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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Luke 2

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 2:1. In those days. Indefinite; about the time of the birth of John the Baptist.

There went out a decree, an authoritative edict. When it was issued is not of primary importance; it affected Joseph and Mary ‘in those days.’

All the world, i.e., the Roman world. We should not, to avoid difficulty, limit it to Palestine.

Should be enrolled. Such an enrolment was like a modem census; but as the ultimate purpose was taxation, there was a record of property. The word here used, it is claimed by some, has always a reference to tax-lists, as distinguished from a mere census with a view to recruiting the army. Luke, therefore, might properly use this term, even though at the time there was no avowal of the proposed taxing. Afterwards when a regular registration for taxation took place, according to Josephus, an uproar occurred (alluded to by Luke in Acts 5:37); hence an avowal of the purpose at an earlier date, while Herod was still king, would have occasioned a disturbance; but of such a disturbance about this time there is no record. If we accept the enrolment as resembling a modern census, all difficulty vanishes, for Augustus ordered such an enrolment at least three times during his reign, and in statistics prepared by him, as we certainly know, there was a record of the population of countries ruled by dependent kings, such as Herod. It is true, the date of no one of these enrolments corresponds with that assigned to the birth of Christ, but some time would elapse before Judea would be subjected to the provisions of such an edict. At the death of Augustus a paper prepared by him, containing full statistics of the empire, was read before the Roman Senate. This implies a census of the population of Judea some time before the death of Augustus (A. D. 14). The later census under Quirinius (A. D. 6), which seems to have been specifically for the purpose of taxation, probably did not furnish the statistics from Judea for the paper of the emperor. Augustus ordered his first census of the Roman people in the year of Rome 726, and he would scarcely leave this important kingdom out of view until U.C. 759 (the date of the census of Judea under Quirinius, mentioned by Josephus). During the whole of this period it was dependent upon Rome (under Herod and Archelaus).


Verses 1-20

Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-11). This section narrates: the circumstances which led His mother from Nazareth (chap. Luke 1:26; Luke 1:56) to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5); the fact and place of His birth (Luke 2:6-7); the first gospel message, by the mouth of an angel, to shepherds in the fields (Luke 2:8-12); the joyous song of the heavenly hosts at this announcement (Luke 2:13-14); the visit of the shepherds in obedience to the angelic message. (Luke 2:15-20); their praise, heaven and earth uniting in the celebration of the nativity.—These supernatural events if accepted, are conclusive in their testimony to the Divine-human Person of Christ. No one, inventing statements to prove the supernatural origin of Jesus, would have been satisfied with this brief sketch, or with the amount of miraculous incident here introduced. ‘In the details of the history, the supernatural is confined within the limits of the strictest sobriety and most perfect suitability, and differs altogether in this respect from the marvels of the apocryphal writings.’ (Godet) The main argument against the historical character of the chapter has been drawn from the difficulty about the census under Quirinius; but the accuracy of Luke’s statement cannot be disproved, and the latest researches confirm it. See on Luke 2:3.—Other points open to discussion are: the date of the birth (see on Luke 2:8), and the exact sense of the angels’ song (see on Luke 2:14).


Verse 2

Luke 2:2. And this was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is the natural sense of the verse, Luke having in mind the second and more noted enrolment under Quirinius, mentioned by himself (Acts 5:37) and by Josephus. The man referred to undoubtedly is P. Sulpicius Quirinius (not Quirinus); the office was that of president or governor of a Roman province (technically, ‘proconsul,’ although in chap. Luke 3:1 the term is applied to Pilate, who was only procurator). According to Josephus, this Quirinius was made governor of Syria eight or ten years after the birth of Christ, while according to the statement of Tertullian (isolated, however), Christ was born when Q. Saturninus was governor of Syria.

