Anna is one of the Bible’s most unusual women. Introduced at the end of the Birth Narrative (Luke 1:1-2:40), Anna concludes the sextet of named, pious Israelites surrounding the miraculous births of John and Jesus. The others are Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph and Simeon. Anna arrives at the purification of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:22-38). It is a scene repeated over and over in Israelite culture, for the law required a sacrifice of a lamb or two pigeons or two doves after a son’s birth (Leviticus 12:2-8).
Regarding Anna, Luke provides three terse verses that manage to vividly depict her as a woman deserving the honor bestowed on the elderly in the ancient Mediterranean world (v. 36-38). The appositive prophetess heads her description (Luke 2:36). In this she outranks Simeon, a man praised as righteous and devout (Luke 2:25) who may be a priest because he holds the baby Jesus. Anna is the New Testament’s only named female prophetess. Luke gives her father’s name, Phanuel, but not her husband’s. He mentions her tribe, Asher. As such, she numbers among the few New Testament characters with tribal listings. Others include Jesus, of the house and lineage of David and the tribe of Judah (Luke 2:4; Matthew 1:1-16), Saul of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) and Barnabas, a Levite (Acts 4:36).
Luke summarizes Anna’s encounter with the little family. Unlike Simeon, her direct speech is narrated—yet it is powerful. While Simeon speaks of the larger and later context of the child to the Gentiles and Israel (vv. 30-32), Anna evangelizes immediately and selectively—to those “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). She and Simeon join others in Luke’s gospel in recognizing this child’s great significance and wide import: the angel Gabriel (1:31-33), Elizabeth and John (in uterus) (1:42-45), Zechariah (1:76-79) and the Bethlehem shepherds who also evangelize (2:11-12, 20).
As a prophetess, Anna receives insight into things that normally remain hidden to ordinary people; she recognizes who this child is and tells of his significance to selected people in Jerusalem. Her actions affirm Amos 3:7: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plans to his servants the prophets.”