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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Luke 2

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 2:1. And it came to pass in those days — That is, about the time in which John the Baptist was born, and Christ conceived, in the manner related in the preceding chapter; there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, that all the world should be taxed — the word οικουμενη, here rendered world, “means strictly the inhabited part of the earth, and therefore, πασα η οικουμενη, all the world, in the common acceptation of the phrase. But it is well known that this expression was, in ancient times, frequently employed to denote the Roman empire. It was probably a title first assumed through arrogance, afterward given by others through flattery, and at last appropriated by general use to this signification. That it has a more extensive meaning in this place is not pretended by any. But there are some who, on the contrary, would confine it still further, making it denote no more than Judea and its appendages. Of this opinion are several of the learned; Beausobre, Doddridge, Lardner, Pearce, and others. In support of it they have produced some passages in which this phrase, or expressions equivalent, appear to have no larger signification. But, admitting their explanation of the passages they produce, they are not parallel to the example in hand. Such hyperboles are indeed current, not only in the language of the evangelists, but in every language. In those cases, however, wherein they are introduced, there rarely fails to be something, either in what is spoken or in the occasion of speaking, which serves to explain the trope. For example: the term, a country, in English, denotes properly a region, or tract of land, inhabited by a people living under the same government. By this, which is the common acceptation, we should say that England is a country. Yet the term is often used without any ambiguity in a more limited sense. Thus an inhabitant of a country town or parish says to one of his neighbours, speaking of two persons of their acquaintance, ‘All the country says they are soon to be married;’ yet so far is he from meaning by the phrase, all the country, all the people of England, that he is sensible not a thousandth part of them know that such persons exist. He means no more than all the neighbourhood. Nor is he in the smallest danger, by speaking thus, of being misunderstood by any hearer. But if he should say, ‘The parliament has laid a tax on saddle-horses, throughout all the country,’ nobody could imagine that less than England was intended by the term country, in this application. Here the term must be considered as it stands related to parliament; in other words, it must be that which, in the style of the legislature, would be named the country. In like manner, though it might not be extraordinary that a Jew, addressing himself to Jews, and speaking of their own people only, should employ such an hyperbole as, all the world, for all Judea; it would be exceedingly unnatural in him to use the same terms, applied in the same manner, in relating the resolves and decrees of the Roman emperor, to whom all Judea would be very far from appearing all the world, or even a considerable part of it. Add to this, that the Syriac interpreter (as also all the other ancient interpreters) understood the words in the same manner: all the people in his (the emperor’s) dominions.” — Campbell. The chief, if not the only objection to this sense of the expression is, the silence of historians. But what Grotius observes, greatly lessens the force of that objection; “I do not so understand the evangelist,” says he, “as if a census were made through the whole Roman world, at one and the same time; but when Augustus wished thoroughly to know the whole power of the Roman empire, he appointed a census to be made through all the kingdoms and provinces subject to it, at one time in one part, and at another in another. Thus Dion, επεμψεν αλλους αλλη, τα τε των ιδιωτων και τα των πολεων απογραψομενους, he sent some persons one way and some another, who might take an account of the property, as well of private persons as of cities. Of the census made through Gaul by order of Augustus, Claudius, in an oration which is preserved at Ancyra, the abbreviator of Livy, and Dio, have made mention.”

Should be taxed — Greek, απογραφεσθαι, enrolled: that is, that all the inhabitants, male and female, of every town in the Roman empire, with their families and estates, should be registered. Many of the modern translations, particularly those into Italian, French, and English, have rendered the word taxed: and as registers were commonly made with a view to taxing, it may, no doubt, in many cases, be so rendered with sufficient propriety: but, “as in this place there is some difficulty, it is better to adhere strictly to the import of the words. For though it was commonly for the purpose of taxing that a register was made, it was not always, or necessarily so; and in the present case we have ground to believe that there was no immediate view to taxation, at least with respect to Judea. Herod, called the Great, was then alive, and king of the country, and though in subordination to the Romans, of whom he may justly be said to have held his crown, yet, as they allowed him all the honours of royalty, there is no ground to think that, either in his lifetime, or before the banishment of his son Archelaus, the Romans levied any toll or tribute from the people of Judea. Nay, we have the testimony of Josephus, that they did not till after the expulsion of Archelaus, when the country was annexed to Syria, and so became part of a Roman province.” — Campbell. The reader will observe, such a census, or account, as that here spoken of, “used to be taken of the citizens of Rome every fifth year, and they had officers on purpose appointed for it, called censors. Their business was to take an account, and make a register, of all the Roman citizens, their wives and children, with the age, qualities, trades, offices, and estates of them all. Augustus first extended this to the provinces. He was then at work on the composure of such a book, containing such a survey and description of the whole Roman empire, as that which our Doomsday-book doth of England. In order whereto, his decree for this survey was made to extend to the depending kingdoms, as well as the provinces of the empire: — however, taxes were only paid by the people of the provinces to the Romans; and those of the dependant kingdoms to their own proper princes, who paid their tributes to the Roman emperors. Three times during his reign he caused the like description to be made. The second is that which St. Luke refers to. The decree concerning it was issued out three years before that in which Christ was born. So long had the taking of this survey been carrying on through Syria, Cœlo-Syria, Phœnicia, and Judea, before it came to Bethlehem. No payment of any tax was made (on this survey) till the twelfth year after. Till then Herod, and after him Archelaus his son, reigned in Judea. But when Archelaus was deposed, and Judea put under the command of a Roman procurator, then first were taxes paid to the Romans for that country.” — Prideaux.


Verse 2

Luke 2:2. And this taxing (rather this enrolling) was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria — According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Cyrenius was not governor of Syria till ten or twelve years after our Saviour’s birth, after Archelaus was deposed, and the country brought under a Roman procurator; yet, according to our translation of Luke here, he was governor before the death of Herod, the father and predecessor of Archelaus, and in the same year when Christ was born. Now as, on the one hand, it cannot be supposed that a writer so accurate as Luke (were he considered only as a common historian) should make so gross a mistake as to confound the enrolment in the reign of Herod with that taxation under Cyrenius, which happened many years after; so, on the other hand, it is hard to conceive that Josephus should be mistaken in an affair of so public a nature, so important, and so recent when he wrote his history. To remove this difficulty, 1st, Some have supposed a corruption of the original text in Luke; and that, instead of Cyrenius, it ought to be read Saturninus, who, according to Josephus, was prefect of Syria within a year or two before Herod’s death. 2d, Others have thought it probable, that the original name in Luke was Quintilius; since Quintilius Varus succeeded Saturninus, and was in the province of Syria when Herod died. But all the Greek manuscripts remonstrate against both these solutions. Therefore, 3d, Mr. Whiston and Dr. Prideaux suppose, that the words of the preceding verse, In those days there went out a decree, &c., refer to the time of making the census; and the subsequent words, This enrolment was first made, &c., to the time of levying the tax. “When Judea,” says the latter, “was put under a Roman procurator, then taxes were first paid to the Romans — and Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, who is in Greek called Cyrenius, was governor of Syria: so that there were two distinct particular actions in this matter, done at two distinct and different times: the first was making the survey, and the second the levying the tax thereupon. And the first verse here is to be understood of the former, and the second only of the latter. And this reconciles that evangelist with Josephus; for it is manifest from that author, that Cyrenius was not governor of Syria, or any tax levied on Judea, till Archelaus was deposed. And therefore the making of the description cannot be that which was done while Cyrenius was governor of Syria; — but the levying the tax thereon certainly was.” In accordance with this interpretation of the passage, Dr. Campbell reads the verse, This first register took effect when Cyrenius was president of Syria, observing that, by this translation of the words, divers objections are obviated. “The register,” says he, “whatever was the intention of it, was made in Herod’s time, but had then little or no consequences. When, after the banishment of Archelaus, Judea was annexed to Syria, and converted into a province, the register of the inhabitants formerly taken served as a directory for laying on the census, to which the country was then subjected. Not but that there must have happened considerable changes on the people during that period. But the errors which these changes might occasion, could, with proper attention, be easily rectified. And thus it might be justly said, that an enrolment which had been made several years before, did not take effect, or produce consequences worthy of notice, till then.” Dr. Hammond and Dr. Lardner, however, give what many think a still easier solution of this difficulty, rendering the words thus: This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria, supposing that Cyrenius (afterward governor of Syria, and at the time Luke wrote well known by that title) was employed in making the first enrolment of the inhabitants of Judea in the reign of Herod; to which purpose Dr. Hammond quotes Suidas as relating, on the authority of an ancient author, that “Cesar Augustus, desiring to know the strength and state of his dominions, sent twenty chosen men, one into one part, another into another, to take this account; and that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius had Syria for his province.” The reader will of course adopt the interpretation which he judges most probable.


Verse 3

Luke 2:3. And all went to be taxed, (enrolled,) every one to his city — “When the census was made in any country, the inhabitants were obliged to attend in the cities to which they belonged, Livy, 50. 42. c. 10. The reason was, without a precaution of this kind, the census would have been excessively tedious, and people who were abroad might have been omitted, or registered among the inhabitants of other cities, where they would not have been found afterward, or they might have been enrolled twice, which would have produced confusion in the registers.” In the dominions of Herod, however, probably by his order, a small alteration seems to have been made in the method of executing the census. For instead of the people being directed to appear, as usual, in the cities where they resided, or to whose jurisdiction the places of their abode belonged, they were ordered to appeal according to their families; every one in his native city, or the place where his paternal inheritance lay, to be there enrolled; a circumstance wisely ordered by Providence to verify the truth of ancient prophecies; for thus the parents of Christ were providentiatly brought to Bethlehem, the place where the Messiah was to be born, without leaving any room to suspect them of artifice and design. And thus, also, by their coming to be registered among the subjects of the Roman empire, the subjection of the Jews to the Romans was very remarkably manifested.


Verse 4

Luke 2:4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee — Being thus obliged by the emperor’s decree; out of the city of Nazareth — Where he then dwelt; into Judea — Properly so called; unto the city of David, called Bethlehem — The town where his ancestors had formerly been settled; because he was of the house, &c., of David — Notwithstanding, he was now reduced so low as to follow the trade of a carpenter. To be enrolled with Mary — Who also was a descendant of David: his espoused wife — The propriety of this expression appears from Matthew 1:25, where we are told that Joseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her firstborn son. Being great with child — It may seem strange that Mary, in this condition, should undertake so great a journey. Perhaps the order for the census required that the wives, as well as their husbands, should be present. Or, the persons to be registered being classed in the roll, according to their lineage, Mary might judge it proper on this occasion to claim her descent from David, in order to her being publicly acknowledged as one of his posterity, and the rather as she knew herself to be miraculously with child of the Messiah.


Verse 6-7

Luke 2:6-7. And while they were there, the days were accomplished, &c. — Whatever views Mary might have in going up to Bethlehem, her going there was doubtless by the direction of Divine Providence, in order that the Messiah might be born in that city, agreeably to the prophecy of Micah 5:2. And she brought forth her firstborn son τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον, her son, the firstborn; that excellent and glorious person, who was the firstborn of every creature, and the heir of all things. See note on Matthew 1:25. And wrapped him in swaddling-clothes — By her doing this herself, it is thought her labour was without the usual pangs of childbearing. And laid him in a manger — Though the word φατνη, here used, sometimes signifies a stall, yet it is certain it more frequently signifies a manger, and certainly the manger was the most proper part of the stall in which the infant could be laid. As to the notion of Bishop Pearce, that not a manger is here meant, but a bag of coarse cloth, like those out of which the horses of our troopers are fed when encamped; and that this bag was fastened to the wall, or some other part, not of a stable, but of the guest- chamber, or room for the reception of strangers, where Joseph and Mary were lodged; this odd notion is amply confuted by Dr. Campbell in a very long note on this passage. Tradition informs us that the stable, in which the holy family was lodged, was, according to the custom of the country, hollowed out of a rock, and consequently the coldness of it, at least by night, must have greatly added to its other inconveniences. Because there was no room for them in the inn — The concourse of people at Bethlehem being very great on this occasion. It seems there was but one principal inn at Bethlehem, now but a small village, and that when Joseph came thither it was full, so that he and Mary were obliged to lodge in a stable, fitted up as a receptacle for poor travellers, in which they, and the animals that brought them, were meanly accommodated under the same roof. Now also there is seldom room for Christ in an inn. It will not be improper to observe, on this humiliating circumstance of our Lord’s birth in a stable, how, “through the whole course of his life, he despised the things most esteemed by men. For though he was the Son of God, when he became man he chose to be born of parents in the meanest condition of life. Though he was heir of all things, he chose to be born in an inn, nay, in the stable of an inn, where, instead of a cradle, he was laid in a manger. The angels reported the good news of his birth, not to the rabbis and great men, but to shepherds, who, being plain honest people, were unquestionably good witnesses of what they heard and saw. When he grew up he wrought with his father as a carpenter. And afterward, while he executed the duties of his ministry, he was so poor that he had not a place where to lay his head, but lived on the bounty of his friends. Thus, by going before men in the thorny path of poverty and affliction, he has taught them to be contented with their lot in this life, however humble it may be.”


Verse 8

Luke 2:8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field — Here we see, that as Abraham and David, to whom the promise of the Messiah was first made, were shepherds, so the completion of this promise was first revealed to shepherds. Keeping watch over their flocks by night — Which it was necessary they should do, to guard against the wolves and other beasts of prey, common there. The original words, φυλασσοντες φυλακας της νυκτος, may be more literally rendered, watching the watches of the night. These watches were four; the first is mentioned, Lamentations 2:19; the second and third, Luke 12:38; and the fourth, Matthew 14:25; being the morning watch. It seems there was a considerable number of the shepherds together here, for the expression implies that they watched by turns according to these divisions of the night. “As it is not probable,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that they exposed their flocks to the coldness of winter nights in that climate, where, as Dr. Shaw (Trav., p. 379) has shown, they were so very unwholesome, it may be strongly argued from this circumstance that those who have fixed upon December for the birth of Christ have been mistaken in the time of it.” The birth of Christ has been placed in every month of the year. The Egyptians placed it in January — Wagenseil, in February — Bochart, in March — some mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, in April — others, in May — Epiphanius speaks of some who placed it in June — and others who supposed it to have been in July — Wagenseil, who was not sure of February, fixed it probably in August — Lightfoot, on the 15th of September — Scaliger, Casaubon, and Calvisius, in October — others, in November. But the Latin Church, being infallible in judgment, and supreme in power, has settled the matter by declaring that he was born on the 25th of December. See Labbæi, Concil. Fabricii, Bibliot. Antiq., cap. 10. It is happy for us that the particular day and hour, or even year, in which he was born is not necessary to be ascertained in order to our salvation; nor at all material to true religion. It is sufficient for us to know that he was born, was made flesh, and dwelt among us, assumed our nature, and in consequence thereof is become an all-sufficient Saviour and Redeemer, in whom whosoever believeth, with a right faith, shall not perish, but have eternal life.


Verses 9-12

Luke 2:9-12. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them επεστη αυτοις, stood over them, that is, appeared in a visible form, standing in the air over their heads; and the glory of the Lord shone round about them — Not only a great light, but such a glorious splendour as used to represent the presence of God, and was often attended with a host of angels, as here, Luke 2:13. And they were sore afraid — At so uncommon and so awful an appearance. And the angel said — In the mildest and most condescending manner; Fear not — Thus the angel Gabriel had encouraged Zacharias and Mary, Luke 1:12; Luke 1:30. As if he had said, The design of my appearing to you hath nothing terrible in it, but the contrary: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy — The original expression here is peculiar, ευαγγελιζομαι υμιν χαραν μεγαλην, I evangelize unto you great joy. So the Vulgate. Or, I announce unto you good tidings, which shall be matter of great joy, and that not only to you, and the Jewish nation in general, but to all people, to the whole human race: for unto you, and all mankind, is born this day, this welcome, blessed day, a Saviour — That Isaiah , 1 st, A Deliverer from ignorance and folly, from guilt, condemnation, and wrath, from depravity and weakness, in which the whole human race are involved through the fall of their first parents and their own actual transgressions; in other words, from sin, and all its consequences: 2d, A Restorer (so σωτηρ also means) to the favour and image of God, and communion with him, lost by the same fall: and, 3d, A Preserver, (as the same word also implies,) namely, unto eternal life; one as willing as able to keep such as perseveringly believe in him, through faith, unto final salvation; to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. Who is Christ — The Messiah, the divinely — appointed Prophet, Priest, and King of his people; their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; and who is sufficiently qualified to sustain these unspeakably important offices and characters, because he is the Lord, God as well as man, God manifest in the flesh, the Lord that in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, &c., Hebrews 1:10; and without whom was not any thing made that was made, John 1:3; Colossians 1:16. The message refers to Isaiah 9:6, Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And this shall be a sign unto you — The angel gives them a sign for the confirmation of their faith in this important matter. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, &c. — Doubtless they would expect to be told that they should find him, though a babe, dressed up in fine robes, and lying in state, in the best house of the town, with a numerous train of attendants: no, you will find him lying in a manger. And surely they might know him by this token, for what other babe could be found in so mean a condition? For the shepherds to have found the Messiah lying in a manger, might have scandalized them. It was therefore very proper that the angel should forewarn them of this circumstance, and make it the signal whereby they should distinguish him. When Christ was here on earth, he distinguished himself, and made himself remarkable, by nothing so much as the instances of his humiliation.


Verse 13-14

Luke 2:13-14. And suddenly there was with the angel, &c. — The welcome news was no sooner published, than a multitude of heavenly beings were heard celebrating, in songs and hymns divine, the praises of God, on account of his unspeakable mercy and love to men; and saying, Glory to God in the highest, &c. — The shouts of a multitude are generally broken into short sentences, and are commonly elliptic; which is the cause of some ambiguity in these words, which may be understood in different senses. Some read them thus: Glory to God in the highest, that is, in heaven, and on earth peace, yea, favour, toward men. Others understand them as signifying, That the good-will, or favour, which was now shown to men, is the Glory of God in the highest, and is the peace and happiness of those who dwell on earth. This is doubtless an important sense, and what the original will very well bear, but it changes the doxology into a kind of proverb, and destroys much of its beauty. As Dr. Campbell observes; “The most common interpretation of the passage is the most probable.” The words are doubtless to be considered as expressions of rejoicing exclamation, strongly representing the piety and benevolence of these heavenly spirits, and their affectionate good wishes for the prosperity of the Messiah’s kingdom; as if they had said, “Glory be to God in the highest heavens, and let all the angelic legions resound his praises in the most exalted strains, for, with the Redeemer’s birth, peace and all happiness come down to dwell on earth; yea, the overflowings of divine benevolence and favour are now exercised toward sinful men, who through this Saviour become the objects of his complacential delight.” The words, considered in a doctrinal point of view, teach us, what it is of great importance to know, 1st, That the birth of Christ is an event which, above all others, brings glory to God, giving such a display of several of his perfections as had never been made before, particularly of his holiness and justice, in requiring such a sacrifice as was hereby to be prepared for the expiation of human guilt, and his mercy, in providing and accepting it; his wisdom, in devising such a plan for the redemption of lost man, and his power, in executing it. 2d, It brings peace on earth, that is, peace to man, peace with God, through the atonement and mediation of Christ; peace of conscience, as the consequence of knowing that we have peace with God, and peace one with another. 3d, It displays the good-will, the benevolence, the love of God to man, as no other of his works or dispensations ever did, or could do. See 1 John 4:7, &c.; John 3:16.