THE ENROLMENT UNDER QUIRINIUS. We hold that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria, the first time about the date usually assigned to the birth of Christ 1. An old monumental inscription speaks of a second governorship (according to the authority of the celebrated historian and antiquarian Mommsen), and this is confirmed by a passage in Tacitus (Annal. iii. 48, as interpreted by Zumpt and Mommsen). 2. We have no definite record of the governors of Syria between B. C. 4 and A. D. 6—ten years. Now during this time Quirinius must have been proconsul somewhere (he had been consul in B. C. 12), and most probably in Syria, since it can be proven that it was not in the other eastern provinces, and he was in the East before B. C. 4 (so A. W. Zumpt). The statement of Tertullian is at once outweighed by the thrice repeated assertion of Justin. Martyr that our Lord was born under Quirinius, and his appeal to the register then made for confirmation. A mistake on the part of so careful an investigator is out of the question. If Quirinius had not been governor of Syria at that time, there were many persons living who could and would have pointed out the mistake.

Other explanations: (1) Some take the word translated ‘was governor’ in a more general sense, and suppose that Quirinius acted as an extraordinary legate of the empire, or as questor, in conducting this census, not as proconsul. This view is preferable, if that of Zumpt cannot be sustained. (2) The translation of the E. V. ‘This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,’ implying that the decree was made at the time of the birth of Christ, but not carried into effect until the governorship of Quirinius, a number of years afterwards. But this meaning would be brought out by a very different phrase from the one used. (3) Similar to this, but more grammatical, is the interpretation, ‘The taxing itself was made for the first time when,’ etc. Neither of these meets the difficulty, since the execution of the edict is implied in the coming of Joseph to Bethlehem. Some suppose that the death of Herod caused an interruption, so that the enrolment was made complete, under Quirinius. But ‘was made’ does not mean ‘was completed,’ and there is no historical proof of such interruption. (4) It is barely possible that the passage means: ‘this taxing took place before Quirinius,’ etc. But what purpose could there be in such a statement? (5) The supposition that it was a mere priestly taxing which Luke confounds with the Roman census is utterly unwarranted.


Verse 3

Luke 2:3. Every one into his own city, i.e., to the city of his extraction (comp. Luke 2:4). This was not the Roman custom, but was probably adopted as a measure of policy in accordance with the Jewish habits in regard to genealogies.

Roman usage required the enrolment of women, and possibly their actual presence at the place of enrolment. This mixture of Roman and Jewish usage, so likely to occur in an enrolment, made under a Jewish king yet by order of the Roman Emperor, is a strong proof of the accuracy of Luke’s account.


Verse 4

Luke 2:4. Went up. The usual expression for a journey towards Jerusalem.

Bethlehem. See on Matthew 2:1.


Verse 5

Luke 2:5. With Mary. Even if not required to do so, she naturally accompanied Joseph. In her peculiar condition she would cling to him, especially as all had been cleared up between them (comp. Matthew 1:18-25). Perhaps the prophecy respecting Bethlehem (Micah 5:1; comp. Matthew 2:6) was in her mind. Some think that she was an heiress, having possessions in Bethlehem, and therefore obliged to appear there to represent an extinct family. But an heiress would not be likely to seek refuge in a stable at such a time.

Who was betrothed to him. It is certainly forcing a difficulty upon the passage to say that it contradicts Matthew 1:24. It seems rather to set forth the peculiarity of the case, as there described. The verse sheds no light on the question, whether she too were of the house of David.


Verse 6

Luke 2:6. While they were there. Apocryphal legends tell how she was overtaken on the way, and sought refuge in a cave. They seem to have arrived in Bethlehem, and sought shelter in vain, before the time spoken of here.

Delivered, or, ‘bring forth,’ as the same word is translated in Luke 2:7.


Verse 7

Luke 2:7. Her first born son. This implies that Mary had other children (in Matthew 1:25 the reading is in dispute). It is unlikely that an only child would be thus termed by one who wrote long afterwards with a full knowledge of the family. See on Matthew 13:55—Luke says nothing to justify the legends of a birth without pain, and the many other fancies which have been added to the story.

And wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, or ‘bands,’ About this there is nothing unusual except the activity of the mother.

