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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

Luke 2

Verses 1-7

1. The Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-42.2.7. And first a historical note: Luke 2:1-42.2.2.

The words in those days refer to the time which followed the birth of John the Baptist, and give the remark in Luk 1:80 an anticipatory character. Δόγμα denotes, in classical Greek, any edict of a recognised authority. The use of the word ἐξελθεῖν , to go forth, in the sense of being published, answers to the meaning of א , Daniel 9:2-27.9.3. The term ἀπογραφή , description, denotes among the Romans the inscription on an official register of the name, age, profession, and fortune of each head of a family, and of the number of his children, with a view to the assessment of a tax. The fiscal taxation which followed was more particularly indicated by the term ἀποτίμησις .

Criticism raises several objections against the truth of the fact related in ver. Luk 1:1 st, No historian of the time mentions such a decree of Augustus. 2 d, On the supposition that Augustus had issued such an edict, it would not have been applicable to the states of Herod in general, nor to Judea in particular, since this country was not reduced to a Roman province until ten or eleven years later the year 6 of our era. 3 d, A Roman edict, executed within the states of Herod, must have been executed according to Roman forms; and according to these, it would have been in no way necessary for Joseph to put in an appearance at Bethlehem; for, according to Roman law, registration was made at the place of birth or residence, and not at the place where the family originated. 4 th, Even admitting the necessity of removal in the case of Joseph, this obligation did not extend to Mary, who, as a woman, was not liable to registration.

In order to meet some of these difficulties, Hug has limited the meaning of the words, all the earth, to Palestine. But the connection of this expression with the name Caesar Augustus will not allow of our accepting this explanation; besides which, it leaves several of the difficulties indicated untouched. The reader who feels any confidence in Luke's narrative, and who is desirous of solving its difficulties, will find, we think, a solution resulting from the following facts:

From the commencement of his reign, Augustus always aimed at a stronger centralization of the empire. Already, under Julius Caesar, there had been undertaken, with a view to a more exact assessment of taxation, a great statistical work, a complete survey of the empire, descriptio orbis. This work, which occupied thirty-two years, was only finished under Augustus. This prince never ceased to labour in the same direction. After his death, Tiberius caused to be read in the Senate, in accordance with instructions contained in the will of Augustus, a statistical document, which applied not only to the empire properly so called, but also to the allied kingdoms, a category to which the states of Herod belonged. This document, called Breviarium totius imperii, was written entirely by Augustus' own hand. It gave “the number of the citizens and of allies under arms, of the fleets, of the kingdoms, of the provinces, of the tributes or taxes. ” The compilation of such a document as this necessarily supposes a previous statistical labour, comprehending not only the empire proper, but also the allied states. And if Augustus had ordered this work, Herod, whose kingdom belonged to the number of regna reddita, could not have refused to take part in it.

The silence of historians in regard to this fact proves simply nothing against its reality. Wieseler gives a host of examples of similar omissions. The great statistical work previously accomplished by Julius Caesar, and about which no one can entertain a doubt, is not noticed by any historian of the time. Josephus, in his Jewish War, written before his Antiquities, when giving an account of the government of Coponius, does not mention even the census of Quirinius. Then it must not be forgotten that one of our principal sources for the life of Augustus, Dion Cassius, presents a blank for just the years 748-750 U.C.

Besides, this silence is amply compensated for by the positive information we find in later writers. Thus, Tertullian mentions, as a well-known fact, “the census taken in Judea under Augustus by Sentius Saturnius,” that is to say, from 744-748 U.C., and consequently only a short time before the death of Herod in 750. The accounts of Cassiodorus and Suidas leave no doubt as to the great statistical labours accomplished by the orders of Augustus. The latter says expressly: “Caesar Augustus, having chosen twenty men of the greatest ability, sent them into all the countries of the subject nations ( τῶν ὑπηκόων ), and caused them to make a registration ( ἀπογραφάς ) of men and property ( τῶντε ἀνθρώπων καὶ οὐσιῶν ).” These details are not furnished by Luke. And if the task of these commissioners specially referred, as Suidas says, to the subject nations, the omission of all mention of this measure in the historians of the time is more easily accounted for.

Surprise is expressed at an edict of Augustus having reference to the states of Herod. But Herod's independence was only relative. There is no money known to have been coined in his name; the silver coin circulating in his dominions was Roman. From the time of the taking of Jerusalem by Pompey, the Jews paid the Romans a double tribute, a polltax and a land-tax. Tacitus also speaks of complaints from Syria and Judea against the taxes which burdened them. Further, the Jews had quite recently, according to Josephus, been obliged to take individually an oath of obedience to the emperor ( Antiq. 17.2. 4). The application of a decree of Augustus to the dominions of Herod, a simple vassal of the emperor, presents, therefore, nothing improbable. Only it is evident that the emperor, in the execution of the decree, would take care to respect in form the sovereignty of the king, and to execute it altogether by his instrumentality. Besides, it was the custom of the Romans, especially in their fiscal measures, always to act by means of the local authorities, and to conform as far as possible to national usages. Augustus would not depart from this method in regard to Herod, who was generally an object of favour.

And this observation overthrows another objection, namely, that according to Roman custom, Joseph would not have to present himself in the place where his family originated, since the census was taken at the place of residence. But Roman usage did not prevail here. In conformity with the remnant of independence which Judea still enjoyed, the census demanded by the emperor would certainly be executed according to Jewish forms. These, doubtless, were adapted to the ancient constitution of tribes and families, the basis of Israelitish organization: this mode was at once the simplest, since the greater part of the families still lived on their hereditary possessions, and the surest, inasmuch as families that had removed would be anxious to strengthen a link on which might depend questions of inheritance and other rights besides. That which distinguished the census of Quirinius, ten years later, from all similar undertakings that had preceded it, was just this, that on this occasion the Roman authority as such executed it, without the intervention of the national power and Jewish customs. Then, accordingly, the people keenly felt the reality of their subjection, and broke into revolt. And history has preserved scarcely any record of similar measures which preceded this eventful census.

As to Mary, we may explain without any difficulty the reasons which induced her to accompany Joseph. If, at Luke 2:5, we make the words with Mary depend specially on the verb in order to be enrolled, the fact may be explained by the circumstance that, according to Roman law, women among conquered nations were subject to the capitation tax. Ulpian expressly says this ( De censibus): “that in Syria (this term comprehends Palestine) men are liable to the capitation from their fourteenth year, women from their twelfth to their sixtieth.” Perhaps women were sometimes summoned to appear in person, in order that their age might be ascertained. Or, indeed, we may suppose that Mary was the sole representative of one of the branches of her tribe, an heiress, which obliged her to appear in person. Perhaps, also, by the inscription of her name she was anxious to establish anew, in view of her son, her descent from the family of David. But we may join the words with Mary to the verb went up. The motives which would induce Mary to accompany Joseph in this journey are obvious. If, in the whole course of the Gospel history, we never see the least reflection cast on the reputation of Mary, although only six months had elapsed between her marriage and the birth of Jesus, is not this circumstance explained by the very fact of this journey, which providentially removed Joseph and Mary from Nazareth for a sufficient length of time, just when the birth took place? Mary must have recognised the finger of God in the event which compelled Joseph to leave home, and have been anxious to accompany him.

But a much more serious difficulty than any of the preceding arises relative to Luke 2:2. If this verse is translated, as it usually is, “ This census, which was the first, took place when Quirinius governed Syria,” we must suppose, on account of what precedes, that Quirinius filled this office before the death of Herod. But history proves that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until the year 4, and that he did not execute the enumeration which bears his name until the year 6 of our era, after the deposition of Archelaus, the son and successor of Herod, that is to say, ten years at least after the birth of Jesus. It was Varus who was governor of Syria at the death of Herod.

