In this chapter: the birth of Jesus; the shepherds see angels; Jesus is circumcised; he is presented at the temple; Simeon sings his brief song of praise; the family returns to Nazareth. The boy Jesus, during the feast of Passover, dialogues with religious scholars, and they marvel. His parents lost track of him and looked everywhere. He increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. See the table of parallels between Gen. 11-21 and Luke 1:5-2:52. Luke’s birth narrative does not come from paganism, but from Scripture.
As I say in every chapter:
This commentary and entire website is for everyone, but it is mainly for those in oppressed or developing countries, where Christians cannot afford or have access to wonderful Study Bibles or commentaries. I hope it helps them.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek really says. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
Links are provided for further study.
The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)
1 It happened in those days that a decree from Caesar Augustus was issued to register the whole world. 2 This registration was the first while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 Everyone came to be registered, each to his ancestral hometown. 4 Joseph went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the dynasty and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, who was betrothed to him. And she was pregnant. 6 It happened that while they were there, the days of her delivery were completed, 7 and she birthed her firstborn son and wrapped him snuggly in strips of cloth and laid him in a feeding trough because there was no room for them in the guestroom.
The birth narratives do not originate in pagan literature, but in Genesis. The next parallels between Gen. 11-21 and Luke 1:5-2:52 are amazing. Luke shaped his historical and true narrative according to the first book of the Bible.
|Genesis 11-21||Luke 1:5-2:52|
|1||Sarah was barren (11:30)||Elizabeth was barren (1:7)|
|2||Promise to make a great nation (12:2)||John will be great (1:15); Jesus will be great (1:32)|
|3||The Lord says he will bless Abram (12:2), and Melchizedek blesses him (14:19)||Elizabeth says to Mary she is blessed (1:41-45); Simeon calls Jesus blessed (2:25, 34)|
|4||Promises to Abraham (12:3; 15:5, 13-14, 18-21; 17:2, 4-8)||Promises to Abraham remembered by God (1:55, 73)|
|5||Lord to Abram: To his offspring he will give land (13:14-17; cf. 17:7; 18:18; 22:17)||Mary says God helped Israel according to promise he made to Abraham and his offspring (1:55); the oath he swore to Abraham (1:73)|
|6||Chronological and geo-political markers (14:1)||Chronological and geo-political markers (1:5)|
|7||Melchizedek to Abram: God Most High is blessed because he has delivered enemies into Abram’s hands (14:20; cf. 15:13-14; 22:17)||Gabriel says to Mary that Jesus will be called Son of the Most High and Most High will overshadow her (1:32, 35); Zechariah to John: child will called prophet of Most High (1:76); Zechariah says God has granted that they will be rescued from hands of enemies (1:74)|
|8||Lord to Abram: Don’t be afraid and God’s gracious act on his behalf (15:1)||Angel says to Zechariah not to be afraid and reminds him of God’s gracious act (1:13); Gabriel says to Mary not to be afraid and offers gracious act on her behalf (1:30)|
|9||Abram believed the Lord and reckoned it to him as righteousness (15:6; cf. 18:19; 26:5)||Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before God (1:6)|
|10||Sarai bore Abram no son (16:1)||Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless because she was barren (1:7)|
|11||Angel of Lord to Hagar: you have conceived in womb and will bear a son (16:11-12)||Angel to Mary: she will conceive a son in her womb and call him Jesus. He will be great (1:31-32); the point is not that Hagar = Mary, but the verbal similarities|
|12||The Lord appeared to Abram when he was ninety-nine (17:1)||Zechariah and Elizabeth were getting on in years, and an angel appeared to them (1:7, 11)|
|13||God to Abram: walk before me and be blameless (17:1)||Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before God, walking blameless (1:6)|
|14||God promises an everlasting covenant and to be an ancestor of a multitude of nations; kings will come from him (17:4-8; cf. 17:16)||Zechariah says of God that God has shown mercy and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath he swore to Abraham (1:72-73); “throne,” “kingdom,” (1:32-33); “our ancestor,” “Abraham” “forever” (1:55)|
|15||Circumcision is instituted for boys eight days old (17:12); Abraham circumcised his son when he was eight days old (21:4)||John was circumcised on eighth say (1:59); Jesus was circumcised on eighth day (2:31)|
|16||God says he will give Abraham a son by Sarah (17:6) and name him Isaac and he will have a future role (17:19)||Angel to Zechariah: Elizabeth will bear a son and name him John, and he will have a future role (1:13); Angel says to Mary: you will conceive a son and name him Jesus and he will have a future role (1:31-33)|
|17||God went up from Abraham (17:22)||The angel departed from Mary (1:38)|
|18||Abraham presents himself as a servant (18:3-5)||Mary presents herself as a servant (1:38, 48)|
|19||Abraham expresses doubt: can a child be born to a man at one hundred years old and a woman at ninety (17:17); Abraham and Sarah were advanced in years and will experience no pleasure (18:11-12)||Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in age (1:7; 1:18)|
|20||God to Abraham: Is anything impossible with God? (18:14)||Gabriel to Mary: Nothing will be impossible with God (1:37)|
|21||Abraham is a prophet (20:7)||Zechariah prophesies (1:67)|
|22||Sarah conceives and bear a son (21:2)||Elizabeth conceives and bears a son (1:24, 57)|
|23||Sarah: God has brought laughter to me; everyone who hears will laugh (21:6)||Elizabeth: God has taken away her disgrace; she and her neighbors hear about God’s mercy on her and rejoice with her (1:58)|
|24||Isaac: he grew and was weaned (21:8); Ishmael: God was with the boy who grew up and lived in the wilderness (21:20)||John: The child grew and became strong in spirit and lived in the wilderness (1:80); Jesus grew and became strong and God’s favor was with him (2:40; cf. 2:52)|
|Joel B. Green. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Eerdmans, 1997), pp. 53-55, strongly edited. Green quotes Scripture for each row; I summarized them, but keeping many verbal parallels.|
Let me post the same table of similarities between Matthew’s and Luke infancy narratives, which I posted in Luke 1.
Details in Common in the Infancy Narratives
|1||His birth is related to the reign of Herod (Luke 1:5; Matt. 2:1)|
|2||His father’s name is Joseph, and his mother’s name is Mary (Luke 1:26; Matt. 1:18)|
|3||Mary, mother to be, is a virgin betrothed to Joseph, but they do not yet live together (Luke 1:27, 34; 2:5; Matt. 1:18)|
|4||Jesus fulfills prophecies, whether by direct quotations or by OT patterns (Luke 1:31 and Is. 7:14; Luke 1:32 and Is. 9:6-7, 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Luke 1:37 and Gen. 18:14;
Matt. 1:23 and Is. 7:14, 8:8; Matt. 2:2 and Num. 24:17; Matt. 2:6 and Mic. 5:2; 2:11 and Is. 60:6; Matt. 2:15 and Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:18 and Jer. 31:15; 2:23 and Is. 11:1)
|5||Joseph is of the house of David (Luke 1:27; 2:4; Matt. 1:16, 20)|
|6||An angel from heaven announces the coming birth of Jesus (Luke 1:28-30; Matt. 1:20-21)|
|7||Angels in dreams and visitations direct the events and instruct Joseph and Mary (Luke 1:26-38; 2:13-14; Matt. 1:20-24; 2:13, 19)|
|8||Jesus is recognized himself to be a son of David (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18, 20)|
|9||His conception is to take place through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18, 20)|
|10||Joseph is not involved in the conception (Luke 1:34; Matt. 1:18-25)|
|11||The name “Jesus” is imposed by heaven prior to his birth (Luke 1:31; Matt. 1:21)|
|12||The angel identifies Jesus as “Savior” (Luke 2:11; Matt. 1:21)|
|13||Jesus is born after Mary and Joseph come to live together (Luke 2:4-7; Matt. 1:24-25)|
|14||Jesus is born at Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-7; Matt. 2:1)|
|15||New family has visitors: shepherds (Luke 2:15-20) and wisemen (Matt. 2:10-11)|
|16||Wise men visit the family in a house (Matt. 2:11), but shepherds see him in part of the house where animals were stabled (Luke 2:16)|
|17||Jesus settles, with Mary and Joseph, in Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 2:29, 51; Matt. 2:22-23)|
|Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ. The Gospel according to Luke, I-IX. Vol. 28. The Anchor Bible. (Doubleday, 1981), p. 307, modified; I added five rows.|
There are differences as well. But differences do not add up to contradictions. An account having information, while another account covering the same topic but does not have the same information, does not add up to a contradiction. A difference, yes, but not a contradiction, particularly when the differences can be possibly reconciled.
Information in one account + Silence in another account ≠ Contradiction
Information + Silence ≠ A Contradiction
Information + Silence = A Difference
Information + An omission = A Difference
A Difference ≠ A Contradiction (not always or necessarily)
Differences are guided by the purpose of the biblical authors. Or we may not know why an author omits or includes bits of information. Whatever the case, we should not get panicky about them or deny the truthfulness of the accounts. This mindset is too fussy and demanding, not recognizing the texts as they present themselves but unwisely imposing our modern concerns on them.
If those equations help, then good. If not, move on.
Caesar Augustus was born Gaius Octavius (Octavian) (ruled 31 BC to AD 14). He changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar after Caesar’s death. He was known as Octavian, until he was granted the title Augustus in 27 B.C.
Bock on 2:1: “Luke portrays Augustus as the unknowing agent of God, whose decree leads to the fulfillment of the promised rise of a special ruler from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:1-2). In the period of the emperor known for his reign of peace, God raises up the child of peace. For many interpreters, Luke is not only placing Jesus’ birth in the context of world history, but he also is making a play on the theme of the peaceful emperor … The real emperor of peace is Jesus, not Octavian. But in the absence of Lucan comment about Augustus, the point, if present, is subtle” (p. 203).
