupon he may have been asked to read from the Scriptures and teach from what was read. It also appears from what we find in Acts and Paul’s travels that traveling dignitaries would be asked to read and speak from the Scriptures (cf. Acts 13:15). Moreover, as we see in Acts 13:15 there appears to have been two readings made in the synagogue on any given Sabbath. One reading would be made from the Law and the other from the Prophets. Many scholars believe there are strong indications in the New Testament that these readings were part of a lectionary system practiced widely, if not universally, by the Jews of the 1st century AD. Notice:

After the appropriated prayers had been recited and the two scripture lessons read—one from the Pentateuch and the other from some place in the prophetic books bearing some resemblance to the subject of the Pentateuchal reading—an address was normally delivered by some suitable member of the congregation. [F.F. Bruce “The Book of Acts” page 267] – emphasis mine

Understanding this, namely that a lectionary system was probably in use at the time of Jesus’ public ministry, it becomes clear that Jesus did not choose his reading, but, rather, Isaiah 61:1-2a was to be read on that day by the reader chosen to do so. In fact, when Jesus stood up to read, the book of Isaiah was given to him (Luke 4:16-17). The text doesn’t say Jesus asked for a particular book. Rather, Isaiah was delivered to him, when Jesus stood up to read. Additionally, Luke tells us that Jesus found the place in the scroll. That is, the text had been marked off from the rest of the text for Jesus to read.[2] This implies that a scheduled reading for that particular day was in view. What can we understand from this?

Jesus read from the Prophets, so the reading from the Law had already taken place. Jesus’ reading from Isaiah and his exposition that followed had to also serve to explain the Scripture reading from the Law. Jesus concluded his reading by saying (he has been anointed) to “preach an acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). This reading points to the beginning of the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-10, 17) when the poor were given back their lands, slaves and servants were set free and every yoke was broken. This may have been the very Scripture read from the Law, which had taken place just prior to Jesus’ reading from Isaiah 61:1-2a.

The Jubilee year was sounded out on the 10th of the 7th month. If, indeed, this Scripture was scheduled to be read on the particular Sabbath when Jesus stood up to read in Nazareth (Luke 4:16), and the same Scripture was marked off in its place in the lectionary as part of the Jewish liturgical year, then Jesus’ reading took place in the 7th month, probably on the Feast of Trumpets, the first day of the seventh month[3] and the tenth day before the Jubilee year would begin. This was the annual Holy Day and the season commemorated the Jews wilderness experience when God tested them and they tempted God.[4]


[1] John left no room for a 40 day period to fall between Jesus’ baptism and his coming into Galilee. This means we must find another way to interpret Jesus’ 40 day wilderness temptation described in the Synoptics. For example, see my blog posts: “Led Into the Wilderness;” “The Three Temptations of Jesus;” and “Jesus’ Trials and the Wedding at Cana.”

[2] The word place (G5117 – topos) means, according to Thayer: “place, any portion or space marked off, as it were from surrounding space.”

[3] The first day of the 7th month is the anniversary of the rebuilding of the altar of sacrifice after the Jews returned from captivity (Ezra 3:1-3). It represents the reinstatement of the sacrificial system, and would mark the beginning of the 70 Weeks Prophecy counting to the Messiah. With this in mind Jesus announced the beginning of the 70th week of that prophecy by announcing the beginning and purpose of his ministry here in Nazareth.

[4] This also fits and supports my argument that Jesus’ temptations took place not in a desert but in the wilderness of people (Ezekiel 20:35) and see footnote #1 above.


Leave a comment

Posted by on September 4, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: