Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

“IN THOSE DAYS”
SOME REMARKS ON THE USE OF “DAYS”
IN MATTHEW 2:1, 3:1, AND LUKE 2:1

Gerard Mussies


Introduction

In the Gospels one finds several Greek constructions that employ the term “day” or “days”

in reference to time or chronology. Three of these will be of special concern in this study:

Matt 2:


(“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of
Judea in the days of Herod the king …”—RSV).

Matt. 3:1:


(“In those days came John the
Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea …”—RSV).

Luke 2:1:


(“And it happened
in those days, that a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the
world should be registered”—RSV, modified).

Such usages have long been recognized for their interpretive difficulties, and have often been explained in terms of the Semitic background of the New Testament. In order to provide a broader context for understanding, we shall examine both the Semitic patterns of usage and their adaptation into Greek in the Septuagint, the New Testament, and other contemporary literature.

The most conspicuous semantic characteristic of the biblical Hebrew word “days” is the fact that it occurs in passages where one would rather expect to find other terms used—either comprehensive words indicating a specific collection of days, such as “week,” “month,” or “year,” or more general expressions such as “time” or “age.”

The use of “day” for “a day and a night” is not so different from modern usage. This is found at Gen 15:18 in “on that day”

which happens to be equivalent to what has been said in the preceding verse: “when the sun had set and darkness had come” (15:17). Consequently, “that day,” here signifies a day and the following night, or rather a night and the preceding day, which more or less equals our

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