Green: “The explicit naming of Caesar Augustus in 2:1 is also of interest, for this refers to Octavian, recognized in antiquity as ‘the savior who has brought peace to the world.’ That in this very context Jesus is presented as Savior Lord, the one through whom peace comes to the world (2:11, 14), can hardly be accidental” (p. 58).
Does the governorship of Quirinius pose any insurmountable historical problems for Luke’s account? Does this period of the registration for tax purposes pose any insurmountable historical problem? In other words, was Luke wrong or creating a literary fiction about a census under Governor Quirinius?
Here are the solutions to the census dispute. (1) Three censuses took place at this time, and smaller ones in Syria, Gaul and Spain, and others were likely required, one for Israel, which went unrecorded. Luke’s description of a census for the whole world merely reflects the ongoing census-taking. (2a) Census could be done following local customs. Joseph needs to go to his ancestral hometown because the Romans were eager to keep the peace and allowed local customs to prevail. Genealogies and lineages were important to the Jews, and the Romans would allow the registration to proceed along those lines. (2b) Is Luke mistaken in saying Mary went with Joseph, though the census may not have required this? Mary went along because Joseph did not want to miss the birth, and betrothal was much more covenantal than our simple engagement. (See vv. 3-4 for more comments.) (3) Herod’s power and authority were great at this time, so that he minted coins bearing his image, but this would not impede the emperor’s from registering his citizens. Would Herod allow a census on his turf? He could not prevent it. Why antagonize Rome? Hence these large and small censuses were possible. (4) It is true that Josephus mentions a revolt against a census and taxation in AD 6, which is too late for the chronology here, but not every census ignited a revolt, so it is possible that the one Joseph registered for went off without incident. (5a) Quirinius was governor twice: one from 11/10 BC to 8/7 BC, as well as in the later period, when he took the census in AD6. But this is speculative. (5b) Quirinius was a legate between Varus and Gaius Caesar in 4 BC to 1 AD, but the problem is that the census during this gap is too late for Herod’s death. (5c) A census was taken under Varus in the gap 4 BC to 1 AD, and it was said to be Quirinius’ census because their administration overlapped, since census take time to complete. (5d) Quirinius was merely an administrator and not officially a governor until later, but since it takes time to compete a census, and during this time Quirinius became governor. (5e) I omit this explanation; (5f) The problem is overcome by translating “first” as “before,” which Garland accepts (see v. 2).
Behind such acts there will have been an edict from the emperor, used by the governor to justify his action to the people (Sherwin-White, 168f.), or the governor’s edict may have been popularly regarded as stemming from the emperor himself (H. Braunert, 201f.). In any case, Luke’s statement can be regarded as a sufficiently accurate description of the emperor’s intention that the whole empire should pay taxes. Schürer, History, I, 411, admits that in the time of Augustus censuses were held in many provinces, and Sherwin-White, 168, affirms more strongly that ‘a census or taxation-assessment of the whole provincial empire (excluding client kingdoms) was certainly accomplished for the first time in history under Augustus’. (comment on v. 1)
Bottom line: Luke is not in error because he writes this is the first census under Governor Quirinius, which implies that he has knowledge that we do not have. Luke is not erroneously referring to the census in AD 6 really happened after Herod died in about 6 BC.
Bottom line: there is no error or literary fiction here.
Bock pp. 903-09.
Garland says the commanded tax does not refer to one tax, but was simply part of a coordinated, empire-wide policy of Augustus to exert control.
However, consider this. If throughout the entire Bible there were some historical data points that did not hit the bullseye, but were still on the target, it would be foolish to throw out the entire Bible, as some uptight pastors and teachers demand. “If the Bible were to be wrong in one historical detail, then we cannot trust it about God and theology and our faith and practice!” That’s an overreaction. The Bible is not brittle, and nor should your faith be. We could still learn wonderful truths from the Bible about God and his redemptive plan of salvation in Christ and how we can live our lives. The American church of the more restrictive variety needs to relax a lot more.
My view of Scripture: It’s very high, but I don’t believe in “total inerrancy” or “hyper-inerrancy”:
Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels. Start with the Conclusion which has quick summaries and links back to the other parts:
The Gospels have a massive number of agreements in their storylines:
Celebrate them and don’t get distracted by the differences.
See this part in the series that puts differences in perspective (a difference ≠ a contradiction):
Garland argues convincingly that the word “first” in Greek should really be translated as “before,” and cites John 1:15, 30 as his other examples: “first” followed genitive absolutes, as we have here in v. 2. “This translation fits historically because “Quirinius was not the first that the Jews had undergone. Herod, whose charge as a client king of Rome was to Romanize his territory, had a well-organized system of taxation and … he needed to, and did, exercise social control over his people” (Garland, comment on 2:2, and citing Brook W. R. Pearson). Luke is simply recording a significant political event, not marking time by a calendar or a clock on the wall. A tax revolt had happened in Galilee earlier, and Jesus will be known as a Galilean. The census issued by proud, formidable Caesar will contrast God’s eternal reign, now embodied in his Son. He will reverse the order, eventually, but not by violence, but by obedience to God’s Son (Garland, pp. 118-19).
As noted under v. 1, the Romans probably allowed the Jews to register based on genealogical concerns.
Bethlehem is David’s birthplace (1 Sam. 17:12; 20:6; Ruth 1:2; 2 Sam. 7:8-16). It is about five miles (eight km) south of Jerusalem, the birthplace of King David. Mic. 5:2 says that the future king of Israel would come from Bethlehem: “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come from me one who will be ruler of Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2, NIV).
Some scholars say that because there is a Bethlehem of Galilee, so it is more likely that Jesus was born there. However, the text clearly says the Bethlehem where Jesus was born was in Judea (Matt. 2:1). Here in v. 4 says that Joseph and Mary traveled down to Judea and to his family town of Bethlehem because Joseph was of the lineage of David. I follow the biblical text.
Prophecies must be fulfilled. This is one area of the Old Testament that can be studied with great spiritual benefit and blessing. Jews of this time and before were concerned with Bible prophecies, and it is amazing how exactly the Messiah fulfilled, is fulfilling, and will fulfill them. Bible prophecies can be an ongoing process.
The above link has a large table of quotations between the OT and NY, but OT prophecy can also be fulfilled by bigger types and shadows. Jesus fulfills the whole temple ritual sacrifices, for example. He fulfills the entire law and replaces the Sinai covenant.
Why was Mary with Joseph? The Greek verb for betrothed could mean “unconsummated,” implying they were married, but had not had marital relations. So she was required to go with him. Or recall that betrothal was much stronger than our modern engagement, so she went with him in her covenant to him. Liefeld and Pao have the simplest (and best) observation: “It is possible that he used the emperor’s order as a means of removing Mary from possible gossip and emotional stress in her own village. He had already accepted her as his wife (Mt 1:24), but apparently they continued in betrothal (v. 5, ‘pledged to be married’) till after the birth.” Then they write about her previous trip to Elizabeth’s house: “Since she had stayed three months with Elizabeth, Mary was at least three months pregnant. It is possible that they went down during her last trimester of pregnancy, when the social relationships in Nazareth would have grown more difficult. They may have stayed in a crowded room in the home some poor relative till the birth of the baby necessitated their vacating it for privacy and more space. And such reconstruction is, however, merely speculative” (comments on vv. 4-5).
“and she was pregnant”: as noted under v. 1, Mary was either betrothed to Joseph (most likely) or married to him after pregnancy (less likely). Either way, the relationship was not consummated. So how would Joseph’s family in Bethlehem respond to Mary’s pregnancy? Did they know they were only betrothed, or did they believe they were married? If they believed the couple were only betrothed, does this explain why there was no room for them? The Greek noun for the standard “inn” could be translated as “guestroom” in the family home. Would his relatives shut their doors to them because of public shame? Unknown, but it is a possibility.
For a deeper theological discussion on how God could dwell in a baby, look for Luke 1:35 and the notes there.
Why would Mary travel while pregnant? Apparently, people back then were not as concerned about such sensitivities. They were tough. And they may have left early and planned to stay until the birth.
People who push for a fall date for the birth point out that the outdoor scene with the shepherd does not indicate a hard winter (see 2:8-18). They usually belong to the Hebrew Roots Movement and insist that his birth match up with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Perhaps they are right. They cannot be contradicted, but neither can their view be confirmed. But one thing is certain: no one should imagine a blizzard in first-century Israel, so the absence of a hard winter is no proof. If anyone has visited Southern California in the winter, it is often the case that no one has to wear jackets or come in from snowfall! Israel’s weather is very much like that. But if people insist on a fall date, I won’t quarrel with them.
“Peasant home normally consisted of two rooms, with one used exclusively for guests (see Matt. 5:15, where the lamp of the lampstand gives light in all the house; cf. also Luke 15:8)” … The family “cooked, ate, slept, and lived’ in the main room, and any animals were also brought in for the night and kept at the lower level of the living room, where the feeding trough would be” (Garland, comments on 2:6-7).
“The couple stayed in the animal quarters of the home of a relative or acquaintance because someone who ‘outranked’ them occupied the upper room in an overcrowded home” (Garland, comment on 2:6-7).