Verses 15-20

Luke 2:15-20. As the angels were gone away — Probably they saw them ascend; the shepherds said, Let us now go; without delay; and see this thing — This wonderful and important event; which is come to pass: and they came and found Mary and Joseph, &c. — Though it is not mentioned, it seems the angel had described to them the particular place in Bethlehem where Christ was born. And, having found the child lying where the angel had said, they were by that sign fully confirmed in their belief, and with boldness declared both the vision which they had seen, and the things which they had heard pronounced by the angel, and the heavenly host with him. And all they that heard wondered at those things, &c. — Joseph and Mary, with the people of the inn who attended them, and such of their relations as were come up to Bethlehem to be enrolled, and happened to be with them on this occasion, were exceedingly astonished at the things which the shepherds openly declared; and the rather, because they could not understand how one born of such mean parents could be the Messiah. But Mary kept all these things, &c. — Mary was greatly affected with, and thought upon, the shepherds’ words, the import of which she was enabled to understand, in consequence of what had been revealed to herself. She said nothing, however, being more disposed to think than to speak: which was an excellent instance of modesty and humility in so great a conjuncture. And the shepherds returned, glorifying God, &c. — They returned to their flocks, and by the way praised God for having condescended, by a particular revelation, to inform them of so great an event as the birth of the Messiah, and because they had seen the signs by which the angel in the vision pointed him out to them. To this we may add, that, “besides what they had heard from the angel and seen at Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary would doubtless give them an account of those particulars which the sacred historian has related above, respecting the conception of this divine infant; and this interview must have greatly confirmed and comforted the minds of all concerned.” — Doddridge.


Verse 21

Luke 2:21. And when eight days were accomplished — That is, not when the eighth day was ended, but when it was come: for the circumcising of the child — A ceremony which the law of Moses required to be performed on every male child at that age, and to which Christ was made subject, that he might wear the badge of a child of Abraham, and that he might visibly be made under the law by a sacred rite, which obliged him to keep the whole law. It is true, he had not any corruptions of nature to mortify, which was in part represented by that institution, but nevertheless it was necessary that he should be thus initiated into the Jewish Church, and thereby be engaged to the duties, and entitled to the privileges, of a son of Abraham, according to God’s covenant with that patriarch and his seed; as also that he might put an honour on the solemn dedication of children to God.


Verses 22-24

Luke 2:22-24. When the days of her purification were accomplished — “It appears, from Leviticus 12:1-6, that for the first seven days, every woman who had borne a child, was considered as unclean in so great a degree, that whoever touched or conversed with her was polluted. For thirty-three days more, she was still, though in an inferior degree, unclean, because she could not all that time partake in the solemnities of public worship. At the conclusion of this term, she was commanded to bring certain sacrifices to the temple, by the offering of which the stain laid on her by the law was wiped off, and she restored to all the purity and cleanness she had before. This was the law of the purification after bearing a son. But for a daughter, the time of separation was double; the first term being fourteen days, and the second sixty-six; in all eighty days before she could approach the sanctuary. Now as Jesus was circumcised, though perfectly free from sin, so his mother submitted to the purifications prescribed by the law, notwithstanding she was free from the pollutions common in other births. It was evident, indeed, that she was a mother, but her miraculous conception was not generally known.” They brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord — Because the law required that he should be presented in the temple at the end of forty days from his birth, and that the usual offerings should be made, his parents would find it more convenient to go up with him from Bethlehem, where he was born, at the distance of six miles only, than, after Mary’s recovery, to carry him first to Nazareth, which was a great way from Jerusalem. We may, therefore, reasonably enough suppose that they tarried in Bethlehem all the days of her purification, and that from Bethlehem they went straightway to Jerusalem. Here, entering the temple, the sacrifices prescribed for the purification of women, after child-bearing, were offered for Mary, who, according to custom, waited in the outer court till the service respecting her was performed. As it is written, Every male that openeth the womb, &c. — See this explained in the note on Exodus 12:2. And to offer a sacrifice, a pair of turtle doves, &c. — This was the offering required from the poor, Leviticus 12:6; Leviticus 12:8. Those in better circumstances were commanded to bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a turtle-dove, or a young pigeon, for a sin-offering. It is evident, from the offering they made, that although Joseph and Mary were of the seed royal, they were in very mean circumstances. The evangelist mentions the presentation of the child to the Lord before the offering of the sacrifice for the mother’s purification; but in fact this preceded the presentation, because, till it was performed, the mother could not enter the temple; accordingly Luke himself introduces both the parents as presenting Jesus.