An attempt has been made to solve this difficulty by correcting the text: Theodore de Beza by making Luk 2:2 an interpolation; Michaelis by adding the words πρὸ τῆς after ἐγένετο : “This enumeration took place before that which Quirinius executed...” These are conjectures without foundation.

Again, it has been proposed to give the word πρώτη , first, a meaning more or less unusual. And accordingly, some translate this word as primus is sometimes to be taken in Latin, and as erst regularly in German: “This census was executed only when...” ( prima accedit cum, geschah erst als). Such a Latinism is hardly admissible. And besides, if the execution had not followed the decree immediately (as the translation supposes), how could the decree have led to the removal of Joseph and the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem while Herod was still reigning?

An interpretation of the word πρώτη which is scarcely less forced, has been adopted by Tholuck, Ewald, Wieseler (who maintains and defends it at length in his last work), and Pressensé (in his Vie de Jésus). Relying on John 1:15, πρώτος μου , Luke 15:18, πρώτον ὑμῶν , they give to πρώτη the sense of προτέρα , and explain πρώτη ἡγεμονεύοντος as if it were πρότερονἡγεμονεύειν ; which results in the following translation: “This enumeration took place before Quirinius...” They cite from the LXX. Jeremiah 29:2, ὕστερον ἐξελθόντος ᾿Ιεχονίου , “after Jechonias was gone forth;” and from Plato, ὕστεροι ἀφίκοντο τῆς ἐν Μαραθῶνι μάχης γενομένης , “ they arrived after the battle of Marathon had taken place. ” But this accumulation of two irregularities, the employment of the superlative for the comparative, and of the comparative adjective for the adverb, is not admissible in such a writer as Luke, whose style is generally perfectly lucid, especially if, with Wieseler, after having given to πρώτη the sense of a comparative, we want to keep, in addition, its superlative meaning: “This enumeration took place as a first one, and before that...” This certainly goes beyond all limits of what is possible, whatever the high philological authorities may say for it, upon whose support this author thinks he can rely.

Another attempt at interpretation, proposed by Ebrard, sets out from a distinction between the meaning of ἀπογράφεσθαι ( Luk 2:1 ) and of ἀπογραφή ( Luk 2:2 ). The former of these two interpretations may denote the registration, the second the pecuniary taxation which resulted from it (the ἀποτίμησις ); and this difference of meaning would be indicated by the pronoun αυτη , which it would be necessary to read αὐτή ( ipsa), and not αὕτη ( ea). “As to the taxation itself (which followed the registration), it took place only when Quirinius was...” But why, in this case, did not Luke employ, in the second verse, another word than ἀπογραφή , which evidently recalled the ἀπογράφεσθαι of Luk 2:1 ? Köhler acknowledged that these two words should have an identical meaning; but, with Paulus, Lange, and others, he thinks he can distinguish between the publication of the decree ( Luk 2:1 ) and its execution ( Luk 2:2 ), which only took place ten years afterwards, and, with this meaning, put the accent on ἐγένετο : “Caesar Augustus published a decree ( Luk 2:1 ), and the registration decreed by him was executed (only) when Quirinius...” ( Luk 2:2 ). But the difficulty is to see how this decree, if it was not immediately enforced, could induce the removal of Joseph and Mary Köhler replies that the measure decreed began to be carried into execution; but on account of the disturbances which it excited it was soon suspended, and that it was only resumed and completely carried out ( ἐγένετο ) under Quirinius. This explanation is ingenious, but very artificial. And further, it does not suit the context. Luke, after having positively denied the execution of the measure ( Luk 2:2 ), would relate afterwards ( Luk 2:3 and ff.), without the least explanation, a fact which has no meaning, but on the supposition of the immediate execution of this decree!

There remain a number of attempted solutions which rely on history rather than philology. As far as the text is concerned, they may be classed with the ordinary explanation which treats the words ἡγεμονεύοντος Κυρηνίου as a genitive absolute. Several of the older expositors, as Casaubon, Sanclemente, and more recently Hug and Neander, starting with the fact that before Quirinius was governor of Syria he took a considerable part in the affairs of the East (Tac. Ann. 3.48), supposed that he presided over the census, of which Luke here speaks, in the character of an imperial commissioner. Luke, they think, applied to this temporary jurisdiction the term ἡγεμονεύειν , which ordinarily denotes the function of a governor in the proper sense of the term. Zumpt even believed he could prove that Quirinius had been twice governor of Syria, in the proper sense of the word, and that it was during the former of these two administrations that he presided over the census mentioned by Luke. Mommsen also admits the fact of the double administration of Quirinius as governor of Syria. He relies particularly on a tumular inscription discovered in 1764, which, if it refers to Quirinius, would seem to say that this person had been governor of Syria on two occasions ( iterum). But does this inscription really refer to Quirinius? And has the term iterum all the force which is given to it? Wieseler clearly shows that these questions are not yet determined with any certainty. And supposing even that this double administration of Quirinius could be proved, the former, which is the one with which we are concerned here, could not have been, as Zumpt acknowledges, until from the end of 750 to 753 U.C. Now it is indisputable that at this time Herod had been dead some months (the spring of 750), and consequently, according to the text of Luke, Jesus was already born. One thing, however, is certain, that Quirinius, a person honoured with the emperor's entire confidence, took a considerable part, throughout this entire period, in the affairs of the East, and of Syria in particular. And we do not see what objection there is, from a historical point of view, to the hypothesis of Gerlach, who thinks that, whilst Varus was the political and military governor of Syria (from 748), Quirinius administered its financial affairs, and that it was in the capacity of quaestor that he presided over the census which took place among the Jews at this time. Josephus ( Antiq. 16.9. 1, 2, and Bell. Jud. 1.27. 2) designates these two magistrates, the praeses and the quaestor, by the titles of ἡγεμόνες and τῆς Συρίας ἐπιστατοῦντες . There is nothing, then, to hinder our giving a somewhat more general meaning to the verb ἡγεμονεύειν , or supposing, we may add, that Luke attributed to Quirinius as governor a function which he accomplished as quaestor. In this case, Quirinius would have already presided over a first enumeration under Herod in 749, before directing the better known census which took place in 759 U.C., and which provoked the revolt of Judas the Galilean.

Those who are not satisfied with any of these attempts at explanation admit an error in Luke, but not all in the same sense. Meyer thinks that ἡγεμονεύειν in Luke's text must keep its ordinary meaning, but that Luke, in employing this term here, confounded the later enumeration of the year 6 with that over which this person presided ten years earlier in the capacity of imperial commissioner. Schleiermacher and Bleek admit a greater error: Luke must have confounded a simple sacerdotal census, which took place in the latter part of Herod's reign, with the famous enumeration of the year 6. Strauss and Keim go further still. In their view, the enumeration of Luk 2:1-2 is a pure invention of Luke's, either to account for the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, as required by popular prejudice (Strauss), or to establish a significant parallel between the birth of Jesus and the complete subjection of the people (Keim, p. 399). But the text of Luke is of a too strictly historical and prosaic character to furnish the least support to Keim's opinion. That of Strauss might apply to a Gospel like Matthew, which lays great stress on the connection between the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem and Messianic prophecy; but it in no way applies to Luke's Gospel, which does not contain the slightest allusion to the prophecy. Schleiermacher's explanation is a pure conjecture, and one which borders on absurdity. That of Meyer, which in substance is very nearly the opinion of Gerlach, would certainly be the most probable of all these opinions. Only there are two facts which hardly allow of our imputing to Luke a confusion of facts in this place. The first is, that, according to Acts 5:37, he was well acquainted with the later enumeration which occasioned the revolt of Judas the Galilean, and which he calls, in an absolute way, the enumeration. Luke could not be ignorant that this revolt took place on the occasion of the definitive annexation of Judea to the empire, and consequently at some distance of time after the death of Herod. Now, in our text, he places the enumeration of which he is speaking in the reign of Herod! The second fact is the perfect knowledge Luke had, according to Luke 23:6-42.23.9, of the subsequent political separation between Judea and Galilee. Now, the registration of a Galilean in Judea supposes that the unity of the Israelitish monarchy was still in existence. In the face of these two plain facts, it is not easy to admit that there was any confusion on his part.

