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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies

Luke 2

Verse 1

Decree ( δόγμα )

Wyc., mandment. From δοκέω , to think. Hence, strictly, a personal opinion; and, as the opinion of one who can impose his opinion authoritatively on others, a decree.

The world ( τὴν οἰκουμένην )

Lit., the inhabited (land )The phrase was originally used by the Greeks to denote the land inhabited by themselves, in contrast with barbarian countries; afterward, when the Greeks became subject to the Romans, the entire Roman world; still later, for the whole inhabited world. In the New Testament this latter is the more common usage, though, in some cases, this is conceived in the mould of the Roman empire, as in this passage, Acts 11:28; Acts 19:27. Christ uses it in the announcement that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14); and Paul in the prediction of a general judgment (Acts 17:31). Once it is used of the world to come (Hebrews 2:5).

Be taxed ( ἀπογράφεσθαι )

The word means properly to register or enter in a list. Commentators are divided as to whether it refers to an enrolment for taxation, or for ascertaining the population. Rev., enrolled, which may be taken in either sense.

Verse 2

And this taxing was first made ( αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο )

Rather, this occurred as the first enrolment; or, as Rev., this was the first enrolment made; with reference to a second enrolment which took place about eleven years later, and is referred to in Acts 5:37.

Verse 3

Went ( ἐπορεύοντο )

The A. V. and Rev. alike miss the graphic force of the imperfect tense, were going. The preparation and bustle and travel were in progress.

To his own city

The town to which the village or place of their birth belonged, and where the house and lineage of each were registered.

Verse 4

House and lineage

According to the Jewish mode of registration the people would be enrolled by tribe, families or clans, and households. Compare Joshua 7:16-18. Rev., house and family.

Verse 5

To be taxed with Mary

We may read either, went up with Mary, denoting merely the fact of her accompanying him; or,to enrol himself with Mary, implying that both their names must be registered.


Not merely betrothed. See Matthew 1:20, Matthew 1:24, Matthew 1:25; also see on Matthew 1:18.

Great with child ( ἐγκύῳ )

See on Luke 1:24. Only here in New Testament.

Verse 7

Her first-born son

The Greek reads literally, her son, the first-born.

Wrapped in swaddling-clothes ( ἐσπαργάνωσεν )

Only here and Luke 2:12. Naturally found often in medical writings. Swaddle is swathed, from the verb to swathe.

In a manger ( ἐν φάτνῃ )

Used by Luke only, here and Luke 13:15. Wyc. has a cracche, spelt also cratch. Compare French crèchea manger. Quite possibly a rock-cave. Dr. Thomson says: “I have seen many such, consisting of one or more rooms, in front of and including a cavern where the cattle were kept” (“Land and Book”).

In the inn ( ἐν τῷ καταλύματι )

Only here, Luke 23:11; Mark 14:14, on which see note. In both these passages it is rendered guest-chamber, which can hardly be the meaning here, as some have maintained. (See Geikie, “Life and Words of Christ,” i., 121.) In that case the expression would be, they found no κατάλυμα ,guest-chamber. The word refers to the ordinary khan, or caravanserai. Tynd., hostrey.A Syrian khan is a fort and a mart; a refuge from thieves; a shelter from the heat and dust; a place where a man and his beast may lodge; where a trader may sell his wares, and a pilgrim may slake his thirst … .Where built by a great sheikh, it would have a high wall, an inner court, a range of arches or lewans, an open gallery round the four sides, and, in many cases, a tower from which the watcher might descry the approach of marauding bands. On one side of the square, but outside the wall, there is often a huddle of sheds, set apart from the main edifice, as stables for the asses and camels, the buffaloes and goats. In the centre of the khan springs a fountain of water, the first necessity of an Arab's life; and around the jets and troughs in which the limpid element streams, lies the gay and picturesque litter of the East. Camels wait to be unloaded; dogs quarrel for a bone; Bedaween from the desert, their red zannars choked with pistols, are at prayer. In the archways squat the merchants with their bales of goods … .Half-naked men are cleansing their hands ere sitting down to eat. Here a barber is at work upon a shaven crown; there a fellah lies asleep in the shade … .Each man has to carry his dinner and his bed; to litter his horse or camel; to dress his food; to draw his water; to light his fire, and to boil his mess of herbs” (Hepworth Dixon, “The Holy Land”).

Verse 8


Luke's Gospel is the gospel of the poor and lowly. This revelation to the shepherds acquires additional meaning as we remember that shepherds, as a class, were under the Rabbinic ban, because of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance well-nigh impossible.

Keeping watch ( φυλάσσοντες φυλακὰς )

Φυλακή is sometimes used of a watch as a measure of time, as in Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48; Luke 12:38. So possibly here. See Rev. in margin, night-watches. There is a play upon the words: watching watches. There was near Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, a tower known as Migdal Eder, or the watch-tower of the flock. Here was the station where shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrifice in the temple. Animals straying from Jerusalem on any side, as far as from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder, were offered in sacrifice. It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and equally that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder. The beautiful significance of the revelation of the infant Christ to shepherds watching the flocks destined for sacrifice needs no comment.

Their flock ( τὴν ποίμνην )

May not the singular number fall in with what has just been said?- the flock, the temple-flock, specially devoted to sacrifice. The pronoun their would furnish no objection, since it is common to speak of the flock as belonging to the shepherd. Compare John 10:3, John 10:4.

Verse 9


Omitted by the best texts.

The angel

More correctly an angel, as Rev. The Greek has no article.

Came upon ( ἐπέστη )

The word is used in this sense in classical Greek, as well as in that of to stand by, which Rev. prefers here, as in Acts 12:7. In Luke 2:38 of this chapter, Rev. renders coming up. The rendering to come upon has a hostile flavor, as properly in Acts 17:5, where the verb is rendered assaulted; so that the Rev. rendering here is preferable.

They were sore afraid

Lit.,feared with great fear.

Verse 10

I bring you good tidings of great joy ( εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην )

Wyc. is strictly literal: I evangelize to you a great joy.

Which ( ἥτις )

Of a class or character which, etc.

People ( τῷ λαῷ )

Rev., rightly, “the people;” the article pointing specially to the people of Israel.

Verse 11

Is born ( ἐτέχθη )

It adds to the vividness of the narrative to keep to the strict rendering of the aorist, was born.

A Saviour

See on Matthew 1:21.


See on Matthew 1:1.


See on Matthew 21:3.

Verse 12

Sign ( σημεῖον ).

See on Matthew 11:20.

The babe ( βρέφος )

See on 1 Peter 2:2. Rev., properly, “a babe.” No article

Verse 13

A multitude of the heavenly host

Host ( στρατιας ) is literally army. “Here the army announces peace” (Bengel). Wyc., heavenly knighthood. Tynd., heavenly soldiers.

Verse 14

Peace, good-will toward men ( εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία )

Both Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort read εὐδοκίας which the Rev. follows. According to this the rendering is, unto men of good pleasure, or as Rev., among men in whom he is well pleased. Wyc., to men of good-will. For a similar construction, see Acts 9:15; Colossians 1:13.

Verse 15

The shepherds

Some texts add οἱ ἄνθρωποι ,the men; but the later texts omit.

Let us go ( διέλθωμεν )

The preposition διά ,through, implies through the intervening space.

Thing ( ῥῆμα )

See on Luke 1:37. The utterance of the shepherds contains a climax: “Let us go and seethis saying, which has come to pass; which the Lord made known.”

Verse 16

Found ( ἀνεῦραν )

Only here and Acts 21:4. Ἀνά indicates the discovery of the facts in succession.

Mary and Joseph and the babe

Each has the article, pointing to the several parties already referred to.

Verse 17

They made known

See on Luke 2:8. These shepherdshaving charge of flocks devoted to sacrifice, would presently be in the temple, and would meet those who came to worship and to sacrifice, and so proclaim the Messiah in the temple.

Verse 19

Kept ( συνετήρει )

See on the simple verb τηρέω , on 1 Peter 1:4. The word signifies not merely to guard, but to keep, as the result of guarding. Hence the compound verb is very expressive: kept, σύν ,with or within herself: closely. Note the imperfect tense: was keeping all the while.

Pondered ( συμβάλλουσα )

The present participle, ponderi ng. Lit., bringing together: comparing and weighing facts. Wyc., bearing together in her heart. Vulg., conferens. Compare Sophocles, “Oedipus Coloneus,” 1472-4.

“Oedipus. My children, the heaven-ordained end of life has come upon him who stands here, and there is no avoiding it.

“Antigone. How dost thou know, and with what (fact) having compared ( συμβαλὼν ) thine opinion hast thou this?”

Verse 22

The days of her purification ( αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῆς )

The A. V. follows the reading αὐτῆς ,her: but all the best texts read αὐτῶν ,their; the plural including Joseph with Mary as partaking of the ceremonial defilement. The mother of a child was levitically unclean for forty days after the birth of a son, and for eighty days after the birth of a daughter. Women on this errand commonly rode to the temple on oxen; that the body of so large a beast between them and the ground might prevent any chance of defilement from passing over a sepulchre on the road. For details, see Edersheim, “Life and Times of Jesus,” i., 195; “The Temple,” p. 302; Geikie, “Life and Words of Christ,” i., 127.

To present him to the Lord

The first-born son of every household must be redeemed of the priest at the price of five shekels of the sanctuary; about two dollars and fifty cents. Numbers 18:15, Numbers 18:16; Exodus 13:2.

Verse 23

The law of the Lord

The word law occurs in this chapter five times; oftener than in all the rest of this Gospel put together. Luke emphasizes the fact that Jesus” was made under the law” (Galatians 4:4), and accordingly elaborates the details of the fulfilment of the law by the parents of both John and Jesus.

Verse 24

A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons

The offering of the poor. While the lamb would probably cost about one dollar and seventy-five cents, the doves would cost about sixteen cents. She would not bring the creatures themselves, but would drop the price into one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests in the Court of the Women. Young pigeons: lit., young ones of pigeons ( νοσσοὺς περιστερῶν )Wyc. has culver-birds; culver being an old English term for dove. So Spenser:

“More light than culver in the falcon's fist.”

Verse 25

Devout ( εὐλαβής )

Used by Luke only. The kindred word, εὐλάβεια ,godly-fear, occurs twice' Hebrews 5:7; Hebrews 12:28. From εὖ , well, and λαμβάνω ,to take hold of. Hence of a circumspect or cautious person who takes hold of things carefully. As applied to morals and religion, it emphasizes the element of circumspection, a cautious, careful observance of divine law; and is thus peculiarly expressive of Old Testament piety, with its minute attention to precept and ceremony. Compare Acts 2:5.

Consolation of Israel

Compare hope of Israel, Acts 28:20, and Isaiah 40:1. The Messianic blessing of the nation. Of the Messiah himself, Rest. See Isaiah 11:10. A common form of adjuration among the Jews was, So may I see the consolation

Verse 26

It was revealed ( ἧν κεχρηματισμένον )

Lit., it was having been revealed; i.e., it stood revealed, while he waited for the fulfilment of the revelation. The verb means primarily to have dealings with; thence to consult or debate about business matters; and so of an oracle, to give a response to one consulting it. The word here implies that the revelation to Simeon had been given in answer to prayer. See on Matthew 2:12.

Verse 27

By the Spirit ( ἐν τῷ πνεύματι )

Lit., as Rev., “in the Spirit'” the Holy Spirit prompting him. Indicating rather his spiritual condition, as one who walked with God, than a special divine impulse.

After the custom ( κατὰ τὸ εἰθισμένον )

Lit., according to that which was wont to be done. Only here in New Testament; and the kindred words, ἔθος custom, and ἔθω ,to be accustomed, occur more frequently in Luke than elsewhere. Very common in medical writings.

Verse 29

Lettest thou thy servant depart ( ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου )

Lit., thou dost release. The word is often used of manumitting or setting free on payment of ransom; and as Simeon uses the word for bond-servant, it is evident that his death is conceived by him under the figure of enfranchisement from service. Godet's “release of a sentinel from duty” is fanciful.

O Lord ( δέσποτα )

See on 2 Peter 2:1.

In peace

Rev. properly puts this in its emphatic position at the end of the sentence.

Verse 31

Of all people ( πάντων τῶν λαῶν )

The noun is plural, the peoples, and refers equally to the Gentiles. See Introduction, on the universality of Luke's Gospel. Wyc., all peoples; and so Rev.

Verse 32

A light ( φῶς )

The light itself as distinguished from λύχνος ,a lamp, which the A. V. often unfortunately renders light. See on Mark 14:54.

To lighten ( εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν )

Wrong. Rev., correctly, for revelation. Wyc., to the shewing. It may be rendered the unveiling of the Gentiles.

