Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 4 April 2014; Revised 10 January 2016
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the commentary title "The Account of Luke" because that is how Luke describes his book (1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Luke and his book.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Definitions of Greek words are from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009).
23 When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph. (NASB)
23 And himself, Yeshua, was beginning about thirty years, being a son as was supposed of Joseph. (mine, based on NA26)
And: Grk. kai, conj. See the note on verse 5 above. There is no "when" conjunction in this verse. himself: Grk. autos, masc. personal pronoun, nom. case. Normally the pronoun in the nominative case would be translated as "he," but the usage here (preceding Yeshua's name in the Greek text) appears to have an intensive focus for emphasis with its antecedent "beloved Son" in the previous verse and is therefore rendered as "himself." The redundancy of identification with the mention of age following may hint at the nearness in age with Yochanan who was born six months before Yeshua (Luke 1:36). Yeshua was: Grk. eimi, impf., to be. The imperfect tense is used to describe continuous action in past time and thus reinforces the indefinite meaning in the mention of age.
beginning: Grk. archō, pres. mid. part., may mean (1) to rule over something or someone; or (2) to begin or commence something. The middle voice denotes what one begins to do. Several versions have "began his ministry" (CEB, ESV, EXB, HCSB, NASB, NCV, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NOG, RSV, TLV and Wesley). The CJB, DRA and NLT have "began his public ministry." The ERV, HNV and MW have "began to teach." The CEV has "began to preach." The TEV and NRSV have "began his work," and the NIRV has "began his special work." The JUB and KJV are the only versions that render the verbal clause literally with, "began to be about thirty years of age." There is actually no word for "ministry," "preach," "teach" or "work" in the Greek text. The focus of "beginning" is his age, not his activity.
about: Grk. hōsei, adv., (1) may denote a comparison; as, as if, like; or (2) used with numbers and measures to mean, about or approximately. The adverb is used to describe the number of men at the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:14; John 6:10), the number who gathered on Pentecost (Acts 1:15), the number immersed after Peter's sermon (Acts 2:41), and the number of disciples who heard Paul's sermon (Acts 19:7). Edersheim says that in biblical usage the adverb before a numeral meant either a little more or a little less than the exact number (Midrash on Ruth 1:4) (fn 10, 183). Perhaps "not quite" would be a better translation, but certainly less than. If he had passed his thirtieth birthday there would be no need of the qualification. thirty: pl. of Grk. triakonta, the numerical value of thirty. years: pl. of Grk. etos, a time period of one year. Some versions add "of age" for completion of thought. The phrase is lit. "about years thirties."
Age thirty was significant in Jewish culture. Levites began their service at age 30 (Num 4:2-47). Working in the tabernacle and later the temple involved bearing burdens. These duties were so comprehensive and arduous that the possession of full physical faculties was required. Thus, the Sages regarded thirty as proverbial for the time of achieving koah, or full strength for one's vocation (Avot 5:21). Robertson says that the KJV presents an impossible translation. The exact phrasing of the Greek text is, "And himself was Yeshua beginning about years thirties." Robertson prefers the ERV addition of “to teach” to make sense of the participle "beginning." The same principle would apply to the use of "ministry" by other versions. Obviously Luke is saying that Yeshua was beginning something and it was connected with his age.
Generally overlooked is the fact that Luke makes this statement after the narrative of Yeshua's immersion (Luke 3:21), possibly February A.D. 27 (Santala 110), and before the temptation narrative (Luke 4:1), neither of which could qualify as "teaching" or "ministry." And, where should we mark the beginning of teaching or ministry? Yeshua did not begin his kingdom teaching until he went into Galilee after the arrest of Yochanan (Spring A.D. 28). Only the first few chapters of John's story tell of Yeshua's activities, teaching and miracles that occur before the commencement of his Galilean ministry.
Robertson, as the modern Bible versions, seems to reject a literal translation because of the cultural practice of counting a "birthday" on the anniversary of the date of birth. Instead, Luke could be stating Yeshua's age from the beginning of the year. In other words, Yeshua's first year began with his birth in September 3 B.C. (See the historical analysis of Barry Setterfield and my commentary on Luke 2). In February A.D. 27 Yeshua would have been in his 29th year. Thus, Luke was saying that Yeshua was about to begin his thirtieth year, which would occur in September A.D. 27. Robertson suggests that the adverb "about" could mean a few months to a year or more in advance.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah(1883). New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993. Also online.
Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951. (NICNT)
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997)
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