May we be permitted, after so many opinions have been broached, to propose a new one? We have seen that the census which was carried out by Quirinius in 759 U.C., ten years after the birth of Jesus, made a deep impression upon all the people, convincing them of their complete political servitude. This census is called the enumeration without any qualification, therefore ( Act 5:37 ); but it might also be designated the first enumeration, inasmuch as it was the first census executed by pagan authority; and it would be in this somewhat technical sense that the expression ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη would here have to be taken. We should accentuate αυτη (as has been already proposed) αὐτή , which presents no critical difficulty, since the ancient MSS. have no accents, and understand the second verse thus: As to the census itself called the first, it took place under the government of Quirinius. Luke would break off to remark that, prior to the well-known enumeration which took place under Quirinius, and which history had taken account of under the name of the first, there had really been another, generally lost sight of, which was the very one here in question; and thus that it was not unadvisedly that he spoke of a census anterior to the first. In this way, 1 st, the intention of this parenthesis is clear; 2 d, the asyndeton between Luk 2:1-2 is explained quite in a natural way; and 3 d, the omission of the article ἡ between ἀπογραφή and πρώτη , which has the effect of making ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη a sort of proper name (like ἡ ἐπιστολὴ πρώτη , δευτέρα ), is completely justified.

Vers. 3-7. The terms οἶκος and πατριά , house and family ( Luk 2:4 ), have not an invariable meaning in the LXX. According to the etymology and the context, the former appears to have here the wider meaning, and to denote the entire connections of David, comprising his brethren and their direct descendants.

On this journey of Mary, see p. 123. The complement with Mary appears to us to depend, not on the verb ἀπογράψασθαι , to be enrolled, as Meyer, Bleek, etc., decide, but on the entire phrase ἀνέβη ἀπογράφασθαι , he went up to be enrolled, and more especially on he went up. For, as Wieseler observes, the important point for the context is, that she went up, not that she was enrolled. And the words in apposition, being great with child, connect themselves much better with the idea of going up than with that of being enrolled.

There is great delicacy in the received reading, which has also the best support critically, his espoused wife. The substantive indicates the character in which Mary made the journey; the participle recalls the real state of things. The Alex., not having perceived this shade of thought, have wrongly omitted γυναικί .

From the last proposition of Luke 2:7, in which φάτνη , a manger, seems opposed to κατάλυμα , an inn, some interpreters have inferred that the former of these two words should here have a wider sense, and signify a stable. But this meaning is unexampled. We have merely to supply a thought: “in the manger, because they were lodging in the stable, seeing that...” The article τῇ designates the manger as that belonging to the stable. The Alex., therefore, have wrongly omitted it.

Did this stable form part of the hostelry? or was it, as all the apocryphal writings and Justin allege, a cave near the city? In the time of Origen, a grotto was shown where the birth of Jesus took place. It was on this place that Helena, the mother of Constantine built a church; and it is probable that the Church Mariae de Praesepio is erected on the same site. The text of Luke would not be altogether incompatible with this idea. But probably it is only a supposition, resulting on the one hand from the common custom in the East of using caves for stables, and on the other from a mistaken application to the Messiah of Isaiah 33:16, “ He shall dwell in a lofty cave,” quoted by Justin.

The expression first-born naturally implies that the writer believed Mary had other children afterwards, otherwise there would be no just ground for the use of this term. It may be said that Luke employs it with a view to the account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple as a first-born son ( Luk 2:22 et seq.). But this connection is out of the question in Matthew 1:25.

This expression proves that the composition of the narrative dates from a time posterior to the birth of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Thus was accomplished, in the obscurity of a stable, the fact which was to change the face of the world; and Mary's words ( Luk 1:51 ), “ He hath put down the mighty, and exalted the lowly,” were still further verified. “ The weakness of God is stronger than men,” says St. Paul; this principle prevails throughout all this history, and constitutes its peculiar character.

Verses 1-20

Fifth Narrative: The Birth of the Saviour, Luke 2:1-42.2.20 .

Henceforth there exists in the midst of corrupt humanity a pure Being, on whom God's regard can rest with unmingled satisfaction. Uniting in this divine contemplation, the celestial intelligences already see streaming from this fire those waves of light which will ultimately penetrate to the remotest bounds of the moral universe. The new creation, the union of God with the sanctified creature begins to find its accomplishment in this Being, in order to extend from Him to the whole of mankind, and to comprehend at last heaven itself, which is to be united with us under one and the same head, and to adore one Lord Jesus Christ as its Lord (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 1:10; Php 2:9-11 ). Such is the point of view we must take in order to appreciate the following narrative: 1. Jesus is born ( Luk 2:1-7 ); 2. The angels celebrate this birth ( Luk 2:8-14 ); 3. The shepherds ascertain and publish it ( Luk 2:15-20 ).

Verses 8-14

2. The appearing of the angels: Luke 2:8-42.2.14. “ The gospel is preached to the poor. ” The following narrative contains the first application of this divine method. Luk 2:8-9 relate the appearing of the angel to the shepherds; Luke 2:10-42.2.12, his discourse; Luke 2:13-42.2.14, the song of the heavenly host.

Vers. 8 and 9. Among the Jews, the occupation of keepers of sheep was held in a sort of contempt. According to the treatise Sanhedrin, they were not to be admitted as witnesses; and according to the treatise Aboda Zara, succour must not be given to shepherds and heathen. ᾿Αγραυλεῖν , properly, to make his ἀγρός his αὐλή , his field his abode. Columella ( De re rusticâ) describes these αὐλαί as enclosures surrounded by high walls, sometimes covered in, and sometimes sub dio (open to the sky). As it is said in a passage in the Talmud that the flocks are kept in the open air during the portion of the year between the Passover and the early autumnal rains, it has been inferred from this narrative of the shepherds that Jesus must have been born during the summer. Wieseler, however, observes that this Talmudic determination of the matter applies to the season passed by the flocks out on the steppes, far away from human dwellings. The flocks in this case were not so.

In the expression φυλάσσειν φυλακάς , the plural φυλακάς perhaps denotes that they watched in turns. The genitive τῆς νυκτός must be taken adverbially: the watch, such as is kept by night. ᾿Ιδού ( Luk 2:9 ) is omitted by the Alex. But it is probably authentic; it depicts the surprise of the shepherds. ᾿Επέστη does not signify that the angel stood above them (comp. ἐπιστᾶσα , Luk 2:38 ). It is our survenir ( to come unexpectedly). We must translate, as in Luke 1:11, an angel, not the angel. This is proved by the article ὁ at Luke 2:10 (see Luk 1:13 ). By the glory of the Lord must be here understood, as generally, the supernatural light with which God appears, whether personally or by His representatives.

Vers. 10-12. The angel first announces the favourable nature of his message; for at the sight of any supernatural appearance man's first feeling is fear. ῞Ητις , “which, inasmuch as great, is intended for the whole people.”

Ver. 11, the message itself. By the title Saviour, in connection with the idea of joy ( Luk 2:10 ), is expressed the pity angels feel at the sight of the miserable state of mankind. The title Christ, anointed, refers to the prophecies which announce this Person, and the long expectation He comes to satisfy. The title Lord indicates that He is the representative of the divine sovereignty. This latter title applies also to His relation to the angels. The periphrasis, the city of David, hints that this child will be a second David.

Ver. 12, the sign by means of which the shepherds may determine the truth of this message. This sign has nothing divine about it but its contrast with human glory. There could not have been many other children born that night in Bethlehem; and among these, if there were any, no other certainly would have a manger for its cradle.

Vers. 13 and 14. The troop of angels issues forth all at once from the depths of that invisible world which surrounds us on every side. By their song they come to give the key-note of the adoration of mankind. The variation of some Alex. and of the Latin translations, which read the gen. εὐδοκίας instead of the nom. εὐδοκία , is preferred in the modern exegesis: “peace to the men of goodwill. ” In this case the song divides itself into two parallel propositions, whether the words and on earth be referred to that which precedes, “Glory to God in the highest places and on earth; peace to the men of goodwill;” or, which is certainly preferable, they be connected with what follows, “Glory to God in the highest places; and on earth peace to the men of goodwill.” In this second interpretation the parallelism is complete: the three ideas, peace, men, on earth, in the second member, answer to the three ideas, glory, God, in the highest places, in the first. Men make their praise arise towards God in the heavens; God makes His peace descend towards them on the earth. The gen. εὐδοκίας , of goodwill, may refer to the pious dispositions towards God with which a part of mankind are animated. But this interpretation is hardly natural. Εὐδοκία , from εὐδοκεῖν , to delight in, א , denotes an entirely gracious goodwill, the initiative of which is in the subject who feels it. This term does not suit the relation of man to God, but only that of God to man. Therefore, with this reading, we must explain the words thus: Peace on earth to the men who are the objects of divine goodwill. But this use of the genitive is singularly rude, and almost barbarous; the men of goodwill, meaning those on whom goodwill rests..., is a mode of expression without any example. We are thus brought back to the reading of the T. R., present also in 14 Mjj., among which are L. and Z., which generally agree with the Alex., the Coptic translation, of which the same may be said, and the Peschito. With this reading, the song consists of three propositions, of which two are parallel, and the third forms a link between the two. In the first, glory to God in the highest places, the angels demand that, from the lower regions to which they have just come down, from the bosom of humanity, praise shall arise, which, ascending from heavens to heavens, shall reach at last the supreme sanctuary, the highest places, and there glorify the divine perfections that shine forth in this birth. The second, peace on earth, is the counterpart of the first. While inciting men to praise, the angels invoke on them peace from God. This peace is such as results from the reconciliation of man with God; it contains the cause of the cessation of all war here below. These two propositions are of the nature of a desire or prayer. The verb understood is ἔστω , let it be. The third, which is not connected with the preceding by any particle, proclaims the fact which is the ground of this two-fold prayer. If the logical connection were expressed, it would be by the word for. This fact is the extraordinary favour shown to men by God, and which is displayed in the gift He is bestowing upon them at this very time. The sense is, “for God takes pleasure in men.” In speaking thus, the angels seem to mean, God has not bestowed as much on us ( Heb 2:16 ). The idea of εὐδοκία , goodwill, recalls the first proposition, “Glory to God!” whilst the expression towards men reminds us of the second, “Peace on earth!” For the word εὐδοκία , comp. Eph 1:5 and Philippians 2:13.

When the witnesses of the blessing sing, how could they who are the objects of it remain silent?

Verses 15-20

3. The visit of the shepherds: Luke 2:15-42.2.20.

The angel had notified a sign to the shepherds, and invited them to ascertain its reality. This injunction they obey.

Vers. 15-20. The T. R. exhibits in Luke 2:15 a singular expression: “And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away,... the men, the shepherds, said...” The impression of the shepherds when, the angels having disappeared, they found themselves alone among men, could not be better expressed. The omission of the words καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι in the Alex. is owing to the strangeness of this form, the meaning of which they did not understand. The καὶ before οἱ ἄνθρωποι is doubtless the sign of the apodosis, like the Hebrew א ; but at the same time it brings out the close connection between the disappearance of the angels and the act of the shepherds, as they addressed themselves to the duty of obeying them. The aorist εἶπον of the T. R. is certainly preferable to the imperf. ἐλάλουν of the Alex., since it refers to an act immediately followed by a result: “ They said (not they were saying) one to another, Let us go therefore.”

The term ῥῆμα denotes, as דָּבָר , H1821 so often does, a word in so far as accomplished ( γεγονός ). We see how the original Aramaean form is carefully preserved even to the minutest details. ᾿Ανά in ἀνεῦρον expresses the discovery in succession of the objects enumerated. ᾿Εγνώρισαν or διεγνώρισαν (Alex.), Luke 2:17, may signify to verify; in the fifteenth verse, however, ἐγνώρισαν signifies to make known, and in Luk 2:17 it is the most natural meaning. There is a gradation here: heaven had revealed; and now, by the care of men, publicity goes on increasing. This sense also puts the seventeenth verse in more direct connection with what follows. The compound διαγνωρίζειν , to divulge, appears to us for this reason to be preferred to the simple form (in the Alex.).

Vers. 18-20 describe the various impressions produced by what had taken place. In the eighteenth verse, a vague surprise in the greater part ( all those who heard). On the other hand ( δέ ), Luke 2:19, a profound impression and exercise of mind in Mary. First of all, she is careful to store up all the facts in her mind with a view to preserve them ( συντηρεῖν ); but this first and indispensable effort is closely connected with the further and subordinate aim of comparing and combining these facts, in order to discover the divine idea which explains and connects them. What a difference between this thoughtfulness and the superficial astonishment of the people around her! There is more in the joyful feelings and adoration of the shepherds ( Luk 2:20 ) than in the impressions of those who simply heard their story, but less than in Mary. Δοξάζειν , to glorify, expresses the feeling of the greatness of the work; αἰνεῖν , to praise, refers to the goodness displayed in it.

Closely connected as they are, the two participles heard and seen can only refer to what took place in the presence of the shepherds after they reached the stable. They were told the remarkable occurrences that had preceded the birth of Jesus; it is to this that the word heard refers. And they beheld the manger and the infant; this is what is expressed by the word seen. And the whole was a confirmation of the angel's message to them. They were convinced that they had not been the victims of an hallucination.

The reading ὑπέστρεψαν (they returned thence) is evidently to be preferred to the ill-supported reading of the T. R., ἐπέστρεψαν (they returned to their flocks).

Whence were these interesting details of the impression made on the shepherds and those who listened to their story, and of the feelings of Mary, obtained? How can any one regard them as a mere embellishment of the author's imagination, or as the offspring of legend? The Aramaean colouring of the narrative indicates an ancient source. The oftener we read the nineteenth verse, the more assured we feel that Mary was the first and real author of this whole narrative. This pure, simple, and private history was composed by her, and preserved for a certain time in an oral form, until some one committed it to writing, whose work fell into the hands of Luke, and was reproduced by him in Greek.

Verse 21

1. The Circumcision: Luke 2:21.

It was under the Jewish form that Jesus was to realize the ideal of human existence. The theocracy was the surrounding prepared of God for the development of the Son of man. So to His entrance into life by birth succeeds, eight days after, His entrance into the covenant by circumcision. “ Born of a woman, made under the law,” says St. Paul, Galatians 4:4, to exhibit the connection between these two facts. There is a brevity in the account of the circumcision of Jesus which contrasts with the fuller account of the circumcision of John the Baptist (chap. 1). This difference is natural; the simply Jewish ceremony of circumcision has an importance, in the life of the latest representative of the theocracy, which does not belong to it in the life of Jesus, who only entered into the Jewish form of existence to pass through it.

Ver. 21. The absence of the article before ἡμέραι ὀκτώ is due to the determinative τοῦ περιτεμεῖν αὐτόν which follows. In Hebrew the construct state (subst. with complement) excludes the article.

The false reading of the T. R., τὸ παιδίον instead of αὐτόν , proceeds from the cause which has occasioned the greater part of the errors in this text, the necessities of public reading. As the section to be read began with this verse, it was necessary to substitute the noun for the pronoun. Καί , while marking the apodosis, brings out the intimate connection between the circumcision and the giving of the name. This καί is almost a τότε , then.

Verses 21-40

Sixth Narrative: Circumcision and Presentation of Jesus, Luke 2:21-42.2.40 .

This narrative comprises 1. The circumcision of Jesus ( Luk 2:21 ); 2. His presentation in the temple ( Luk 2:22-38 ); 3. A historical conclusion ( Luk 2:39-40 ).

Verses 22-24

2. The presentation: Luke 2:22-42.2.38.

And first the sacrifice, Luke 2:22-42.2.24. After the circumcision there were two other rites to observe. One concerned the mother. Levitically unclean for eight days after the birth of a son, and for fourteen days after that of a daughter, the Israelitish mother, after a seclusion of thirty-three days in the first case, and of double this time in the second, had to offer in the temple a sacrifice of purification (Leviticus 12:0). The other rite had reference to the child; when it was a first-born, it had to be redeemed by a sum of money from consecration to the service of God and the sanctuary. In fact, the tribe of Levi had been chosen for this office simply to take the place of the first-born males of all the families of Israel; and in order to keep alive a feeling of His rights in the hearts of the people, God had fixed a ransom to be paid for every first-born male. It was five shekels, or, reckoning the shekel at 2 Samuel 4:0 d., nearly 12s. (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 8:16; Num 18:15 ).

Vers. 22 and 23 refer to the ransom of the child; Luk 2:24 to Mary's sacrifice. Αὐτῶν , their purification, is certainly the true reading. This pronoun refers primarily to Mary, then to Joseph, who is, as it were, involved in her uncleanness, and obliged to go up with her. Every detail of the narrative is justified with the greatest care in the three verses by a legal prescription.

The sacrifice for the mother ( Luk 2:24 ) consisted properly of the offering of a lamb as a sin-offering. But when the family was poor, the offering was limited to a pair of pigeons or two turtle-doves ( Lev 12:8 ).

Verses 25-28

From the twenty-fifth verse Simeon becomes the centre of the picture: Luk 2:25-28 relate his coming in; Luke 2:29-42.2.32, his song; Luke 2:33-42.2.35, his address to the parents.

Vers. 25-28. In times of spiritual degeneracy, when an official clergy no longer cultivates anything but the form of religion, its spirit retires amongst the obscurer members of the religious community, and creates for itself unofficial organs, often from the lowest classes. Simeon and Anna are representatives of this spontaneous priesthood. It has been conjectured that Simeon might be the rabbi of this name, son of the famous Hillel, and father of Gamaliel. But this Simeon, who became president of the Sanhedrim in the year 13 of our era, could hardly be the one mentioned by Luke, who at the birth of Jesus was already an old man. Further, this conjecture is scarcely compatible with the religious character of Luke's Simeon. The name was one of the commonest in Israel.

The term just denotes positive qualities; fearing God

A. V. devout ( εὐλαβής appears to be the true reading) watchfulness with regard to evil.

The separation of πνεῦμα from ἅγιον by the verb ἦν in the greater part of the MSS. gives prominence to the idea of the adjective. An influence rested upon him, and this influence was holy. Χρηματίζειν , properly, to do business; thence, to act officially, communicate a decision, give forth an oracle.

The reading κύριον has neither probability nor authority; κυρίου is the genitive of possession: the Christ whom Jehovah gives and sends.

There are critical moments in life, when everything depends on immediate submission to the impulse of the Spirit. The words ἐν τῷ πνεύματι , in spirit, or by the spirit, do not denote a state of ecstasy, but a higher impulse.

A contradiction has been found between the term γονεῖς , parents, and the preceding narrative of the miraculous birth; and Meyer finds in this fact a proof that Luke avails himself here of a different document from that which he previously used. What criticism! The word parents is simply used to indicate the character in which Joseph and Mary appeared at this time in the temple and presented the child.

The καί of the twenty-eighth verse indicates the apodosis; exactly as if the circumstantial ἐν τῷ εἰσαγαγεῖν ...formed a subordinate proposition; this καί , at the same time, brings out the close connection between the act of the parents who present the child and that of Simeon, who is found there opening his arms to receive it. By the term receive, the text makes Simeon the true priest, who acts for the time on behalf of God.

Verses 29-32

Vers. 29-32. “ Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.

The vivid insight and energetic conciseness which characterize this song remind us of the compositions of David. Simeon represents himself under the image of a sentinel whom his master has placed in an elevated position, and charged to look for the appearance of a star, and then announce it to the world. He sees this long-desired star; he proclaims its rising, and asks to be relieved of the post he has occupied so long. In the same way, at the opening of AEschylus' Agamemnon, when the sentinel, set to watch for the appearing of the fire that is to announce the taking of Troy, beholds at last the signal so impatiently expected, he sings at once both the victory of Greece and his own release.

Beneath each of these terms in Luk 2:29 is found the figure which we have just indicated: νῦν , now, that is to say, at last, after such long waiting! The word ἀπολύειν , to release, discharge, contains the two ideas of relieving a sentinel on duty, and delivering from the burden of life. These two ideas are mixed up together here, because for a long time past Simeon's earthly existence had been prolonged simply in view of this special mandate. The term δέσποτα , lord, expresses Simeon's acknowledgment of God's absolute right over him. ῾Ρῆμά σου , Thy word, is an allusion to the word of command which the commander gives to the sentinel. The expression, in peace, answers to the word now, with which the song begins. This soul, which for a long time past has been all expectation, has now found the satisfaction it desired, and can depart from earth in perfect peace.

Luk 2:30-31 form, as it were, a second strophe. Simeon is now free. For his eyes have seen.

The term σωτήριον , which we can only translate by salvation, is equivalent neither to σωτήρ , Saviour, nor to σωτηρία , salvation. This word, the neuter of the adjective σωτήριος , saving, denotes an apparatus fitted to save. Simeon sees in this little child the means of deliverance which God is giving to the world. The term prepare is connected with this sense of σωτήριον : we make ready an apparatus. This notion of preparation may be applied to the entire theocracy, by which God had for a long time past been preparing for the appearance of the Messiah. But it is simpler to apply this term to the birth of the infant. The complement, in the sight of, must be explained in this case by an intermediate idea, “Thou hast prepared this means for placing before the eyes of...,” that is to say, in order that all may have the advantage of it. It is a similar expression to that of Psalms 23:5, “ Thou hast prepared a table before me. ” Perhaps this expression, in the sight of all nations, is connected with the fact that this scene took place in the court of the Gentiles. The universalism contained in these words, all nations, in no way goes beyond the horizon of the prophets, of Isaiah in particular (Isaiah 42:6; Isa 60:3 ); it is perfectly appropriate in the mouth of a man like Simeon, to whom the prophetic spirit is attributed.

The collective idea, all people, is divided, in the third strophe, into its two essential elements, the Gentiles and Israel. From Genesis to Revelation this is the great dualism of history, the contrast which determines its phases. The Gentiles are here placed first. Did Simeon already perceive that the salvation of the Jews could only be realized after the enlightenment of the heathen, and by this means? We shall see what a profound insight this old man had into the moral condition of the generation in which he lived. Guided by all that Isaiah had foretold respecting the future unbelief of Israel, he might have arrived at the conviction that his people were about to reject the Messiah ( Luk 2:35 ).

The idea of salvation is presented under two different aspects, according as it is applied to the heathen or to the Jews. To the first this child brings light, to the second glory. The heathen, in fact, are sunk in ignorance. In Isa 25:7 they are represented as enveloped in a thick mist, and covered with darkness. This covering is taken away by the Messiah. The genitive ἐθνῷν may be regarded as a genitive of the subject, the enlightenment which the heathen receive. The heathen might also be made the object of the enlightenment, the light whereby the covering which keeps them in darkness is done away, and they themselves are brought into open day. But this second sense is somewhat forced.

Whilst the ignorant heathen receive in this child the light of divine revelation, of which they have hitherto been deprived, the humiliated Jews are delivered by Him from their reproach, and obtain the glory which was promised them. Springing from amongst them, Jesus appears their crown in the eyes of mankind. But this will be at the end, not at the commencement of the Messianic drama.

In this song all is original, concise, enigmatical even, as the words of an oracle. In these brief pregnant sentences is contained the substance of the history of future ages. Neither the hackneyed inventions of legend, nor any preconceived dogmatic views, have any share in the composition of this joyous lyric.

Verses 33-35

Vers. 33-35. A carnal satisfaction, full of delusive hopes might easily have taken possession of the hearts of these parents, especially of the mother's, on hearing such words as these. But Simeon infuses into his message the drop of bitterness which no joy, not even holy joy, ever wants in a world of sin.

Instead of Joseph, which is the reading of T. R., the Alex. read: his father. We should have thought that the former of these two readings was a dogmatic correction, but that at Luk 2:27 the T. R. itself reads the word γονεῖς , parents. But the Alexandrian reading is supported by the fact that the ancient translations, the Peschito and Italic, have it.

Strauss finds something strange in the wonder of Joseph and Mary. Did they not already know all this? But in the first place, what Simeon has just said of the part this child would sustain towards the heathen goes beyond all that had hitherto been told them. And then especially, they might well be astonished to hear an unknown person, like Simeon, express himself about this child as a man completely initiated into the secret of His high destiny.

In the expression, he blessed them, Luke 2:34, the word them refers solely to the parents: the child is expressly distinguished from them ( this child).

Simeon addresses himself specially to Mary, as if he had discerned that a peculiar tie united her to the child. ᾿Ιδού , behold, announces the revelation of an unexpected truth. In Isa 8:14 the Messiah is represented as a rock on which believers find refuge, but whereon the rebellious are broken. Simeon, whose prophetic gift was developed under the influence of the ancient oracles, simply reproduces here this thought. The words, is set for, make it clear that this sifting, of which the Messiah will be the occasion, forms part of the divine plan. The images of a fall and a rising again are explained by that employed by Isaiah. The expression, signal of contradiction ( a sign which shall be spoken against, A. V.), may be understood in two ways: either it is an appearing about which men argue contradictorily, or it is a sign which excites opposition directly it appears. Taken in the first sense, this expression would reproduce the ideas of a fall and a rising again, and would be a simple repetition of that which precedes; in the second sense, it would merely recall the idea of a fall, and would form the transition to what follows. Will not the general unbelief of the nation be the cause of the sad lot of the Messiah, and of the sufferings that will fill the heart of His mother? The second sense is therefore preferable. The gradation καὶ σοῦ δὲ αὐτῆς , thy own also, Luke 2:35, is in this way readily understood. The δέ of the received reading is well suited to the context. “The opposition excited by this child will go so far, that thine own heart will be pierced by it.”

It is natural to refer what follows to the grief of Mary, when she shall behold the rejection and murder of her son. Some such words as those of Isaiah, “ He was bruised for our iniquities,” and of Zechariah, “ They shall look on me whom they have pierced,” had enlightened Simeon respecting this mystery. Bleek has proposed another explanation, which is less natural, although ingenious: “Thou shalt feel in thine own heart this contradiction in regard to thy son, when thou thy self shalt be seized with doubt in regard to His mission.” But the image of a sword must denote something more violent than simple doubt. Ψυχή , the soul, as the seat of the psychical affections, and consequently of maternal love.

It has been thought that the following proposition, in order that the thoughts of many..., could not be connected with that which immediately precedes; and for this reason some have tried to treat it as a parenthesis, and connect the in order that with the idea, This is set...( Luk 2:34 ). But this violent construction is altogether unnecessary. The hatred of which Jesus will be the object ( Luk 2:34 ), and which will pierce the heart of Mary with poignant grief ( Luk 2:35 ), will bring out those hostile thoughts towards God which in this people lie hidden under a veil of pharisaical devotion. Simeon discerned, beneath the outward forms of Jewish piety, their love of human glory, their hypocrisy, avarice, and hatred of God; and he perceives that this child will prove the occasion for all this hidden venom being poured forth from the recesses of their hearts. In order that has the same sense as is set for. God does not will the evil; but He wills that the evil, when present, should show itself: this is an indispensable condition to its being either healed or condemned. Πολλῶν , of many, appears to be a pronoun, the complement of καρδιῶν ( the hearts of many), rather than an adjective (of many hearts); comp. Romans 5:16.

The term διαλογισμοί , thoughts, has usually an unfavourable signification in the N. T.; it indicates the uneasy working of the understanding in the service of a bad heart. The epithet πονηροί , added by the Sinaiticus, is consequently superfluous. These words of Simeon breathe a concentrated indignation. We feel that this old man knows more about the moral condition of the people and their rulers than he has a mind to tell.

Verses 36-38

Vers. 36-38. Anna presents, in several respects, a contrast to Simeon. The latter came into the temple impelled by the Spirit; Anna lives there. Simeon has no desire but to die; Anna seems to recover the vigour of youth to celebrate the Messiah. The words ἣ οὐκ ἀφίστατο ( Luk 2:37 ) might be made the predicate of ἦν , and the two αυτη which separate them, two appositions of ῎Αννα . But it is simpler to understand ἦν in the sense of there was, or there was there, and to regard ἣ οὐκ ἀφιστατο as an appendix intended to bring back the narrative from the description of Anna's person to the actual fact. Meyer, who understands ἦν in the same way, begins a fresh proposition with the αὕτη which immediately follows, and assigns to it ἀνθωμολογεῖτο for its verb ( Luk 2:38 ). This construction is less natural, especially on account of the intermediate clauses ( Luk 2:37 ). Προβεβηκυῖα ἐν is a Hebraism (especially with πολλαῖς ), Luke 1:7. The moral purity of Anna is expressed by the term παρθενία , virginity, and by the long duration of her widowhood. Do the 84 years date from her birth, or from the death of her husband? In the latter case, supposing that she was married at 15, she would have been 106 years old. This sense is not impossible, and it more easily accounts perhaps for such a precise reckoning. Instead of ὡς , about, the Alex. read ἕως , until, a reading which appears preferable; for the restriction about would only be admissible with a round number 80, for example. Did Anna go into the temple in the morning, to spend the whole day there? or did she remain there during the night, spreading her poor pallet somewhere in the court? Luke's expression is compatible with either supposition. What he means is, that she was dead to the outer world, and only lived for the service of God.