Gentiles ( ἐθνῶν )

Assigned to the same root as ἔθω , to be accustomed, and hence of a people bound together by like habits or customs. According to biblical usage the term is understood of people who are not of Israel, and who therefore occupy a different position with reference to the plan of salvation. Hence the extension of the gospel salvation to them is treated as a remarkable fact. See Matthew 12:18, Matthew 12:21; Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:19; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:18; Acts 18:6. Paul is called distinctively an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles, and a chosen vessel to bear Christ's name among them. In Acts 15:9; Ephesians 2:11, Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:6, we see this difference annihilated, and the expression at last is merely historical designation of the non-Israelitish nations which, as such, were formerly without God and salvation. See Acts 15:23; Romans 16:4; Ephesians 3:1. Sometimes the word is used in a purely moral sense, to denote the heathen in opposition to Christians. See 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 1 Peter 2:12. Light is promised here to the Gentiles and glory to Israel. The Gentiles are regarded as in darkness and ignorance. Some render the words εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν , above, for the unveiling of the Gentiles, instead of for revelation. Compare Isaiah 25:7. Israel, however, has already received light by the revelation of God through the law and the prophets, and that light will expand into glory through Christ. Through the Messiah, Israel will attain its true and highest glory.

Verse 33

And Joseph

The best texts read ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ hisfather.

Marvelled ( ἦν θαυμάζοντες )

The Greek construction is peculiar. His father was and his mother wondering; the finite verb in the singular agreeing with the father, while the plural participle agrees with both. As usual, this combination of finite verb and participle denotes continuance or progression: they were marvelling while Simeon was speaking. So Rev.

Verse 34


The parents; the child being separately and specially designated.

Is set ( κεῖται )

The verb means primarily to be laid, and so to lie: hence to be set forth orpromulgated, as the law is said to be laid down, and so, appointed or destined, as here.

The fall and rising again ( πτῶσιν καὶ ἀνάστασιν )

For the fall, because he will be a stumbling-block to many (Isaiah 8:14; Matthew 21:42, Matthew 21:44; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23). For the rising, because many will be raised up through him to life and glory (Romans 6:4, Romans 6:9; Ephesians 2:6). The A. V. predicates the falling and the rising of the same persons: the fall and rising again of many. The Rev., the falling and rising up of many, is ambiguous. The American Revisers give it correctly: the falling and the rising.

Which shall be spoken against ( ἀντιλεγόμενον )

The participle is the present; and the expression does not voice a prophecy, but describes an inherent characteristic of the sign: a sign of which it is the character to experience contradiction from the world. In the beginning, as a babe, Jesus experienced this at the hands of Herod; so all through his earthly ministry and on the cross; and so it will be to the end, until he shall have put all enemies under his feet. Compare Hebrews 12:3. Wyc., a token to whom it shall be gainsaid.

Verse 35

A sword ( ῥομφαία )

Strictly, a large Thracian broadsword. Used in Septuagint of the sword of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:51). A figure of Mary's pang when her son should be nailed to the cross.

Verse 36

A prophetess ( προφῆτις )

Only here and Revelation 2:20.


That tribe was celebrated in tradition for the beauty of its women, and their fitness to be wedded to high-priests or kings.

Of great age ( προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ἡμέραις πολλαῖς )

Lit., advanced in many days.

Verse 37

Of about fourscore and four years ( ὡς ἐτῶν ὀγδοήκοντα τεσσάρων )

The A. V. might be supposed to be stating her age; but the best texts read ἕως , until, instead of ὡς about; and the statement refers to the time of her widowhood; a widow even for (or up to ) fourscore and four years. So Rev.

Served ( λατρεύουσα )

The present participle, serving. Rev., worshipping. See on Luke 1:74.

Verse 38

Coming up ( ἐπιστᾶσα )

See on Luke 2:9.

Gave thanks ( ἀνθωμολογεῖτο )

The verb originally means to make a mutual agreement; and the idea of reciprocity is retained in the expression “to return thanks” for something received. Compare Sept., Luke 2:25. Compare Luke 1:68, and see Isaiah 40:2.

Verse 39


See on Matthew 2:23.