“firstborn”: So why would Luke use this term? Is it theological or just about birth? Here are some options. First, it indicates that Mary had other children who were born after Jesus (Matt. 12:46-47; Luke 8:19-20). Second, Luke 2:23 says every firstborn son must be presented in the temple, so v. 7 anticipates this. Third, Catholics says it means “only begotten or born,” so they reason that Jesus’s brothers and sisters were his step-siblings from Joseph’s previous marriage (he was a widower). Fourth, as the firstborn, Jesus can inherit the Davidic throne. Fifth, Jesus could inherit his father’s goods, though it is easy to imagine that he passed them on to his brothers before his public ministry (Bock, ibid., p. 207). All of them are correct at the same time, except the only born (the third), in my opinion.
“feeding trough”: the fancier translation is “manger” (compare French word manger, which means “to eat”). But it was a simple feeding trough. No doubt Mary spruced it up a little bit, so she could put the baby there.
“guestroom”: as noted, this word could be translated as “inn” or “public shelter” or the “guestroom” of someone’s house, specifically Joseph’s family’s home in the area. It is odd that there was no vacant room for a pregnant woman. Apparently, Joseph’s other family members got there first or the families at Bethlehem shut the doors to them because of her ‘ambiguous’ pregnancy (see v. 5 and Garland’s comments on 2:6-7). In any case, a public inn is probably not in view here, but a guestroom.
Where was Jesus born? It was a place for animals below a house, which could be turned into a guestroom, probably in his family’s house. A basilica was erected over a cave under Constantine (ruled 306-39), where the church of the Nativity now stands. But a cave is probably not what is happening here.
GrowApp for Luke 2:1-7
A.. Jesus had a very humble birthplace. His mother’s pregnancy was ‘ambiguous.’ Did you have humble origins? How has God lifted you out of them? Study 2 Cor. 5:17 and Phil. 3:13.
The Shepherd, the Angels, and His Circumcision (Luke 2:8-21)
8 Shepherds were in the field where they were living outdoors and watching over their flock at night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. They were very afraid. 10 And the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! For look! I announce to you the good news of great joy, which shall be for all the people, 11 because today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the town of David. 12 And this is a sign for you: you shall find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest!
And upon earth peace among people with whom he is well pleased.”
15 And it happened that the angels departed from them into heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go all the way to Bethlehem and see this word which has happened, which the Lord made known to us.” 16 They hurried off and discovered Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. 17 And looking, they understood the word which was spoken to them about this child. 18 And everyone who heard marveled at what was spoken to them by the shepherds. 19 And Mary treasured and pondered these words in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for everything they heard and saw, just as it was spoken to them.
21 And when the eight days were completed to circumcise him, his name was called Jesus, the name called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Let’s begin Luke 2 with a great excerpt from commentator David L. Turner and the seeming contradiction coming from the differences between Matthew and Luke, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. Turner says that there is no contradiction between Matthew’s and Luke’s view of Galilee (Nazareth is located up north, in Galilee). He writes:
Many have noticed the difference between Matthew and Luke regarding Galilee. According to Luke 1:26-27; 2:1-7, Mary and Joseph originally lived in Nazareth. Although one would not gather this from Matthew, nothing said by Matthew contradicts it. Matthew simply picks up the story after Joseph and Mary have arrived in Bethlehem to register for Augustus’s census. Another difference is the sojourn in Egypt., mentioned by Matthew but not by Luke. Still, Luke’s account does nothing to contradict Matthew’s Egyptian visit, which may be fitted into Luke 2 at some time prior to the return to Nazareth, described in Luke 2:39. Evidently, the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:21-38; cf. Lev. 12:2-8) should be viewed as historical background for the arrival of the magi some time later. Popular messianic speculation would likely be stirred by both events. At any rate, both of these difficulties are examples of the selectivity of the Gospel authors in omitting material that does not fit their individual literary and theological interests. (Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Baker Academic, 2008]. p. 98, his comment on Matt. 2:22).
Blomberg, in his commentary Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992), agrees:
Many commentators find a contradiction in these verses with Luke because Matthew seems to know nothing of Mary’s and Joseph’s original residence in Nazareth. But Matthew narrates only that which is relevant to his fulfillment quotations. He certainly says nothing that would exclude a previous residence in Galilee. Probably Mary and Joseph had intended to resettle in Bethlehem in their ancestral homeland and now have to change their plans and go north once again. Joseph has yet another dream, and as in v. 12 it is a warning. The angel does not explicitly appear, though his presence may be presupposed. (comment on Matt. 2:21-23)
So don’t let critics of Scripture tear down your faith in the reliability of the Gospels. Begin a series on the reliability of the Gospels, by reading the conclusion with short summaries and links back to each part:
That post has a summary of each part and links to to them.
Scholars say that from the Greek wording here the shepherds guarded their flock in shifts. It makes sense just on a human level. No one can stay awake all day and all night.
It is a bit surprising that the word “flock” is singular, as if there were one flock. Maybe it was huge and needed several shepherds to watch it. I would have thought that they all had their various flocks but got together in one place, in a “shepherd rendezvous spot” (so to speak). But one flock it was.
But it goes deeper. The angels who are about to appear came from heaven. The shepherds were groundlings who lived out of doors. The distance could not be greater, but God ordained that the first announcement about the birth of the Messiah would come to these lowly earthlings. Shepherds did not have the highest status in first-century Israel, certainly not for the religious leaders. So it is an act of grace and love that God sent his angel and then his heavenly army to them, to announce the good news and then sing a choir song.
“angel”: an angel, both in Hebrew and Greek, is really a messenger. Angels are created beings, while Jesus was the one who created all things, including angels (John 1:1-4). Renewalists believe that angels appear to people in their dreams or in person. It is God’s ongoing ministry through them to us.
Here is a multi-part study of angels in the area of systematic theology, but first, here is a summary list of the basics:
(a) Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);
(b) Are created spirit beings;
(c) Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);
(d) Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).
(e) Have moral judgment;
(f) Have a certain measure of free will;
(g) Have high intelligence;
(h) Do not have physical bodies;
(i) But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;
(j) They can show the emotion of joy.
“the glory of the Lord”: God’s glory is connected to the shining light of heaven. It is stunning that he shares it with us. Here we have a glimpse of what God’s Son, now lying in the feeding trough, gave up when he obeyed his Father, to become a man. He did not lay aside his divine attributes, but he did give up the glory and status of heaven, just for us. Yes, he was still God in the flesh, even as a baby, but his full deity was hidden behind his humanity. The glory of the Lord was associated with the tabernacle and the later temple: 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chr. 5:7; Ps. 63:2). “Surprisingly, that glory does not appear in the temple in nearby Jerusalem. Nor does it shine around the manger and the newborn child. Instead, it appears in an open field to lowly shepherds faithfully keeping watch over their sheep.” (Garland, comments on 2:8-9).
My comment that says he did not lay aside or lose his divine attributes was looked at in Luke 1:35. Please go there and look for the discussion.
Also go here:
“they were very afraid”: the Greek reads, “They feared a great fear.” The doubling up of words amplifies its meaning and force.
Let’s become a little more definite. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the verb as follows: (1) “to be in an apprehensive state, be afraid”; people can become “frightened.” “Fear something or someone.” (2) “to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect”; a person like God or a leader can command respect.
The Shorter Lexicon says adds nuances (1) “be afraid … become frightened … “fear something or someone” (2) “fear in the sense of reverence, respect.”
Either the first or second definitions work here, but I prefer the second ones. There is nothing wrong with have a reverential fear of God or his angels or his manifest glory.
The angel had to tell them not to be afraid, just as Gabriel had to do with Zechariah (1:13) and Mary (1:30). See v. 9 for more comments on afraid.
Some Renewalists see angels, but I rarely hear the people talk about the fear that is produced in their souls. Something is off in their stories.
For more comments please see vv. 8-9.
“look!”: it is an updated translation of the older “behold!” It could be translated as “Look!” It is the storyteller’s art to draw attention to the people and action that follows. “As you, my audience, sit and listen to me read this Gospel, listen up! Look! The atmosphere is charged with the miraculous and heaven touching the earth. It is joyful and serious and awe-inspiring.” Professional grammarians say that when “look!” introduces a character, then he or she will play a major role in the pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section. Alternatively, when a verb follows “look!” then a significant act is about to take place and the person or people are less significant, which is the case here—the birth of Jesus is more significant than the shepherd. (Culy, Parsons, Stigall, p. 21).
“announce … the good news of great joy”: “announces … good news”: as noted in previous verses in Luke, the phrase is one verb in Greek: euangelizō (pronounced eu-ahn-geh-lee-zoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Eu– means “good,” and angel means “announcement” or “news”; and izō is the verb form. (Greek adds the suffix -iz- and changes the noun to the verb and we do too, as in “modern” to “modernize”). Awkwardly but literally it means “good-news-ize,” as in “Let’s ‘good-news-ize’ them!” But here the angel announces the good news of great joy. There is something awesomely joyous about the birth of the Son of God. All angels celebrate when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). Let’s not assume that heaven is always so serious. They know how to celebrate—and do celebrate.
“for all the people”: this is the Jewish people. By the time the Gospel, ends, however, the birth and the message will go to the whole world, even Gentiles (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8 Acts 10).
In Greek the first word in this sentence is “was born,” indicating that his birth is the central element to this story.
One of Jesus’s many titles is Savior. Titles are derived from what a person does. Jesus’s name in Hebrew means “the Lord saves.” Perfect name. This meaning is spelled out clearly in Matt. 1:21-23. To identify the Savior more clearly, the angel calls him “Christ the Lord.” God himself sent the angel with that message of clarity. God himself called him that name for the first time on earth, to signal his role and his essence. He is the Messiah and he is Lord, no less.
“was born for you”: Jesus’s birth is personal, not just for the whole people; he was born for the lowly shepherds too.