We could not, with Tischendorf, following the Alex., erase one of the two αυτη ( Luk 2:38 ). Both can be perfectly accounted for, and the omission is easily explained by the repetition of the word. ᾿Αντί , in the compound ἀνθωμολογεῖτο , might refer to a kind of antiphony between Anna and Simeon. But in the LXX. this compound verb corresponds simply to הוֹדָה ( Psa 79:13 ); ἀντί only expresses, therefore, the idea of payment in acknowledgment which is inherent in an act of thanksgiving (as in the French word reconnaissance). The Alex. reading τῷ Θεῷ , to God, is probably a correction, arising from the fact that in the O. T. the verb ἀνθωμολογεῖσθαι never governs anything but God. It is less natural to regard the received reading as resulting from the pronoun αὐτοῦ , Him, which follows.

We need not refer the imperf., she spake, merely to the time then present; she was doing it continually. The reading of some Alex., “those who were looking for the deliverance of Jerusalem,” is evidently a mistaken imitation of the expression, the consolation of Israel ( Luk 2:25 ). The words, in Jerusalem, naturally depend on the participle, that looked for. The people were divided into three parties. The Pharisees expected an outward triumph from the Messiah; the Sadducees expected nothing; between them were the true faithful, who expected the consolation, that is, deliverance. It was these last, who, according to Ezekiel's expression (chap. 9), cried for all the abominations of Jerusalem, that were represented by Anna and Simeon; and it was amongst these that Anna devoted herself to the ministry of an evangelist. If Luke had sought, as is supposed, occasions for practising his muse, by inventing personages for his hymns, and hymns for his personages, how came he to omit here to put a song into the mouth of Anna, as a counterpart to Simeon's?

3. Historical conclusion: Luke 2:39-42.2.40.

It is a characteristic feature of Luke's narrative, and one which is preserved throughout, that he exhibits the various actors in the evangelical drama as observing a scrupulous fidelity to the law (Luke 1:6, Luke 2:22-42.2.24, Luk 23:56 ). It is easy also to understand why Marcion, the opponent of the law, felt obliged to mutilate this writing in order to adapt it to his system. But what is less conceivable is, that several critics should find in such a Gospel the monument of a tendency systematically opposed to Jewish Christianity. The fact is, that in it the law always holds the place which according to history it ought to occupy. It is under its safeguard that the transition from the old covenant to the new is gradually effected. It is easy to perceive that Luk 2:39 has a religious rather than a chronological reference. “They returned to Nazareth only after having fulfilled every prescription of the law.” Luk 2:40 contains a short sketch of the childhood of Jesus, answering to the similar sketc, Luke 1:66, of that of John the Baptist. It is probably from this analogous passage that the gloss πνεύματι , in spirit, has been derived. It is wanting in the principal Alex. and Graeco-Latin documents. The expression He grew refers to His physical development. The next words, He waxed strong, are defined by the words being filled, or more literally, filling Himself with wisdom; they refer to His spiritual, intellectual, and religious development. The wisdom which formed the leading feature of this development (in John the Baptist it was strength) comprises, on the one hand, the knowledge of God; on the other, a penetrating understanding of men and things from a divine point of view. The image ( filling Himself) appears to be that of a vessel, which, while increasing in size, fills itself, and, by filling itself, enlarges so as to be continually holding more. It is plain that Luke regards the development, and consequently the humanity, of Jesus as a reality. Here we have the normal growth of man from a physical and moral point of view. It was accomplished for the first time on our earth. God therefore regarded this child with perfect satisfaction, because His creative idea was realized in Him. This is expressed by the last clause of the verse. Χάρις , the divine favour. This word contrasts with χεῖρ , the hand, Luke 1:66. The accus. ἐπ᾿ αὐτό marks the energy with which the grace of God rested on the child, penetrating His entire being. This government contrasts with that of Luke 1:66, μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ , which only expresses simple co-operation. This description is partly taken from that of the young Samuel ( 1Sa 2:26 ); only Luke omits here the idea of human favour, which he reserves for Luke 2:52, where he describes the young man.

Let any one compare this description, in its exquisite sobriety, with the narratives of the infancy of Jesus in the apocryphal writings, and he will feel how authentic the tradition must have been from which such a narrative as this was derived.

Verses 41-45

1. The separation: Luke 2:41-42.2.45.

The idea of fidelity to the law is prominent also in this narrative. According to Exodus 23:17, Deuteronomy 16:16, men were to present themselves at the sanctuary at the three feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. There was no such obligation for women. But the school of Hillel required them to make at least the Passover pilgrimage.

The term γονεῖς , parents, is found at Luk 2:41 in all the MSS., even in those in which it does not occur at Luke 2:27; Luke 2:43, which proves that in these passages it was not altered with any dogmatic design.

Ver. 42. It was at the age of twelve that the young Jew began to be responsible for legal observances, and to receive religious instruction; he became then a son of the law.

The partic. pres. of the Alex. reading, ἀναβαινόντων , must be preferred to the aor. partic. of the T. R., ἀναβάντων . The present expresses a habit; the aor. is a correction suggested by the aor. partic. which follows. The words εἰςΙεροσόλυμα should be erased, according to the Alex. reading, which evidently deserves the preference. It is a gloss easily accounted for.

The words, after the custom of the feast, perhaps allude to the custom of going up in caravans.

Jesus spent these seven days of the feast in holy delight. Every rite spoke a divine language to His pure heart; and His quick understanding gradually discovered their typical meaning. This serves to explain the following incident. An indication of wilful and deliberate disobedience has been found in the term ὑπέμεινεν , He abode. Nothing could be further from the historian's intention ( Luk 2:51 ). The notion of perseverance contained in this verb alludes simply to Jesus' love for the temple, and all that took place there. It was owing to this that, on the day for leaving, He found Himself unintentionally separated from the band of children to which He belonged.

When once left behind, where was He to go in this strange city? The home of a child is the house of his father. Very naturally, therefore, Jesus sought His in the temple. There He underwent an experience resembling Jacob's (Genesis 28:0). In His solitude, He learnt to know God more familiarly as His Father. Is not the freshness of a quite recent intuition perceptible in His answer ( Luk 2:49 )? The Alex. reading οἱ γονεῖς has against it, besides the Alex. A. and C., the Italic and Peschito translations.

It was only in the evening, at the hour of encampment, when every family was gathered together for the night, that the absence of the child was perceived. When we think of the age of Jesus, and of the unusual confidence which such a child must have enjoyed, the conduct of His parents in this affair presents nothing unaccountable.

The partic. pres. seeking Him ( Luk 2:45 ) appears to indicate that they searched for Him on the road while returning.

Verses 41-52

Seventh Narrative: The Child Jesus at Jerusalem, Luke 2:41-42.2.52 .

The following incident, the only one which the historian relates about the youth of Jesus, is an instance of that wisdom which marked His development. Almost all great men have some story told about their childhood, in which their future destiny is foreshadowed. Here we have the first glimpse of the spiritual greatness Jesus exhibited in His ministry.