In a manger. Our Lord was born in a stable. This was purposed by God, however accidental the choice on the part of Joseph and Mary. His self-abasement is thus illustrated, the nature of His kingdom suggested, the lesson of humility enforced.—Tradition says this stable was a cave, and this might be the case, since in rocky countries caves are used for stables. One ancient writer finds in this a fulfilment of the prophecy (Isaiah 33:16): ‘His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks.’ The place cannot be now identified. It is unlikely that the cave belonged to the shepherds afterwards spoken of; Luke 2:15 suggests that Bethlehem was not their home.

Became there was no room for them in the inn, or, ‘caravanserai.’ Not an inn, with a host, as in chap. Luke 10:34-35, but a place where travellers lodged, providing their own food. There is no hint of want of hospitality. The town was full, the inn was full; failing to obtain a place there, they found the much needed shelter in a stable,—not necessarily however that of the inn, which would be less retired than others. The fact that changed the world was accomplished in a stable; but the world’s emperor must send forth a universal decree that this humble birth might be in accordance with prophecy; for He who lay in the manger there was King of kings. The enrolment is in one aspect a sign of subjection, in another of superiority.


Verse 8

Luke 2:8. Shepherds, i.e., some shepherds, probably chosen because they too like Simeon ‘were waiting for the consolation of Israel’ (Luke 2:25). The Shepherd of Israel cares for His flock; while sending a Saviour to the whole world, He satisfied the secret yearnings of this humble company. His care is as minute as it is extensive.

Keeping watch over their flock by night. This might have been in December. The Jewish Rabbins indeed say that flocks were taken out in March and brought home in November, but this probably refers to far-off pastures. During the rainy season from November to March, according to the testimony of trustworthy observers, there generally occurs an interval of dry weather (between the middle of December and the middle of February), when of course the grass is green. The exact date cannot be fixed. The traditional date (December 25) is of late origin, and Christmas was not celebrated in the Church till after the middle of the fourth century, and seems to have been substituted for a series of heathen festivals (see Schaff: Church History, vol. ii., p. 395 ff.). The anniversary is of less antiquity, of less importance and accuracy, than Easter, which was observed from the earliest times. In the early Church there was no agreement as to the time of Christ’s birth, and quite as little among modern chronologists. The Saviour was born in the fulness of time, just when He was most needed, and when the Jewish and Gentile world was fully prepared for this central fact and turning-point in history. The 25th of December may have been selected for poetic and symbolical fitness. At that season the longest night gives way to the returning sun on his triumphant march, just as Christ appeared in the darkest night of sin and error as the true Light of the world.


Verse 9

Luke 2:9. An angel, not ‘the angel.’

Stood by. This indicates a sudden but actual appearance; not a vision. The angel may have been above them, but this is not stated. The shepherds may have been in a state of peculiar susceptibility, as pious men, in the quiet night, under the starry heavens, where David first sang as he watched his flock; but this will not account for the story before us.

The glory of the Lord. The Shekinah, the brightness of God’s presence, so often spoken of in the Old Testament. This accompanied the angel, both to reveal his presence in the night and to attest his authority.

And they were sore afraid. Lit., ‘feared a great fear.’ The usual effect of angelic appearances, enhanced in this case by the supernatural brightness.


Verse 10

Luke 2:10. Be not afraid. Comp. chap. Luke 1:13; Luke 1:30.

I bring you glad tidings of great joy. Lit., ‘I evangelize to you great joy.’ The message is a gospel message, a joyous message; therefore they should not be afraid.

To all the people, i.e., of Israel. First of all to them, then through them to the Gentiles.


Verse 11

Luke 2:11. Unto you. This refers directly to the shepherds, as in Luke 2:10, confirming the view, that they were men who expected the Messiah.

In the city of David. Bethlehem; comp. Luke 2:4; Luke 2:15. The latter instance shows that they understood it at once. The reference to the prophecy in Micah 5:2, was probably plain to the pious shepherds.

A Saviour. Comp. Matthew 1:21. Not a mere temporal deliverer, as appears from what follows: who is Christ the Lord. This is the only place where these words come together in this form. The first means ‘the Messiah,’ and could not be otherwise understood; the second has already been used twice (Luke 2:9) of God, and is the word used in the LXX. to translate the Hebrew Jehovah. We therefore understand the angelic message, this first Gospel statement of the Person of Christ, to mean that the child born in Bethlehem as a Saviour, was the promised Messiah, Jehovah.


