Wednesday, December 21, 2005

 

How Old Was Simeon?

Luke 2:25-35 describes an encounter of baby Jesus, Mary, & Joseph with a man named Simeon. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Prompted by the Holy Spirit to go into the temple on the very day Jesus was brought for the purification ceremony, he saw and recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise. His prayer on that occasion indicated that his life's purpose was now complete and he could die peacefully in the knowledge that God's salvation (for both Jews and Gentiles) had come.

Every artist's rendition I have ever seen, from fancy portraits to sketches in Sunday School papers, shows Simeon to be an ancient man, supernaturally preserved well beyond the normal age of survival. His beard hangs long down his robe. He is stooped with the weight of extra years. He may even be in the book of world records as the oldest living man. You expect the undertaker to be following three steps behind him wherever he goes.

Yet, if we read with our eyes open, we notice that the Scripture does not give us even a hint of his age the the time of this encounter. A few verses later in Luke, we meet the prophetess Anna whose age is clearly documented. But Simeon might just as easily have been a young man. Does God always require a lengthy gap between promise and fulfillment? A young man could just as truly pray that his life is fulfilled in seeing Messiah, that he can now die happy. We only have speculation to go on. As far as the text tells us, he might have been young, he might have been old.

What we know is that his personal promise from God was fully kept. And that God used that encounter to edify Mary and Joseph for what lay ahead. And that God revealed more of the nature of this baby and his mission to us through the Word. Keep reading with open eyes.

Comments:
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But what about verse 29 of chapter 2? Looking at several translations, it would seem you could draw from the context he was an older man? Why else would he say "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;" (English Standard Version) It would seem to indicate he was ready to pass on, but in faith He held God to His promise to not let him die before he saw the Messiah. Just some thoughts I had as I prepare a sermon this weekend about Simeon... Thanks for the site!
your friend from the church plant to the north ^_^
 
drbobf,
I had commented on that verse in my article. Even a young man would be able to call his life fulfilled, having seen the Lord's promised Messiah. This prayer doesn't necessarily mean he was of a dying age otherwise. But, of course people die at all ages anyway.
 
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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
maybe it's his "now your servant can depart..." comment that adds age to our thinking...?
 
What was Luke's thought process in chapter 2 about age. Does he want us to perceive Jesus' coming as the culmination of the hopes of generations? Anna's age is explained in detail. Did he want to link Simeon and Anna as the old timers, but didn't know Simeon's age? Does he try to imply old age for Simeon without saying it? (Many have read old age into the words.) Who then would represent the younger generation? Or, was Simeon actually young but died soon after seeing Jesus, while the aged Anna lived on to talk about Jesus to others?
We can speculate. But I still don't think the text tells us Simeon was old.
 
Maybe Scripture's vagueness about Simeon's age is for the purpose of communicating that the Messiah is for the "every man." We are not told his age, his occupation, his financial or social standing, etc. In his song, Simeon mentions that salvation through Messiah has been prepared in the presence of all peoples. He also mentions that Messiah is a light of revelation for Gentiles and glory for Israel. Simeon, a real man, is actually representative of all humans. The Messiah is for the "every man." Just thoughts.
 
"Departing in peace" does not have to be an indication of his age. Every day Simeon came to the temple to see the presence of the Lord, a presence that was taken from the Temple at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. And, every day Simeon went home without seeing it; he went home disappointed. But, now, having seen the Lord, recognizing that in Jesus the presence of the Lord once again filled the Temple in the same way it did prior to the Babylonian Captivity, Simeon was able to leave at peace. We should in no way think that Simeon left that day, went home, and died. He was finally able to leave the Temple having seen that for which he looked for so long - and he left in peace.
 
Could the age of Simeon be significantly lower than we anticipate? Could it be chiastic? Zechariah was old. Mary was young. Simeon... young. Anna old. I do realize that this is far reaching; but since we are just guessing...
 
Could the age of Simeon be significantly lower than we anticipate? Could it be chiastic? Zechariah was old. Mary was young. Simeon... young. Anna old. I do realize that this is far reaching; but since we are just guessing...
 
Could the age of Simeon be significantly lower than we anticipate? Could it be chiastic? Zechariah was old. Mary was young. Simeon... young. Anna old. I do realize that this is far reaching; but since we are just guessing...
 
In Wikipedia we read:
According to a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Simeon had been one of the seventy-two translators of the Septuagint. As he hesitated over the translation of Isaiah 7:14 (LXX: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive..." Many modern scholars read "young woman" for "virgin" in the Hebrew), an angel appeared to him and told him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ born of a virgin. This would make him well over two hundred years old at the time of the meeting described in Luke, and therefore miraculously long-lived.[2]
 
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