“In the town of David”: This has Messianic overtones, as noted in v. 4.
Mary wrapped Jesus in strips of cloth and laid him in the feeding trough. The scene makes one smile. The Darling of Heaven went through a lot to offer us redemption. See v. 7 for more comments. He will be wrapped in linen at his burial
“suddenly”: It is the Greek adverb exaiphnēs (pronounced ex-eyef-nayss), and it is used only five times in the NT; once in Mark 13:26; here; Luke 9:39; Acts 9:3; 22:6. It appears Luke liked it, when needed. It appears first in this sentence, for emphasis.
“angel”: the multitude appeared with the announcing angel. See vv. 8-9 for more comments.
There was a heavenly army: stratia (pronounced strah-tee-ah), and our word strategy is related to it. In the older translations it is “hosts,” as in “the Lord of hosts” (Pss. 103:21; 148:2), but that is too vague for modern readers, and it does not correspond to the Greek very precisely. It is an army.
Pss. 103:21 and 148:2 exhort the heavenly armies to praise the Lord, and they are doing the same thing here. Since that is their ministry or mission, we mere humans should have the same one.
“Glory to God in the highest”: God lives in the highest realm, his heavenly world (v. 15), which is just another dimension, not another planet.
Without a doubt and no humor intended, their music must have been in perfect pitch. It is wonderful to think about angels singing in heaven right now. We get a glimpse of other songs in Rev 4-5. And now we know some of their exact lyrics. In the past worship leaders have taken up the challenge to write their songs based on them. What about today?
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural (as here) some interpreters say that it means “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except in some cases). In the singular it can mean “person.” So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say.
Verse 25, which refers to one man, Simeon, is in the singular. In the plural, it is originally more inclusive.
“peace”: it speaks of more than just the absence of war. It can mean prosperity and well-being. It can mean peace in your heart and peace with your neighbor. Best of all, it means peace with God, because he reconciled us to him.
Let’s explore more deeply the peace that God brings.
This word in Hebrew is shalom and means well being, both in the soul and in circumstances, and it means, yes, prosperity, because the farm in an agricultural society would experience well being and harmony and growth. The crops would not fail and the livestock would reproduce. Society and the individual would live in peace and contentment and harmony. Deut. 28:1-14 describes the blessings for obedience, a man and his family and business enjoying divine goodness and benefits and material benefits.
With that background, let’s explore the Greek word, which overlaps with shalom. It is the noun eirēnē (pronounced ay-ray-nay, used 92 times, and we get the name Irene from it). One specialist defines it: “Peace is a state of being that lacks nothing and has no fear of being troubled in its tranquility; it is euphoria coupled with security. … This peace is God’s favor bestowed on his people” (Mounce, p. 503).
BDAG has this definition for the noun: (2) It is “a state of well-being, peace.” Through salvation we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). We have peace that has been brought through Christ (Col. 3:15). We are to run towards the goal of peace (2 Pet. 3:14; Rom. 8:6). It is the essential characteristic of the Messianic Age (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:15). An angel greeted and promised the shepherds peace on earth for those in whom God is well pleased, at the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:29). In the entire Gospel of Luke, Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God.
“in whom he is well pleased”: The Greek says that it is not that humans have good will, necessarily, but God has good will for certain ones, particularly among the people of God, who will soon be the whole world of believers in Christ. One translation says, “among men of (his) good pleasure” (Culy, Parsons, and Stigall).
“angels”: this shows the heavenly army is made up of angels. See vv. 8-9 for more comments.
The angels departed into heaven. As noted in the previous verse, heaven is another realm, not a planet. They probably just went upwards for the visual effects to show the shepherds that something powerful and revelatory just happened, and then they disappeared. Liefeld and Pao: “Luke does not say that the angels disappeared but that they went ‘into heaven (v. 15), an expression typical of his attention to spatial relationships.” Luke 24:51 about Jesus’s ascension: “And while he was blessing them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” God allowed the angels and his Son to go upward, to indicate that heaven is not of this earth, but is it not subjected to our own space and time.
The stillness of the night must have been “deafening” after the angels’ heavenly song.
The wording is a little awkward because the shepherds could have shortened their words, but they are shepherds. The finer points of language are not their strong suit. On the other hand a grammarian may tell us the Greek is fine. If so, then it escapes my notice.
“word”: The Greek noun here is rhēma (pronounced ray-mah), and the rhē– stem is related to speaking, and the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined, the noun means a “spoken word” (though it does not always mean that in every context). But the announcement of the child was spoken by the angel in this instance.
“The Lord made known to us”: it must have been wonderful for these shepherds that God chose them to reveal to them or inform them with this word.
How did they find the family so quickly in a crowded town during a census? Maybe a star hovered above the public shelter (see Matt. 2:9-10). Or maybe they just looked. I wonder if they split up, and when one of them found it they shouted for the others in a town at sleep. Amusing to think about.
“looking”: I was tempted to translate it as “looking in,” which fits the context.
“the word”: this is the noun rhēma again, and see v. 15 for more details.
“understood”: it means they knew the word.
The demonstrative pronoun “this” is used here, to specify the announcement of the one angel. It is also used for “this” child. One can see the baby lying in the feeding trough, probably sleeping—it is this child the shepherds came to see.
“angel”: see vv. 8-9 for more comments.
Evidently lots of people were milling around the birthplace. Why not? The shepherds may have made a ruckus when they came on the scene and woke people up. Or maybe they told everyone on their way there or on their way back—or all of the above options. The people marveled when they heard about the angels and the heavenly army singing. They marveled when they heard about the town of David and the Messianic undercurrent of David’s hometown.
“Mary”: Here it is Mariam (Miriam), and this Semitic word indicates an early source.
Totals for the mother of Jesus:
Luke also uses Mariam in 1:27, 30, 34, 38. 39, 46, 56, 2:5, 16, 19, 34; Maria in 1:41.
Matthew uses Maria in 1:16, 18, 20, 2:11 and Mariam in 13:55.
Mark uses Maria in 6:3.
“treasured”: it is the verb suntēreō (pronounced soon-tay-reh-oh). It could be translated as “protect, defend” (Mark 6:20); “be saved, preserved” (passive in Matt. 9:17; Luke 5:38); “hold, treasure” (Luke 2:19) Those are the only verses where the verb appears. The latter meaning is best for 2:19. It is in the imperfect verb tense, meaning she was treasuring and pondering (participle) these things in her heart. It was continuous. She was trying to see the whole picture by putting the pieces together. She is the excellent exemplar of those who hear the word and hold on to it in a good and honest heart and bear fruit with endurance (see Luke 8:15) (Garland, comment on 2:19-20).
“pondered”: this Greek verb is sumballō (pronounced soom-bahl-loh), and its meaning is very diverse. It can mean “converse, confer” (Acts 4:15; 17:18); “consider, ponder” (Luke 2:19); “meet, fall in with” (Acts 20:14); and even “engage, fight” (Luke 14:51); “quarrel, dispute” (Luke 11:52); “help, be of assistance” (Acts 18:27). It looks like Luke alone used this word. The stem ballō is a movement verb—throw, thrust, propel, and so on. Combine it with the prefix sum (“with”), and it is the picture of things coming or being thrown together. So in Mary’s heart she placed all the words together and treasured and pondered them. She was mulling things over.
The shepherds imitated the angels. They too glorified and praised God. Luke’s message is clear. If the angels and lowly shepherds—two classes of beings very distantly separated by heaven and earth— praised and glorified God, then so should we.
The verse is translated literally. Of course they circumcised him. Jesus was born “under the law” (Gal. 4:4), so that he would redeem those under the (old) law—the old Sinai covenant.
Circumcision was the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17). Jesus was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), so he had to be circumcised. Before he died, however, he will have launched his new covenant (Luke 22:19-20). Gen. 15 established the unconditional land grant, and Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him or credited to him as righteousness (15:6). Many scholars say this covenant is being re-fulfilled today, as Jews settle in their ancient homeland of Israel.
That may be, but the sign of covenant—circumcision—has been replaced because believers in the Messiah are not circumcised, except a circumcision for the heart (Rom. 2:25-29).
The verb for conceived is sullambanō (pronounced sool-lahm-bah-noh), and it corresponds to the Latin concipio, where we get our word conceive. The same verb was used for Elizabeth’s conception (Luke 1:24) and Mary’s conception (1:31).
Apparently, Luke is very keen to tell his readers that God named his Son through the agency of the angel. When the Son of God was in his preincarnate state, he was not named Jesus, unless the three persons of the Trinity foresaw what his name would be at his conception and his birth and went ahead and referred to the Son as “Jesus,” but the Scripture is silent on that one point. But the Bible is not silent about his name as a baby and forevermore. As noted, his name means “the Lord saves” (see v. 11).
The bigger point is that he is the Messiah, the Savior, and the Lord.
“Messiah”: the Greek word is Christos, and in Hebrew it is Meshiach, both meaning the Jesus is the Anointed One, who gives his anointing to all who are born again, who saves everyone who repents, and he is the Lord of their lives when they surrender to his Lordship, and then the result is that he will lead them towards growth in holiness and good works to help people.
Now let’s get into theology. The church needs it.
Jesus is now incarnated. Did he lose his divine attributes, as some teach (I believe out of “noninformation,” not malice)?
Jesus did not “lay aside” or “set aside” or “lose” or “give up” his divine attributes when he became a baby in Bethlehem. Rather, a human nature was added to his divine nature. Now what happened to his divine nature and those powerful attributes with omni- in front of them? They were hidden behind his human nature, not lost or set aside. Therefore, he surrendered the use of his attributes to his Father, attributes he retained at his incarnation.