Verses 25-33

Luke 2:25-33. Behold there was a man, &c. — There was now in Jerusalem one Simeon, venerable on account of his age, piety, and virtue. For, he was just and devout — Righteous toward his fellow-creatures, and holy toward God; waiting for the consolation of Israel — A common phrase for the Messiah, who was to be the everlasting consolation of the Israel of God. And the Holy Ghost was upon him — That is, as the word here signifies, he was a prophet. And it was revealed unto him, &c. — God, in reward of his piety, had favoured him so highly as to assure him by a particular revelation, that he should not die till he had seen the Messiah. And he came by the Spirit into the temple — That is, by a secret but powerful direction and impulse of the Holy Spirit; when the parents brought in the child Jesus — Just at that very juncture of time when they brought him into the court of Israel there. Then took he him up in his arms — Having discovered him by the supernatural illumination with which he was favoured; and blessed God, and said — Aloud, it seems, in the hearing of all the people then present; Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, &c. — Let me depart hence with the satisfaction of having seen the Messiah, according to the gracious promise thou wast pleased to make me. This good old man, having attained that which had long been his highest wish, the happiness of seeing God’s Messiah, and having no further use for life, desired immediate death. Yet he would not depart of himself, knowing that man cannot lawfully desert his station till God, who placed him therein, calls him off. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation — Thy Christ, the Saviour. Simeon, being well acquainted with the prophetic writings, knew from them that the Messiah was to be the author of a great salvation, which, because it had its origin in the wisdom, power, and love of God, he refers to him; and, putting the abstract for the concrete, or the effect for the cause, he terms the Messiah God’s salvation. Thus, God is called, our defence, our song, our hope; that is, our defender, the subject of our song, the object of our hope. Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people — Here it appears that Simeon knew that this salvation was not confined to the Jews, but was designed for all mankind. A light to lighten the Gentiles — Who then sat in darkness, and who were to receive the knowledge of God, of true religion, and of divine things in general, especially of a future state, through him; and the glory of thy people Israel — It was an honour to the Jewish nation, that the Messiah sprung from one of their tribes, and was born, lived, and died among them. And of those who were Israelites indeed, of the spiritual Israel, he was indeed the glory, and will be so to all eternity, Isaiah 60:19. For in him shall the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory, Isaiah 45:25. And Joseph and his (Jesus’s) mother marvelled at those things which were spoken — For they did not yet thoroughly understand them; or they marvelled how Simeon, a stranger, came to the knowledge of the child.


Verse 34-35

Luke 2:34-35. And Simeon blessed them — Namely, Joseph and Mary. He pronounced them blessed who had the honour to be related to this child, and were intrusted with the bringing him up. He prayed for them, that God would bless them, and, doubtless, wished others to do the same. Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel — As he shall, in fact, be the means of bringing aggravated ruin upon some through their rejecting him; as well as of procuring salvation and recovery to others, on their believing on him. In other words, He will be a savour of death to some, to unbelievers: a savour of life to others, to believers. Simeon here alludes to Isaiah 8:14; and Isaiah 28:16; which passages Paul has joined in one citation. Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone, and a rock of offence, and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. And for a sign which shall be spoken against — A sign from God, yet rejected of men; or a mark to be shot at; the butt of the malice of wicked men. Yea, a sword ρομφαια, a javelin, or dart; shall pierce through thy own soul also — The darts that are shot at thy son shall pierce thee to the heart; the calumnies, persecutions, and sufferings which he shall be exposed to, especially in his death, shall prove matter of the greatest affliction to thee, and shall sting thee with the bitterest griefs; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed — All these things are ordered by Providence, that the real characters of men may be discovered, and the sincerity of those who are approved may be made manifest; while the hypocrisy and earthly- mindedness of those who intend only their own secular advantage, under the specious pretence of waiting for the Messiah’s kingdom, shall be exposed; for they will soon be offended at the obscure form of his appearance, and at the persecutions which will attend him and his cause.


Verses 36-38

Luke 2:36-38. And there was one Anna, a prophetess — A person of some note; she was a widow of about fourscore and four years — These were the years of her life, and not of her widowhood only; who departed not from the temple — The meaning is, not that she abode continually in the temple: for none lived there save the priests and Levites; but she attended there constantly at all the stated hours of prayer. But served God with fastings and prayers — Even at that advanced age; night and day — That is, spending therein a considerable part of the night, as well as of the day. She coming in at that instant — The providence of God so ordering it, that another important testimony might be borne to the child Jesus; gave thanks likewise unto the Lord — Praised the Lord, as Simeon had done, for sending the long-expected Messiah: or, in her turn confessed to the Lord, as ανθωμολογειτο τω κυριω, properly signifies. The expression seems to have a reference to Simeon’s speech, and might be intended to intimate that this of Anna was a kind of response, or counterpart to his. And spake of him to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem — She spake afterward of the child, under the character of the Messiah, to all her acquaintance at Jerusalem, that had any sense of religion, or faith in its promises. The sceptre now appeared to be departing from Judah, though it was not actually gone: Daniel’s weeks were plainly near their period. And the revival of the spirit of prophecy, together with the memorable occurrences relating to the birth of John the Baptist, and of Jesus, could not but encourage and quicken the expectation of pious persons at this time. Ought not the example of these aged saints to impress and animate those, whose hoary heads, like theirs, are a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness? Should not those venerable lips, so soon to be silent in the grave, be employed in the praises of their Redeemer, that they may have the pleasure to see, through their pious attempts, the rising generation improve in true religion? and that they may quit the world with the greater tranquillity, in the view of leaving those behind them, to whom Christ will be as precious as he hath been to them, and who will be waiting for God’s salvation when they are gone to enjoy it?


