Structure and Parallelism of Infancy Narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus


Luke presents his narrative in the framework of a well-defined structure. Chapters 1 – 2 of Luke are arranged in the form of a diptych, that is, like a double painting each of which is joined to the other in such a way that it can be kept open like two facing pages of a book. The episode of the visitation serves as a hinge joining the two pictures. The diptych is presented in two phases as shown below: – a) Diptych of the annunciation and b) Diptych of the births.

Diptych of the Annunciation (Lk 1: 5-56)

John the Baptist                                                        Jesus

Annunciation of John’s birth (Lk 1: 5-25)           Annunciation of Jesus’ birth (Lk 1: 26-38)
Introduction of the parents                                     Introduction of the parents
Angel’s appearance                                               Angel’s appearance
Zechariah’s perplexity                                           Mary’s perplexity
Annunciation proper                                              Annunciation proper
Zechariah’s question                                              Mary’s question
Sign given                                                              Sign given
Zechariah’s departure                                            Departure of the Angel

Complementary episode: the visitation
and the canticle: Magnificat (Lk 1: 39-56)


Diptych of the Births (Lk 1: 57 – 2: 52)

John the Baptist                                                                    Jesus

Birth of John (Lk 1: 57-58)                                      Birth of Jesus (Lk 2: 1-20)
Joy over John’s birth                                                Joy over Jesus’ birth
Reference to the canticle                                          Canticle of angels
Circumcision, naming & manifestation                 Circumcision, naming & manifestation
of John as prophet (Lk 1: 59-79)                              of Jesus as Saviour (Lk 2: 21-40)
Canticle: Benedictus                                                             Canticle: Nunc Domittis
Conclusion: growth of John                                      Conclusion growth of Jesus

Complementary episode: the finding
of Jesus in the temple (Lk 2: 41-52)

In Luke there is a parallelism of similarity as well as a contrast between John the Baptist and Jesus. The parallelism is not only to show that John the Baptist and Jesus are related in God’s plan, but much more to show that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s birth takes place in a natural way even though there is special divine intervention. Jesus is born in a miraculous manner: virginal conception. Jesus is greater than John the Baptist even in his conception. John the Baptist is the forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus is God’s Son from his conception. To manifest Jesus’ transcendence over John is the purpose of the parallelism and contrast.

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