Verse 40

The child grew, etc

The Jews marked the stages of a child's development by nine different terms: the new-born babe (Isaiah 9:6); the suckling (Isaiah 11:8); the suckling beginning to ask for food (Lamentations 4:4); the weaned child (Isaiah 28:9); the child clinging to its mother (Jeremiah 44:7); the child becoming firm and strong (Isaiah 7:14, of the virgin-mother); the youth, literally, he that shakes himself free; the ripened one, or warrior (Isaiah 31:8).

Verse 41

His parents

Though women were not bound to present themselves in person.

Verse 42

Twelve years old

At which age he was known as a son of the law, and came under obligation to observe the ordinances personally.

Verse 43

Had fulfilled the days

Not necessarily the whole seven days of the festival. With the third day commenced the so-called half-holidays, when it was lawful to return home.

Verse 44

The company ( συνοδίᾀ )

From σύν , with, and ὁδός , the way. The company that shared the journey.

Went a day's journey

Before they missed him.

They sought ( ἀνεζήτουν )

From ἀνὰ , from the bottom up, and ζητέω , to seek. Thus implying a thorough search: they looked for him up and down.

Verse 45

Seeking him ( ἀναζητοῦντες )

All the way as they went. Force of ἀνὰ , as above.

Verse 46

After three days

From the time of separation.

In the temple

“We read in the Talmud that the members of the Temple-Sanhedrin, who, on ordinary days, sat as a court of appeal from the close of the morning to the time of the evening sacrifice, were wont, upon Sabbaths and feast-days, to come out upon the terrace of the temple, and there to teach. In such popular instruction the utmost latitude of questioning would be given. It is in this audience, which sat upon the ground, surrounding and mingling with the doctors, and hence during, not after, the feast, that we must seek the child Jesus” (Edersheim, “Life and Times,” etc., 1:247). From this, Edersheim argues that the parents set out for home before the close of the feast.


Not occupying a teacher's place, but sitting in the circle among the doctors and their hearers. See above. Compare Acts 22:3.

Verse 47

Understanding ( συνέσει )

From συνίημι ,to bring together. Hence that quality of mind which combines: understanding not only of facts, but of facts in their mutual relations. See on Mark 12:33; where there is meant “the love of a well-pondered and duly considered resolution which determines the whole person; the love which clearly understands itself” (Cremer).

Verse 48

They were amazed ( ἐξεπλάγησαν )

A very strong word; the verb meaning, literally, to strike out or drive away from; and so to drive out of one's senses. Hence in the general sense of great amazement. Amaze is to throw into a maze or labyrinth; and so is closely akin to the Greek word here, and is a faithful rendering.

Son ( τέκνον )

Lit., child. See on Matthew 1:1.

Thy father

“Up to this time Joseph had been so called by the holy child himself; but from this time never” (Alford).

Have sought ( ἐζητοῦμεν )

Imperfect tense: were seeking; Mary is going over in mind the process of the search.

Verse 49

And he said

The first saying of Jesus which is preserved to us.

Must ( δεῖ )

Lit., it is necessary, or it behoves. A word often used by Jesus concerning his own appointed work, and expressing both the inevitable fulfilment of the divine counsels and the absolute constraint of the principle of duty upon himself. See Matthew 16:21; Matthew 26:54; Mark 8:31; Luke 4:43; Luke 9:22; Luke 13:33; Luke 24:7, Luke 24:26, Luke 24:46; John 3:14; John 4:4; John 12:34.

About my Father's business ( ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός )

Lit., in the things of my Father. The words will bear this rendering; but the Rev. is better, in my Father's house. Mary's question was not as to what her son had been doing, but as to where he had been. Jesus, in effect, answers, “Where is a child to be found but in his Father's house?“

Verse 50

The saying ( τὸ ῥῆμα )

See on Luke 1:37.

Verse 51

Was subject ( ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος )

The participle and finite verb, denoting habitual, continuous subjection. “Even before, he had been subject to them; but this is mentioned now, when it might seem that he could by this time have exempted himself. Not even to the angels fell such an honor as to the parents of Jesus” (Bengel). Compare Hebrews 1:4-8.

Kept ( διετήρει )

Only here and Acts 15:29. The preposition διά ,through, indicates close, faithful, persistent keeping, through all the circumstances which might have weakened the impression of the events. Compare Genesis 37:11.

Verse 52

Stature ( ἡλικία )

Which Rev. rightly retains. The word may be rendered age, which would be superfluous here.

Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.