To say that Jesus was fully God while a human yet he lost or set aside or lay aside these powerful omni- attributes or other ones does not work. God cannot lose attributes and still remain God. It is best to say that Jesus took them with him at his incarnation, but they were hidden behind his humanity–yes, even when he was a baby lying in a manger. So, for example, if the Father had willed, the divine attribute of omnipotence could have manifested in the baby Jesus and flattened the soldiers whom Herod sent to kill the baby. But the Father wanted Jesus to experience his full humanity and Joseph and Mary to learn how to be good parents and take care of his Son, who was on loan to them.
Then why didn’t Jesus know the day or the hour when he would return (Matt. 24:36)?
I answer this question and others, here:
I urge all Bible teachers to stop teaching that Jesus got his divine attributes “lopped off” or “trimmed down” and yet was still full deity. It makes more sense to say that he was full deity, yet his divine nature was hidden behind his humanity. His humanity was added to his deity. He lost the environment of heaven, but his divine attributes remained intact at his incarnation.
The main post you should click on for more information:
I exegete Phil. 2:4-6 at that link.
GrowApp for Luke 2:8-21
A.. Has God ever told you to “fear not”? What were the circumstances? Why does he need to do this while we live on earth?
B.. Jesus is called the Savior and Christ the Lord. This announcement brought good news of great joy. What do those three titles mean in your life? Have they brought you great joy at least in some moments of your life, even during trials? Please study James 1:2-4.
Jesus Presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22-24)
22 When the days of their purification were completed, according to the law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 just as it was written in the law of the Lord that “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” 24 And they gave a sacrifice according to what was said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of doves or two pigeons.”
See the introductory remarks under vv. 8-21 for comments by Turner for how this section in Luke does not contradict Matthew’s infancy narrative.
Lev. 12:2-4, 6 says that the mother of a male child was unclean for seven days and then was to be confined for thirty-three days before journeying to the temple.
My translation is literal. The ancients were very “earthy” or “natural.” This verse is sourced back to Exod. 13:2, 12, 15.
“holy” means to consecrated and separated to the Lord. If you have repented of your sins and received the Holy Spirit who causes you to be born again, you are now holy to the Lord. You have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. He also wants to immerse-fill-baptize you with the Spirit, so you can have victory over sin that dominates and so you can serve him in righteousness and holiness. That is God’s plan for every human being across the globe.
People were supposed to bring a lamb for the burnt offering and a dove for the sin offering. If the couple could not afford the lamb, they brought two doves or two pigeons, one bird for the burnt offering, one for the sin offering (Lev. 12:8). And so Mary and Joseph offered the animals of the poor. They were identified with the people. Luke spoke through the poem / song of Mary about the Great Reversal (Luke 1:51-53). The unjust rich and powerful were about to be dethroned and brought low, while the poor and lowly would be raised up. But let’s not believe Joseph and Mary lived in abject poverty, because he did have a business near Tiberias and Sepphoris, two towns that were being rebuilt (Mark 6:3). No doubt he had a robust business and kept his sons (and daughters) busy (Matt. 12:46-48; 13:55).
GrowApp for Luke 2:22-24
A.. Have you dedicated your child or children to the Lord? Please speak to your pastor if you have not and find out when your church has baby dedications.
B.. Adults are called to get baptized to show their dedication (among other reasons). Have you been baptized?
C.. Holiness means God separates you from common and unclean things and consecrates you to him. Do you believe you are consecrated to him and separated from your past sins? How has your holy life progressed, through the power of the Spirit? What is the best way for it to progress?
Simeon Blesses the Child and Prophesies (Luke 2:25-35)
25 And look! There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and pious, waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Messiah of the Lord. 27 And by the Spirit he went into the temple, while the parents were bringing in the child Jesus, to perform what was the custom according to the law concerning him. 28 He received him into his arms and blessed God and said:
29 “Now you may release your servant in peace, Master, according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared front and center before all the people,
32 a light of revelation for the Gentiles,
And the glory for your people Israel.”
33 His father and mother were amazed at the things spoken about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Watch! This one is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and a sign to be spoken against 35 —indeed, a sword shall pierce through your soul— so that the reasonings of many hearts might be revealed.”
“Look!” This is an updated translation of the older (and charming) “Behold!” It is the storyteller’s art to draw attention to the people and action that follows. “As you, my audience, sit and listen to me read this Gospel, listen up! Look! A prophet named Simeon interrupts the flow of Joseph, and Mary and Jesus’s progress!” As noted under v. 10, professional grammarians say that when “look!” introduces a character, then he or she will play a major role in the pericope. (That’s the case here.) Alternatively, when a verb follows “look!” then a significant act is about to take place and the person or people are less significant (Culy, Parsons, Stigall, p. 21). “righteous and pious”: Simeon had not achieved sinless perfection, because no one can. However, he did live blamelessly by the law’s requirements before God and his neighbors. Never doubt that your righteousness and piety (devotion to the Lord) can be visible to all and be a good example to people. No, not self-righteousness and self-generated piety, but those virtues flowing from a transformed heart and by the power of the Spirit. God calls you to them.
“consolation of Israel”: This is deliverance from the Romans on the political level, but Jesus came to set the captives free (John 8:31-38). Political freedom is wonderful and God ordained, when it leads to religious freedom. But this freedom without the freedom in the soul is empty and may lead to licentiousness (1 Pet. 2:16). So the consolation of Israel will be fulfilled in ways that Simeon may not have expected.
“The Holy Spirit was on him”: this is straightforward and wonderfully simple. God by His Holy Spirit is guiding the events. He told Simeon to be at the temple at the right time, when Jesus was being presented. The application is clear. Is the Holy Spirit on you, so that you could prophesy or speak out boldly at the right time in the right place?
“revealed”: this verb is not very frequent in the NT (9 times). In most contexts, it means God “imparts a revelation or an injunction or warning.”
“see … saw”: it is the same verb as “behold!” Every once in a while, an overzealous Renewalist will say that he will not die until he sees the secret rapture of the church. Often they die before then. No one knows for sure when the Second Coming will happen (and many believe that the rapture and the Second Coming are one and the same). Stop the hyped-up predictions, please.
This a wonderful convergence of two events. Joseph and Mary are going into the temple, probably the Court of Women or the Court of Gentiles, where women could go, in order to dedicate Jesus to the Lord. At the same time, Simeon is being led by the Spirit and comes across their path. He stops them and takes the baby into his arms. Joseph’s protective instinct must have been put on hold because he too was in the Spirit, though the text does not say it explicitly. In any case, he allowed the older guy Simeon to enfold the baby in his arms.
“arms”: it could be translated that Simeon welcomed into his arms that were bent to receive something or someone. It could mean “closely enfolding” something (Liddell and Scott). So we should picture Simeon intimately enfolding the child in his arms, probably forming an “arm cradle.”
“blessed”: it comes from the Greek verb eulogeō (pronounced eu-loh-geh-oh), and it literally means to “speak well.” BDAG defines the term, depending on the context, as follows: (1) “to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol”; (2) “to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God’s gracious power, bless”; (3) “to bestow a favor, provide with benefits.” To bless God is to speak well of him, not that we make him blessed, as if he was deprived of this attribute without us. We agree with who he is, and saying this truth out loud makes us submit to him. “God you are blessed, whether I say it or not! But I choose to speak it out loud!”
“dismiss”: it is a Semitic way of saying “Let me die.” In peace: see Gen. 15:15 (Stein, comment on v. 29). No, Simeon does not have a death wish; he is an old man who lived a full life. God is in charge of our final departure or passing.
“servant”: The word servant here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slave, but I chose servant because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Luke’s Greek audience would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
“Master”: our word despot comes from it (!). It does not have a modern meaning, but it means “Lord, Master, Owner.” This is the right word, in the context of the doulos status (Stein, comment on v. 29). Simeon was submitted to his Lord. He was the watchman or sentinel who was waiting for the revelation or public appearance of the Lord’s Messiah. Now the Lord can dismiss him and do what he wants with him. His mission was accomplished.
“word”: The Greek noun here is rhēma (pronounced ray-mah), and the rhē– stem is related to speaking, and the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined, the noun means a “spoken word” (though it does not always mean that in every context). God spoke a personal word to his servant Simeon.
“salvation”: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times).
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in passive mood it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
The ministry of Jesus will be public, not done in a corner (see Acts 26:26).
Light and glory are near-synonyms. It shines the way for the Gentiles, whom Jesus will tell his disciples to reach (Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8) and also for his fellow Jews. National Israel rejected its Messiah, and now Judaism, expressed in the temple worship, is about to sit under judgment (Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31; Matt. 21:33-45), though numerous individual priests (Acts 6:7) and thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20). As noted, God loves people, but he is not enamored with systems.
And the kingdom has been turned over to the Gentiles, so the gospel can go around all the world, without old, obsolete Judaism encumbering it. The kingdom of God has been streamlined to the basics, without all the rituals and dietary laws and harsh penalties and other things spelled out in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). The Sinai Covenant has been replaced with the New Covenant (Heb. 8, 9, 10), but the New Covenant Scriptures still retained moral law.
It is awfully wonderful and charming to think about how Joseph and Mary reacted too all the turn of events and words that happened. The shepherds had told them everything the angel and the army choir of angels singing. Now Simeon broke into their lives and prophesied. Luke tells how they responded to the swirling events and words. They were “surprised,” “marveled,” and amazed,” for the same Greek word could be translated by those English words. The couple was overwhelmed with joy and shock and awe.
“blessed”: see v. 28 for what the word means. Here Simeon spoke well of the married couple.
