BEN: Talk to us a bit about the value of comparing texts which use a similar or same word to describe a divine activity. Here I’m thinking of the word translated ‘overshadow’ and you helpfully lay out various OT texts that talk about God’s living presence descending on the tabernacle and elsewhere, and the same sort of language is what Luke uses to says Mary will be overshadowed by God’s Spirit….. The same word can of course be used with differing nuances in different texts. Why in this case do you think it’s both helpful and insightful to read Luke’s use of the term in light of some of those OT examples? For instance, ‘overshadowed by God’s wings’ might suggest protection rather than empowering presence whereas in the tabernacle story it seems to mean the latter and in fact Moses needs protection from the descending glory cloud. How does all this help us read Luke correctly?
JACK: Words thrum with significance. Think of the word, magic. It conjures images of splashy Las Vegas show with lions and peroxide blonde men. Or it conjures images of childhood and the magic set with the little plastic devices. And it conjures a wonderful, memorable moment to be cherished: “That was pure magic.” Or, in my case, I can say that it conjures my marriage to a remarkably kind and intelligent and beautiful woman. It’s magic. Magical. Now those are separate meanings, but they are not divorced from one another. One meaning gives significance to the others. Because of visions of Las Vegas, I have a sense of how spectacular a more mundane moment can be. Because magic evokes childhood, the word suggests discovery and play, both aspects of a good marriage. These meanings overlap and, in overlapping, lend a significance to each other that individual scenarios do not have. The have a sort of capillary effect. Remember that? How liquid pushes up above the top in a narrow tube? Taken together, these meanings push beyond where any one of them would go. It’s magic!
In the same way, I would not want to slice and dice possible backgrounds in the Old Testament to New Testament words. Of course, some contexts make it possible to select one foreground, as opposed to others. But I am not sure the overshadowing of Mary requires that sort of selection. If I were forced to choose, I would certainly select the glory of God in the tabernacle. But I don’t have to choose! It’s magic!