Three facts: 1. The separation ( Luk 2:41-45 ); 2. The reunion ( Luk 2:46-50 ); 3. The residence at Nazareth ( Luk 2:51-52 ).

Verses 46-50

2. The meeting: Luke 2:46-42.2.50.

As it is improbable that they had sought for Jesus for two or three days without going to the temple, the three days must certainly date from the time of separation. The first was occupied with the journey, the second with the return, and the third with the meeting.

Lightfoot, following the Talmud, mentions three synagogues within the temple enclosure: one at the gate of the court of the Gentiles; another at the entrance of the court of the Israelites; a third in the famous peristyle lischchat hagasith, in the S.E. part of the inner court. It was there that the Rabbins explained the law. Desire for instruction led Jesus thither. The following narrative in no way attributes to Him the part of a doctor. In order to find support for this sense in opposition to the text, some critics have alleged the detail: seated in the midst of the doctors. The disciples, it is said, listened around. This opinion has been refuted by Vitringa; and Paul's expression ( Act 22:3 ), seated at the feet of Gamaliel, would be sufficient to prove the contrary. Nevertheless the expression, seated in the midst of the doctors, proves no doubt that the child was for the time occupying a place of honour. As the Rabbinical method of teaching was by questions, by proposing, for example, a problem taken from the law, both master and disciples had an opportunity of showing their sagacity. Jesus had given some remarkable answer, or put some original question; and, as is the case when a particularly intelligent pupil presents himself, He had attracted for the moment all the interest of His teachers. There is nothing in the narrative, when rightly understood, that savours in the least of an apotheosis of Jesus. The expressions, hearing them, and asking them questions, bear in a precisely opposite direction. Josephus, in his autobiography (c. i.), mentions a very similar fact respecting his own youth. When he was only fourteen years of age, the priests and eminent men of Jerusalem came to question him on the explanation of the law. The apocryphal writings make Jesus on this occasion a professor possessing omniscience. There we have the legend grafted on the fact so simply related by the evangelist. Σύνεσις , understanding, is the personal quality of which the answers, ἀποκρίσεις , are the manifestations.

The surprise of His parents proves that Jesus habitually observed a humble reserve.

There is a slight tone of reproach in the words of Mary. She probably wished to justify herself for the apparent negligence of which she was guilty. Criticism is surprised at the uneasiness expressed by Mary; did she not know who this child was? Criticism reasons as if the human heart worked according to logic.

To the indirect reproach of Mary, Jesus replies in such words as she had never heard from Him before: Wherefore did ye seek me? He does not mean, “You could very well leave me at Jerusalem.” The literal translation is: “What is it, that you sought me?” And the implied answer is: “To seek for me thus was an inadvertence on your part. It should have occurred to you at once that you would find me here.” The sequel explains why.

The phrase τί ὅτι is found in Acts 5:9. Οὐκ ἤδειτε , did ye not know? not, do ye not know? The expression τὰ τοῦ πατρός μου may, according to Greek usage, have either a local meaning, the house of, or a moral, the affairs of. The former sense is required by the idea of seeking; and if, nevertheless, we are disposed to adopt the latter as wider, the first must be included in it. “Where my Father's affairs are carried on, there you are sure to find me.”

The expression my Father is dictated to the child by the situation: a child is to be found at his father's. We may add that He could not, without impropriety, have said God's, instead of my Father's; for this would have been to exhibit in a pretentious and affected way the entirely religious character of His ordinary thoughts, and to put Himself forward as a little saint. Lastly, does not this expression contain a delicate but decisive reply to Mary's words, Thy father and I? Any allusion to the Trinitarian relation must, of course, be excluded from the meaning of this saying. But, on the other hand, can the simple notion of moral paternity suffice to express its meaning? Had not Jesus, during those days of isolation, by meditating anew upon the intimacy of His moral relations with God, been brought to regard Him as the sole author of His existence? And was not this the cause of the kind of shudder which He felt at hearing from Mary's lips the word Thy father, to which He immediately replies with a certain ardour of expression, my Father?

That Mary and Joseph should not have been able to understand this speech appears inexplicable to certain critics, to Meyer, for instance, and to Strauss, who infers from this detail that the whole story is untrue. But this word, my Father, was the first revelation of a relation which surpassed all that Judaism had realized; and the expression, “ to be about the business ” of this Father, expressed the ideal of a completely filial life, of an existence entirely devoted to God and divine things, which perhaps at this very time had just arisen in the mind of Jesus, and which we could no more understand than Mary and Joseph, if the life of Jesus had never come before us. It was only by the light Mary received afterwards from the ministry of her Son, that she could say what is here expressed: that she did not understand this saying at the time.

Does not the original source of this narrative discover itself in this remark? From whom else could it emanate, but from Mary herself?

Verses 51-52

3. The residence at Nazareth: Luke 2:51-42.2.52.

From this moment Jesus possesses within Him this ideal of a life entirely devoted to the kingdom of God, which had just flashed before His eyes. For eighteen years He applied Himself in silence to the business of His earthly father at Nazareth, where He is called the carpenter ( Mar 6:3 ). The analytical form ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος indicates the permanence of this submission; and the pres. partic. mid., submitting Himself, its spontaneous and deliberate character. In this simple word, submitting Himself, Luke has summed up the entire work of Jesus until His baptism.

But why did not God permit the child to remain in the temple of Jerusalem, which during the feastdays had been His Eden? The answer is not difficult. He must inevitably have been thrown too early into the theologico-political discussions which agitated the capital; and after having excited the admiration of the doctors, He would have provoked their hatred by His original and independent turn of thought. If the spiritual atmosphere of Nazareth was heavy, it was at least calm; and the labours of the workshop, in the retirement of this peaceful valley, under the eye of the Father, was a more favourable sphere for the development of Jesus than the ritualism of the temple and the Rabbinical discussions of Jerusalem.

The remark at the end of Luk 2:51 is similar to that at Luke 2:19; only for the verb συντηρεῖν , which denoted the grouping of a great number of circumstances, to collect and combine them, Luke substitutes here another compound, διατηρεῖν . This δια denotes the permanence of the recollection, notwithstanding circumstances which might have effaced it, particularly the inability to understand recorded in Luke 2:50. She carefully kept in her possession this profound saying as an unexplained mystery.

The fifty-second verse describes the youth of Jesus, as the fortieth verse had depicted His childhood; and these two brief sketches correspond with the two analogous pictures of John the Baptist (Luke 1:66; Luk 1:80 ). Each of these general remarks, if it stood alone, might be regarded, as Schleiermacher has suggested, as the close of a small document. But their relation to each other, and their periodical recurrence, demonstrate the unity of our writing. This form is met with again in the book of the Acts. ῾Ηλικία does not here denote age, which would yield no meaning at all, but height, stature, just as Luke 19:3. This term embraces the entire physical development, all the external advantages; σοφία , wisdom, refers to the intellectual and moral development. The third term, favour with God and men, completes the other two. Over the person of this young man there was spread a charm at once external and spiritual; it proceeded from the favour of God, and conciliated towards Him the favour of men. This perfectly normal human being was the beginning of a reconciliation between heaven and earth. The term wisdom refers rather to with God; the word stature to with men. The last words, with men, establish a contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist, who at this very time was growing up in the solitude of the desert; and this contrast is the prelude to that which later on was to be exhibited in their respective ministries.

There is no notion for the forgetfulness or denial of which theology pays more dearly than that of a development in pure goodness. This positive notion is derived by biblical Christianity from this verse. With it the humanity of Jesus may be accepted, as it is here presented by Luke, in all its reality.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/luke-2.html.