“watch”: the same word as in v. 25, see my comments there and at v. 34. It used to be translated as “behold!” Simeon is issuing a predictive warning to the baby’s mother.
“falling and rising”: We have to spend some time here, since this verse, along with Luke 1:51-53, is just one interpretive key for the Gospel of Luke.
“rising”: The noun is anastasis (pronounced ah-nah-stah-seess). BDAG offers this definition first: “a change for the better in status, rising up, rise” Then the editors of the lexicon offer the references Zech. 3:8 in the LXX (= Septuagint, pronounced sep-too-ah-gent, the third to second century, B.C., Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and Josephus (a Jewish historian of the first century) Antiquities 17.212; 18.301. The second definition the editors of BDAG offer is indeed resurrection. In the larger Greek world (classical and Hellenistic), the lexicographers Liddle and Scott place this meaning third: “A setting up, restoration … a rising and moving off … a rising up” in a social sense.
The noun ptōsis (pronounced p’toh-seess) is used twice in the NT: in Matt. 7:27 for the house not built on the rock so the house crashes, and here in v. 34. In the Greek outside the NT, it means only “fall” or “falling” (Liddell and Scott). It does not appear to mean the opposite of resurrection: “dying.” However, in the LXX it can mean “plague.”
So I interpret anastasis, paired with ptōsis, to mean the exalting (or rising) and demotion (falling) of people, once they confront the kingdom of God. The pairing of the two nouns does not quite lend itself to a bodily resurrection or physical death.
Therefore, sociologically and in context, this falling and rising is the theme of the Great Reversal. The high and mighty will be brought down, and the meek and lowly will be raised up. Maybe nothing will change in worldly political status, but in the kingdom of God the first shall be last, and the last first (Luke 13:30). Recall that in Luke 1:51-53 Mary sang about the rich and powerful being brought low, and the meek and lowly being exalted. The same idea is expressed here in v. 34. Finally, BDAG translates v. 34 as “he is appointed / destined to cause the fall and rise of many (p. 896).
“a sign to be spoken against”: Jesus was often misunderstood by his disciples and tested by his opponents. The ultimate speaking against him happened at his unjust trial, when he was sentenced to death (Luke 22:66-71).
“a sword shall pierce”: Jesus had to separate himself from his family (Luke 8:19-21). His mother saw his crucifixion up close, and no doubt her soul was pierced with pain (John 19:26-27).
Jesus’s ministry reveals the reasonings and thinking of many hearts (kardia) (see 4:23 and 5:21, for examples). He still does that today.
“reasoning”: it is the noun dialogismos (pronounced dee-ah-loh-gees-mos, and the “g” is hard). It means, depending on the context, (1) “thought, opinion, reasoning, design” or (2) “doubt, dispute, argument.” Here it means the first definition.
“soul”: it is the noun psuchē (pronounced ps-oo-khay, and be sure to pronounce the ps-, and our word psychology comes from it). It can mean, depending on the context: “soul, life” and it is hard to draw a firm line between the two. “Breath, life principle, soul”; “earthly life”; “the soul as seat and center of the inner life of man in its many and varied aspects, desires, feelings, emotions”; “self’; or “that which possesses life, a soul, creature, person.”
A little systematic theology:
Most Renewalists believe in the three parts of humanity: body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12 and other verses). Other Renewalists believe that we are two parts: body and soul / spirit (2 Cor. 4:16). Spirit and soul are just synonyms, like heart and spirit / soul are synonyms. Surely there are not now four parts, are there (body, soul, spirit, heart)?
Here in this verse it means soul or inner being.
GrowApp for Luke 2:25-35
A.. Joseph and Mary were going about their religious duties and then surprisingly met up with a devout older man, Simeon. Describe a divine appointment you have had with someone.
B.. Have you blessed your child and told him or her that God will do great things through him or her? Describe.
C.. Simeon said a sword shall pierce through Mary’s soul. Study Heb. 4:12-13. Has your soul been pierced through by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God? Describe.
Elderly Anna Blesses the Baby (Luke 2:36-38)
36 Next, Anna was a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher. She was really advanced in years, living with her husband seven years from her marriage, 37 and she was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, worshipping with fasting and praying night and day. 38 At the very hour, she suddenly appeared praising God and speaking about him to everyone waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
“prophetess”: Here are others: Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses (Exod. 15:20; Deborah (Jdg. 4:4); Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chron. 34:22); Noahdiah (Neh. 6:14); Isaiah’s wife (Is. 8:3); Philip’s four unmarried daughters (Acts 21:8); Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:4-5; 14:39). Studying their ministries or at least their contexts would be edifying.
“daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher”: The detailed identity of her father is unknown, but his name is a variation of Penuel or Peniel, which means “face to face with God” or “the face of God.” Jacob wrestled with God and named the place with this word (Gen. 32:22-32). Asher was one of the ten northern tribes, and these ten were the first to be deported under judgment of God (2 Kings 17-18). Luke mentions these people to establish historical and ancestral parameters, to make his account accurate. In other words, he did his homework.
After much research, Richard Bauckham, in his Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women of the Gospels (Eerdman’s, 2002), Bauckham writes about Phanuel and Anna:
It seems possible therefore that the names Anna and Phanuel belong to an exilic family deeply impressed by the eschatological piety of the book of Tobit. Such a suggestion coheres well with the rest of Luke’s characterization of Anna. Indeed, it is precisely the theology and message of the book of Tobit that forges the closest connection between Anna’s membership of a northern Israelite tribe, her temple-centered piety (Luke 2:37), and her association with those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (2:38). No doubt the last group included others who have returned from the diaspora to await in Jerusalem the messianic redemption and the ingathering of the rest of the exiles. (p. 98)
In other words, Tobit, a fictional national hero who in exile prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem, also belonged to a northern tribe, Naphtali. His wife was also named Anna, and their son was Tobias, who had seven sons. His prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem shows his extra devotion, which impressed Luke’s informed Jewish readers of his Gospel, and now Anna and Simeon are about to pray for it too, or show their devotion to it. Luke’s Anna, a real person, associated with extra-pious Jews who returned to Jerusalem and expected the Messiah to come and redeem Jerusalem. However, she did not know (or it is not recorded, if she did predict it) that national Israel, represented by the leaders in Jerusalem, would reject their Messiah, and now the message of redemption was to go out to all of the world. God was interested in the whole globe, not just Jerusalem or the nation of Israel.
After explaining his thorough research, Bauckham concludes the following about Anna:
As a prophet[ess] who devoted her long years of widowhood to religious devotion, who was always seen in the temple courts, Anna would have become a well-known figure in Jerusalem, easily remembered a few decades later in the time of the Jerusalem church. Some who in their youth had been impressed by her prophecies and shared her ardent hopes of redemption of Jerusalem may have joined that church. There is nothing improbable in the idea that she appeared in traditions that reached Luke, directly or indirectly from the Jerusalem church. (p. 99)
In other words, while Luke was gathering his information to write his Gospel, women (and men) in the Jerusalem church would have gladly stepped forward to tell him about Anna. Was Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is a young mother right now, still alive when Luke was in Jerusalem? If so, then she may have been the source of the first two chapters of the Gospel. Or maybe her sons, Jesus’s brother, were the source, and if he had sisters, then they were. We don’t know.
“really advanced in many years”: it literally reads “many days,” but “years” is better to our ears. It just means she was extremely aged, and we will find out how old, shortly.
“from her marriage”: the Greek literally reads “from her virginity.” In other words, girls were virtually secluded in her father’s house, until a boy’s parents (i.e. father) came over to arrange and negotiate a betrothal and then marriage. We live in far different times. Girls are no longer secluded, and there’s nothing wrong with going out in public, but the unintended consequence is that virginity is rare (but still godly and wholesome).
Anna fit the high quality of widows outlined in 1 Timothy 5:3-5:
3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. (1 Tim. 5:3-5, NIV)
Now we can calculate her age, approximately. If she was married at about 14 years, then she was a widow at 21 years. Add 84 to 21 and you get 105 years old! Alternatively, the translation could read: “she was a widow to her eighty-fourth year.” So by that calculation she was eighty-four years old when she met the family of three.
Either way, life spans could go on just as long as today, but back then many children died from diseases and other weaknesses, so they never made it into adulthood. That’s why life expectancy is calculated to be so short. But once a person got out of childhood, he or she could live just as long as the people of today. Anna exceeded most people of our day. Age was not ignored or sneered at back then, as it is today. Luke mentions her age because she was extra-blessed and extra-favored by God. That’s the main point to the ages of the patriarchs and matriarchs in Genesis, and so it is with her. She is like a Genesis matriarch who time-traveled from their days to hers.
Bauckham suggests that Luke intends her to have the older age (105) in keeping with other women and men who lived to such an old age: Simeon, son of Clopas (Jesus’s uncle, believe it or not), second bishop of Jerusalem, martyred at 120 and famous rabbis who lived past one hundred years. Fictional Judith was a Jewish heroine who also refused to remarry but remained a widow until she died at 105. Further, after menopause, Anna would not have to go through impurity exclusion from the temple when she gave birth or during and after her monthly cycle. Now she could stay at the temple every day, all day (pp. 99-101).
“worshipping”: it is the verb latreuō (pronounced lah-true-oh), and it is related to serving, which can encompass worship (Acts 7:7, 42). But sometimes it is best to translate it as “serving” (Acts 24:14; 26:7). Its meaning is optional—up to you. Interpret it both ways: worship and serve. In Anna’s case she worshipped and served with fastings and prayers.