Verse 39-40

Luke 2:39-40. And when they — Namely, the parents of Jesus; had performed all things according to the law — Which they made conscience of doing, that they might fulfil all righteousness; they returned into Galilee, &c. — Full of admiration, doubtless, at the glorious testimonies that were given to their child; to their own city Nazareth — Which was the place of their usual residence, and where this blessed infant passed the days of his childhood and youth. And the child grew, &c. — In bodily strength and stature; and waxed strong in spirit — The powers of his human mind daily improved; filled with wisdom — By the light of the indwelling Spirit, which gradually opened itself in his soul; and the grace of God was upon him — That is, the peculiar favour of God rested upon him, even as man.


Verses 41-47

Luke 2:41-47. Now his parents went to Jerusalem at the passover — As it was usual for those families to do that were remarkably religious, though only the adult males were, by the law, obliged to appear before the Lord on that occasion. And when he was twelve years old — And so, according to the Jewish maxims, came under the yoke of the law; they went up to Jerusalem, &c. — And thought it proper to take him with them, to celebrate that glorious deliverance which God had so many ages before wrought for his people, when he brought them out of Egypt; the memory of which was carefully to be transmitted to every succeeding generation. And when they had fulfilled the days — Eight days in all, one the passover, and seven the days of unleavened bread: as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind — Being engaged with the sacred ordinances of the festival, and the religious conversation attending it. And Joseph and his mother knew not of it — It appears, they supposed that he had set out with some of his relations, or acquaintance, and was in the company εν τη συνοδια, a word that properly means, a company of travellers. As at the three great festivals, not only all the men that were able, but many women likewise, usually attended “the celebration at Jerusalem, they were wont, for their greater security against the attacks of robbers on the road, to travel in large companies. All who came, not only from the same city, but from the same canton or district, made one company. They carried necessaries along with them, and tents for their lodging at night. Sometimes in hot weather, they travelled all night and rested in the day. This is nearly the manner of travelling in the East to this hour. Such companies they now call caravans; and in several places have got houses fitted up for their reception, called caravanseries. This account of their manner of travelling furnishes a ready answer to the question, How could Joseph and Mary make a day’s journey without discovering, before night, that Jesus was not in the company? In the daytime, we may reasonably presume, that the travellers would, as occasion, business, or inclination led them, mingle with different parties of their friends and acquaintance; but that in the evening, when they were about to encamp, every one would join the family to which he belonged. As Jesus did not appear when it was growing late, his parents first sought him where they supposed he would most probably be, among his relations and acquaintances, and, not finding him, returned to Jerusalem;” in the utmost anxiety, to try if they could learn what was become of him. After three days — That is, on the morrow after their arrival, which was the third day from their leaving the city, they found him, to their great joy, in one of the chambers of the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors — Who, at certain seasons, and particularly in time of the great festivals, taught there publicly. It appears there were no less than three assemblies of the doctors, who had apartments in the temple. In these it was customary to propose doubts concerning the meaning of the precepts of the law, and the traditions of the elders, which was generally done by way of question. It is certainly a great injury to the character of our blessed Redeemer to represent this story, whether in pictures or words, as if Christ went up into the seats of the doctors, and there disputed with them. Nothing is said by the evangelist of his disputing, but only of his asking some questions and answering others; which was a very usual thing in these assemblies, and indeed the very end of them; for they were principally designed for catechetical examination and instruction of young people; always conducted, no doubt, with the utmost modesty and decorum. And if Jesus were, with others, at the feet of these teachers, (where learners generally sat,) he might be said to be in the midst of them, as they sat on benches of a semi-circular form raised above their hearers and disciples. See Lightfoot, Drusius, and Doddridge. And all that heard him were astonished — The word εξι σταντο, here rendered were astonished, and εξεπλαγησαν, in the next verse, are much more forcible expressions than the words whereby we translate them. They import, that they were in a transport of astonishment, and struck with admiration. As our Lord himself hath told us that, on this occasion, he was employed on his Father’s business, it is probable that, in these his answers and objections, he modestly insinuated corrections of the errors wherewith the Jewish teachers had now greatly disfigured religion. If we recollect that the school learning of the Jews was at this time at its highest pitch, and that our Lord, at the age of twelve years, was superior to the greatest doctors which the Jews could boast of, there will appear very just grounds for the admiration here mentioned.