“prayers”: It is the Greek noun deēsis (pronounced deh-ay-seess), and it means “entreaty, supplication, prayer” (see Luke 1:13 and 5:33). From what she said in the next verse, some of her prayers must have been for the salvation and redemption of her beloved nation, Israel.
“night and day”: of course we are intended to understand that she was extra-devout. But it is clear that she is not self-righteous or that she bragged about herself. After all, Luke got this story many years after she died. Her grand-nieces and nephews must have told him about her. Her devotion and faith are genuine. She loved God all of her days. To put it in modern terms, he was “in church” constantly. How about you and your devotion to the Lord and his kingdom community?
Let’s look at the practice of fasting from a biblical point of view. There are all sorts of ways to fast:
Eating no food, but drinking water, which is standard;
No food and no water, but only for a short time (Acts 9:9);
No delicacies (Dan. 10:3);
And anything in between.
In the OT the purposes of fasting were, as follows:
Preparing for God’s law (Ex. 34:28; Dt. 9:9, 18);
Preparing for the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29, 31);
Showing grief at time of death (1 Sam. 31:13; 2 Sam. 1:12);
Showing remorse for sin (1 Kings 21:27; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13);
Praying in time of national need (2 Chron. 20:3; Ezr. 8:21; Est. 4:16; Joel 2:15-17);
Praying for personal reasons (2 Sam. 12:16, 21; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3-4);
But be warned: prophets criticized fasting for outward show (Is. 58:3-7; Jer. 14:12; Zec. 7:4-10).
In the NT, the purposes of fasting were as follows:
Jesus fasted to overcome temptation and prepare for his ministry (Matt. 4:1-11 // Luke 4:1-13);
Saul fasted after his conversion to humble himself and work out the massive change in his worldview (Acts 9:9);
Part of worship (Acts 13:2);
Preparing for ministry (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23);
Sending off for ministry (Acts 13:3; 14:23);
Jesus’s disciples did not fast while he was there, but when he was gone, they would fast (Matt. 9:14-15);
Jesus criticized fasting for its outward show (Matt. 6:16-18; Luke 18:9-14).
You can look up those verses to expand on those reasons. It is interesting, however, that nowhere does it say in the NT that believers should fast to prove their remorse and sorrow for sin. Forgiveness is not added to or enhanced by our outer show of works (fasting is a religious work). Forgiveness of sins is received by repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 13:38).
Here Luke is elliptical. Clearly the Holy Spirit was on her just as he was on Simeon, particularly since she was a prophetess. That is enough of a signal from Luke that the Spirit is working. (Luke is often elliptical like this. See my commentary on Acts). We are intended to read the story that she appeared in the temple at the same time that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were there. Then she interrupted, by divine appointment, their performance of their religious requirements. One gets the impression that as soon as Simeon left, Anna stopped them before they took one more step.
“about him”: That is, the baby. Either Anna held Jesus in her arms or she touched him in one of his parent’s arms. (Would her parents allow such an aged woman to hold him? Maybe. Or maybe not!) Whatever the details, she called for a crowd to gather, or one had already gathered when Simeon was prophesying. The people knew her and her prophetic ministry well enough. As soon as she spoke, a crowd surely gathered, and quickly.
“praising”: this verb is used only here in the NT: anthomologeomai (pronounced ahn-thoh-moh-loh-geh-oh-my, and the “g” is hard as in “get”). In the Greek language long before the NT was written (and at the same time), the verb meant “to make a mutual agreement”; “to confess freely, openly” (Liddell and Scott). The two prefixes are anti– which can mean “interaction face to face,” often in opposition to another (consider her father’s name in v. 36). The second prefix is hom-, which means “same.” The verb stem log– means “speak.” As the centuries went on, however, it came to mean “praise” or “thank.”
To go a little deeper in how a first-century Greek reader / listener of Luke’s Gospel might have understood the verb in this context, I like to see its meaning as our standing face to face with God (the object of the verb is God) and interacting with him, declaring him openly and freely by mutual agreement. But since we surrender to him, the God of the universe, we agree with him; he does not have to agree with us. However, let’s be modest and see it as “thank” or “praise.”
“redemption”: it is the Greek noun lutrōsis (pronounced loo-troh-seess and used only here, Luke 1:68 and Heb. 9:12). It means “ransoming, releasing, and redemption.” Here Jerusalem was supposed to be bought back by God from its oppressors, and Jesus was thought to be the one to accomplish this mission. But he was about to redeem Jerusalem (and by extension Israel) from its sins. Political freedom is a blessing, but without spiritual redemption of the soul, liberty may lead to licentiousness (1 Pet. 2:16). His bringing about redemption was going on a different but parallel track, unexpected by many politically minded and pious Jews. It was spiritual redemption.
GrowApp for Luke 2:36-38
A.. Anna’s ministry was being a prophetess and was in the temple all the time. What is your ministry? How can you help your local church?
B.. Anna was very old, possibly a centenarian. How do we honor or dishonor older people in our churches? In society?
C.. Anna served and worshipped the Lord with prayers and fastings and praise. How do you serve and worship and praise the Lord? Tell us the practical things you do.
The Family Returns to Nazareth (Luke 2:39-40)
39 And as everything according to the law of the Lord was completed, they returned to Galilee to their hometown Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and got stronger, being filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was on him.
See the introductory remarks under vv. 8-21 for comments by Turner on how this section in Luke does not contradict Matthew’s infancy narrative.
Their religious duties were completed and the Spirit-anointed fireworks were over, so it was time for Joseph to get back home and to do the daily routine of carpentry and wood working and for her to stay at home and do household chores.
Jesus had to grow up just like any other child. For the wonderful thought of this boy being full deity in bodily form (Col. 1:19; 2:9; John 1:1-4, 14), in relation to his humanity, his boyhood, see my discussion at Luke 1:35.
The theology goes deep, however. Not for beginners.
“favor”: It comes from the noun charis (pronounced khah-reese) and means, depending on the context. “graciousness, attractiveness; favor, gracious care, help or goodwill, practical application of goodwill”; a “gracious deed or gift, benefaction.” In some contexts, it means “exceptional effects produced by divine grace,” in other words, empowerment to accomplish a task or receive a blessing.
Let’s go deeper, by repeating part of what I wrote in the post Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious. Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us about the Hebrew and Greek words. The Hebrew noun ḥen (pronounced khen) “describes that which is favorable or gracious, especially the favorable disposition of one person to another” (p. 302). The verb in Hebrew is ḥanan (pronounced khah-nan) and means “to show mercy, favor, be gracious” (ibid).
“wisdom”: This word undoubtedly goes along with the Greek noun sunesis (v. 47). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”
So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).
The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times) and according to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”
Jesus enjoyed favor from God and in front of his neighbors, relatives, and co-workers, as he was learning his trade with his father. In other words, people liked him, and more deeply than that, the perceptive people of his hometown could see something special about the boy, a divine thumbprint on him, a unique calling, a godly and devout demeanor. (No doubt he liked to have fun, as well.) But some children are just extra-devout and kind and gentle. They seem to be born saved, right from their mother’s womb. And with God shining down on Jesus, we should see him like that, but with the added blessings of God’s gracious care and good will and attractiveness and winsomeness on the boy—and flowing through him to everyone around him.
GrowApp for Luke 2:39-40
A.. How have you grown stronger in the Lord? What are some practical steps you have taken?
B.. Study Eph. 2:8. You too have God’s favor and grace on you. How does this biblical truth work out in your daily life? How does it change your attitude?
The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem to the festival of Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival and completed the days. 43 While they were returning, the child Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know this. 44 Thinking he was in the caravan, they went one day’s journey and began looking for him among the relatives and those whom they knew. 45 Not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for him. 46 Three days passed and they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers and listening and inquiring of them. 47 And everyone hearing him were beside themselves at his insights and answers. 48 When they saw him, they were stunned, and his mother said to him, “Child, why did you do this to us? Look! Your father and I have been frantically looking for you!” 49 And he said to them, “Why did you look for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the word which was spoken to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, being submitted to them. His mother treasured all these words in her heart. 52 And Jesus made great progress in wisdom, maturity, and the favor of both God and people.
I like what Bock writes: “now Jesus will speak for himself” (p. 259). Read v. 49. Those are his first words in the Gospel of Luke (Morris, comment on vv. 49-50)
Jews were required to present themselves before the Lord three times a year for the three main feasts (Exod. 23:17). His parents obeyed the law. However, many Jews did not go to Jerusalem to celebrate the three feasts: Passover (and unleavened bread), festival of weeks (Pentecost), and tabernacles (or booths) (Lev. 23). They stayed in their own towns and communities when Jerusalem (or the place where God places his name) was too far (Deut. 12:5-7, 11-19). Joseph and Mary, however, went up yearly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Of course it would be too much to believe (wouldn’t it?) that Luke highlights the Passover as his parents’ yearly festival, because he knew the end of his story. Jesus was going to die during Passover. He was going to be the Passover lamb (compare Luke 22:1, 7-8; 11, 13, 15; 1 Cor. 5:7).
“Passover”: see 22:1 for more detailed comments.
“twelve”: this sets the time frame. He was entering puberty. Morris (and other commentators) teach us that in the Mishnah (a compilation of oral laws and traditions written down in about AD 200), a boy at about thirteen years old could become a “son of the commandment” or full member of the synagogue (Aboth 5:21; Niddah 5:6) (comment on v. 41). But the bar mitzvah ceremony as done today did not exist back then.
Luke sets up the tension in this true story. Why would Jesus do this? Where was he? No doubt the readers / listeners were asking the same questions you are today.