Verses 48-50

Luke 2:48-50. And when they saw him they were amazed — The clause, thus rendered, signifies, that Joseph and Mary were amazed when they saw him, but it may be translated, They who saw him were amazed, namely, not his parents only, or chiefly, but others. In this sense Dr. Campbell understands it, as suiting better the scope of the passage. “His parents,” says he, “may be said to have had reason of surprise, or even amazement, when they discovered that he was not in their company; but surely, to them at least, there was nothing peculiarly surprising in finding that he was not amusing himself with boys, but was in the temple, among the doctors, discoursing on the most important subjects. I may say justly, that to them who knew whence he was, there was less ground of amazement at the wisdom and understanding displayed in his answers than to any other human being. Again: it appears to be the intention of the evangelist, in this passage, to impress us with a sense of the extraordinary attainments of our Lord in wisdom and knowledge, even in childhood, from the effect which the discovery of them produced on others. All in the temple, who, though they did not see him, were within hearing, and could judge from what they heard, were astonished at the propriety, the penetration, and the energy they discovered in every thing he said; but those whose eye-sight convinced them of his tender age were confounded, as persons who were witnesses of something preternatural.” His mother said, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us — Why hast thou put us into such fear for thy safety? Why hast thou given us such occasion for anxiety and distress? Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing — Being not only troubled that we lost thee, but vexed at ourselves for not taking more care of thee. The word οδυνωμενοι, here rendered sorrowing, is expressive of the most racking anguish, and is often applied to the distress and pains of a woman in travail; it has therefore been rendered, with great concern — with inexpressible anxiety and distress. And he said, How is it that ye sought me? He does not blame them for losing, but for thinking it needful to seek him; and intimates that he could not be lost nor found anywhere but doing the will of a higher Parent. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business — His words imply, that they had no reason to be angry with him for leaving them without their knowledge, nor even to be grieved on that account, since they might have understood by his miraculous conception, and the revelations which accompanied it, that he was not to continue always with them, but was to employ himself in the business of Him who really was his father. The original expression here used, εν τοις του πατρος μου δει ειναι με, is ambiguous, and is translated by Dr. Waterland and many other learned men, following the Syriac version, Knew ye not that I must be in my Father’s house; a translation which the words will very well bear; and, so understood, the reply of Christ will signify, that though they thought him lost, yet he was at home; he was in his Father’s house, John 2:16; and that, in staying behind at Jerusalem, he had not left his true Father. “It is to be remembered,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that this is the first visit Christ had ever made to the temple since he was a child in arms; and it is no wonder, therefore, that the delight he found there inclined him to prolong it.” How happy those children who, like the holy Jesus, love the house and ordinances of God, and thirst for the instructions of his good word! They understood not the saying — Christ having expressed himself in a somewhat concise and ambiguous manner, his parents did not fully comprehend his meaning; either because they now doubted his being the Messiah, or because they had few just conceptions of the end for which the Messiah was to come into the world. It is observable that Joseph is not mentioned after this time, whence it is probable he did not live long after.


Verse 51

Luke 2:51. And he went down with them to Nazareth — That he might not seem to encourage disobedience in children, by withdrawing himself in that weak age from under the government of his parents, he very willingly retired with them into the obscure city of Nazareth, where for many years he was, as it were, buried alive. Doubtless he came up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast three times a year: but whether he ever went again into the temple to dispute with the doctors there, we are not told; it is, however, not improbable that he might. But we learn here, what it is more important that all children should know, namely, that he was subject to his parents. Though his parents were poor and mean, though his father, so called, was only his supposed father; yet he was subject to them; though he was strong in spirit and filled with wisdom, nay, though he was in a peculiar and proper sense the Son of God most high, yet he was subject to his human parents: how then will they answer it to God who, though ignorant, foolish, weak, and wretched, yet are disobedient to their parents? But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart — She was deeply impressed with them, and thought much upon them, though she did not perfectly understand them. Doubtless she expected that hereafter they would be explained to her, and she should not only fully comprehend their meaning, but derive important instruction from them.


Verse 52

Luke 2:52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature — In the perfections of his divine nature there could be no increase; but this is spoken of his human nature, consisting of a reasonable soul and human flesh; his body increased in stature and bulk, and his soul in wisdom and in all the endowments of a human spirit. It received distinct and gradual illuminations as he advanced in years: for though the eternal Word was united to his human soul from his birth, or even conception, yet the divinity that dwelt in him manifested itself to his humanity by degrees, ad modum recipientis, as that humanity was capable of receiving those manifestations; and as the faculties of his human soul opened more and more, larger communications of knowledge, wisdom, and other gifts were made to it. And he increased in favour with God and man — That is, in all those graces that rendered him acceptable both to God and man. All this was suitable to his state of humiliation; for as he condescended to be an infant, a child, a youth, so the image of God must have shone brighter in him when he was grown up to be a youth, than it did or could do when he was an infant and a child. Let young people observe, that as they grow in stature they should grow in wisdom and grace; and then, as they grow in these, they will grow in favour with God and man.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/luke-2.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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