“know”: The verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). It is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times). BDAG numerous definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or something, know, know about, make acquaintance of”; (2) “to acquire information through some means, learn (of), ascertain, find out”; (3) “grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend”; (4) “to be aware of something, perceive, notice, realize”; (5) to have sexual intercourse with, sex / marital relations with”; (6) “to have come to the knowledge of, have come to know, know.” (7) “to indicate that one does know, acknowledge, recognize.” So we can know a person, a thing, a fact, an abstract thing like math. We can even know God personally or know about him from a distance, like a theological truth. It is best to know him personally. We can know all these things deeply or shallowly. In this verse, the best translation is the first definition.
People traveled together, which fills in the picture more when Mary went down to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45). There was no way she traveled alone at that time, but surely went with some of these same relatives and acquaintances.
Liefeld and Pao: “At this intermediate age, Jesus might have been either with the women or with the men and older boys, if the families were grouped this way in the caravan. Each parent might have supposed he was with the other (v. 43). We need not assume that his parents neglected him. It was after a day of travel that they missed Jesus (v. 44); another day would have been required for the trip back (v. 45) and on the next day (‘after three days,’ v. 46) the successful search was made” (comments on vv. 43-45)
They did the only thing they could do: go back.
It is a stunning fact that he was in the temple three days. Where did he sleep? What did he eat? Or was he fasting? He probably attached himself to mentees of the religious leaders, and they shared their food and housing with him. No, Jesus was not mentored formally with them, but hospitality was a requirement in those days.
“teachers”: this is the generic terms for all students and instructors of religion, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They may have included judges or those who decided religious disputes and knew the law thoroughly.
“listening and inquiring”: the latter word could be translated simply as “asking.” He listened and then asked the questions. Good idea for a youngster. Boys were educated back then, and he was really bright. Have you not heard of early teens at a university, able to keep up? I have. No, Jesus was not asking about modern science, but about the OT, Judaism, the law, traditions and right behavior, just like other Jewish boys of his day did with their rabbis or mentors or disciplers. Here Jesus is in the epicenter of Judaism—the temple—with sheep and goats bleating and calves and bulls and cows mooing and waiting their turn to be sacrificed. When they discussed religion, the teachers and sages and mentors marveled at him. Perfectly plausible.
“beside themselves”: the Greek verb existēmi (pronounced (ex-ee-stay-mee) can be translated literally as “they were standing beside themselves” Or “they were beside themselves.”
Most translations go with “stunned” or “astonished” or “amazed.”
“insights”: it is the Greek noun sunesis (pronounced soo-neh-seess), and it can mean literally, “a sending together of a junction, as in streams.” Metaphorically it means, depending on the context, “understanding, intelligence, discernment” or “insight.” It can also mean “the understanding, intellect, mind” (Mounce’s interlinear). Some grammarians say it should be translated “intelligent answers” or “insightful answers” or “understanding answers.” They are right of course, but I prefer the doublet: “insights and answers.”
Earlier on, Jesus is demonstrated to be an insightful interpreter of Scripture. This prowess is vital to his besting the devil in the wilderness, his refutation of the Pharisees and Sadducees in each of his confrontations with them, and his interpretation of his ministry after his resurrection (24:25-27, 41-49). The readers will recognize that his understanding comes from being more that a precocious child; he is the Son of God (Garland, comment on 2:47).
“they saw him”: of course these are his parents who arrived on the scene.
“stunned”: the verb is ekplēssō (pronounced ehk-play-soh) (see 4:32), and it means to be so astonished or stunned that one is overwhelmed. BDAG says: “cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed, amaze, astound, overwhelm.” It would be amazing, stunning, and overwhelming to see your twelve-year-old son among such august teachers, holding his own.
“child”: I like how Mary tells it like it is.
“frantically”: it is the verb odunaō (pronounced oh-doo-nah-oh), and it is used only by Luke: here, 16:24, 25; and Acts 20:38. BDAG: “to experience mental and spiritual pain, be pained, distressed.” Parents who have lost a wandering child, hopefully only temporarily, must know the distress and pain.
“look!”: see my comments at vv. 25 and 34.
Jesus was also amazed that his parents were looking for him for three days and did not first check the temple complex.
“must”: it comes from the word dei (pronounced day). It is an impersonal verb (think of the French verb il faut, pronounced eel foh). The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). Because of his growing sense of God’s call on his life, he believed that he had to be about his Father’s business or the things of his Father. “But the verb ‘it is necessary’ [must] in Luke applies to the unfolding of God’s plan (4:43; 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44), to which Jesus submits” (Garland, comments on 2:49-50). His teaching in the temple prefigures his teaching ministry later in his life—at the end of his life—when he enters Jerusalem triumphantly (Garland, again).
The most widely accepted translation of the Greek is “house” (Bock, vol. 1, p. 270). He was in his Father’s house receiving and giving instruction to those farther along in Judaism. It would have been great to listen in on those discussions.
“word”: The Greek noun here is rhēma (pronounced ray-mah). See v. 15 for more information.
It is a simple fact of life that parents don’t often understand their children—or one of their children. Jesus had a special and unique calling on his life, and at this young age he recognized it. For a deeper discussion on how the boy Jesus could be God in bodily form (Col. 1:19; 2:9; John 1:1-4, 14), but still a child, please find Luke 1:35.
“understand”: it comes from the Greek verb suniēmi (pronounced soo-nee-amy), and I am certain is related to the noun in v. 47. In any case, it means “understand, comprehend, gain an insight into.” Jesus’s insight and understanding went well beyond his years, so much so that he astounded his listeners. Joseph’s and Mary’s insight and understanding were deficient in this case. As noted, sometimes a child will go beyond his parents’ capacities.
“he went down”: Jerusalem is on a hill, and even when one leaves the city towards the north, one goes down from there. When one travels southward towards the city, one goes up to it.
“submitted”: the Greek verb is hupotassō (pronounced hoo-poh-tahss-oh), and it literally means to arrange or rank oneself under. It means simply “to subject or subordinate oneself” or “to obey.” It is a good idea to submit to parents, when one is so small. So Jesus had to strike a balance between submitting to his earthly parents and his heavenly Father.
“treasured”: it is the Greek verb suntēreō (pronounced soon-tay-reh-oh). See v. 19, for more discussion.
“words”: it is the Greek noun rhēma again. See v. 15 for more information.
“make great progress”: it is the one verb prokoptō (pronounced pro-kohp-toh), and the prefix pro– means “in advance,” “in front of,” or “ahead,” in this case. And the stem kopt– means to hammer or forge (Liddell and Scott). LS also says the verb means “to cut away in front: hence to forward a work, metaphorically referring to pioneers. So here in this context, Jesus was forging ahead beyond his years, just as he evidenced his advancement in Jerusalem with his dialogues. But let’s be modest and say “go forward, make progress, advance, go on.” His advancement moved forward rapidly.
But it was directed in three virtues or ways.
“wisdom”: see v. 40 for more comments. This word undoubtedly goes along with the Greek noun sunesis (v. 47).
“maturity”: this noun means “mature age, past the normal age.” So this is better than bodily stature. However, Jesus could be doing both: growing up in mental and emotional and spiritual stature and health and in height. He demonstrated his advanced years intellectually, emotionally and spiritually in his discussions in Jerusalem, and Luke repeats the same idea here.
“favor”: this is the Greek noun charis, and see v. 40 for more information. The favor is spelled out as being both vertical (God) and horizontal (humankind). His neighbors and relatives and friends could see something special about him. No doubt he exuded wisdom and knowledge. His wisdom and insight and understanding came from the Scripture and his relationship with his Father in heaven.
One brief caveat. Only a small soul would see Jesus as a know-it-all. One gets the impression from Luke 2—the entire chapter—that his parents and himself were both balanced and grounded. No one should perceive a self-righteous, holier-than-thou youth, as he matured into his teens and twenties.
“people”: see v. 14 for more comments.
GrowApp for Luke 2:41-52
A.. Do you recall your devotion to the Lord when you were a child? What was that like?
B.. How hungry for God are you? Hungry enough to get into discussions for three days?
C.. Do you recall having a sense of divine mission when you were a child? What was that like?
Summary and Conclusion
At least four themes are laid out in Luke 2, themes that move the story forward. We are heading towards his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension in Luke 24.
First, the birth of Jesus is ordained of God. Angels sang a song at his birth. An angel was commissioned by God to name him. He is Messiah, Lord, and Savior (v. 11). These titles reveal his mission and his activities. He is the Anointed One (Messiah), anointed with the power of the Spirit to effect miracles and deliverance from Satan. He is the Lord even over political kingdoms, whether they bow the knee before him now or in the new kingdom at the end of the age. He is the Savior, for he saves people from themselves and their sins. His saving activity does not (yet) include saving his Chosen People from political oppression, for now he is going global, to save everyone who is humble enough to admit they need saving.
Second, the Great Reversal is repeated by Mary (Luke 1:51-53) and the aged and Spirit-anointed Simeon (Luke 2:34). When the kingdom of God breaks into a family or household or region, it is no longer business as usual. Through his Son, God triumphs over the proud and the powerful and rich and raises up the lowly and humble and poor. It is the down elevator and up elevator. Those at the top will take the down elevator, and those at the bottom will take the up elevator.
This is a key theme in Luke, so let’s watch for it.
Third, the boy Jesus was far advanced, beyond the average child of his age. He had a sense of his Father’s call on his life. This heightens the expectation in Luke’s readers / listeners about what will happen next in the Lord’s life.
Fourth, Mary deserves honorable mention. She treasured and pondered the wonderful things God did for and through her remarkable child. However, she will fade out of the story line, while her son takes the prominent place, the lead role.
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