Verse 12

Luke 2:12. The sign. No sign had been asked for (comp. chap. Luke 1:36); when Zacharias requested one, he was punished (Luke 1:18; Luke 1:20). The dispensation of faith is beginning.

A babe. Not ‘the babe.’ They were to look for a child born that day, wrapped and lying in a manger. There could be but one such.

A manger, not ‘the manger.’ This implies that the place was not one well known to the shepherds. Hence the stable could scarcely have belonged to them. Some suppose that a secret influence guided them to the spot, but after such a revelation they would seek, it necessary, among the stables of a small place like Bethlehem.


Verse 13

Luke 2:13. A multitude of the heavenly host, i.e., angels, who are represented as a host surrounding the throne of God (1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalms 103:21; Daniel 7:10; Matthew 26:53; Revelation 19:14). Nothing is said as to whether the song was in the air or on the earth; probably it was heard by the shepherds alone.


Verse 14

Luke 2:14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of God’s good pleasure, or, ‘in whom He is well pleased,’ The best authorities, by the insertion of a single letter in the Greek, read: ‘men of good pleasure.’ The word is elsewhere translated ‘good-will,’ but it must mean God’s good-will or good-pleasure, not man’s. This is brought out in the translation given above, which expresses the view of the vast majority of scholars. The full meaning is: Let there be, or there is (both ideas being included), glory to God among the angels in heaven for sending the Messiah, and peace (in the widest sense, salvation) on earth among men in whom He is well pleased, i.e., His chosen people. The form is that of Hebrew parallelism, in two lines with a three-fold correspondence: ‘glory’—‘peace;’ ‘in the highest’—‘on earth;’ ‘God’—‘among men of His good-pleasure.’ ‘Toward’ is altogether incorrect ‘Good-pleasure cannot mean the good-will of men toward God or toward each other (Roman Catholic versions). This sense is contrary to the grammatical usage of the Greek as well as to the analogy of Scriptural statements. At such a time the ground of peace would be placed, not in men, but in God. The less correct translation of the E. V. is to be explained as follows: God is praised in heaven, and peace proclaimed on earth, because He has shown His good-will among men by sending the Messiah, who is the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:5, and has reconciled heaven and earth, God and man. In both cases, ‘peace’ is to be taken in the widest sense; it is the result of the great doings of God for which angels praise Him. ‘Good-pleasure’ not only means favor toward men, but implies that sinful men are well-pleasing to a holy God,—a mystery proclaimed and explained by the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Him, chosen in Him and in fellowship with Him, sinful men become the objects of God’s good-pleasure. God’s mercy and God’s sovereignty, thus meeting in the Babe of Bethlehem, are celebrated by the heavenly host. Poetry is truly Christian just to the extent that it is an echo and response to this first Christian hymn. Angels show their sympathy in man’s salvation, and utter their highest praises to God, when they sing of the ‘Saviour, Christ the Lord.’ The personal dignity of the Redeemer is supported by this Gloria in Excelsis, while Christ’s work in bringing ‘peace on earth among men of God’s good-pleasure’ upholds the truthfulness of this story of the angels’ song at His birth.


Verse 15

Luke 2:15. The shepherds. The angels went to heaven; the shepherds sought what the angels had praised: the former, to continue the song of ‘glory in the highest;’ the latter, to discover ‘peace on earth.’

Now, i.e., at once.

Even unto Bethlehem. As far as Bethlehem; as though it were not their usual place of resort.

This thing, lit., ‘saying;’ the same word is used in Luke 2:17; Luke 2:19. The simple faith of these shepherds is a token that they were men ‘in whom He is well-pleased’ and hence chosen to receive this revelation.


Verse 16

Luke 2:16. Found, suggesting previous search.

Mary and Joseph Her name naturally comes first, as the mother, but especially in view of the peculiar nature of her motherhood.

In the manger: the one they had sought as the sign.


Verse 17

Luke 2:17. They made known abroad. This indicates that they narrated the matter to others than Mary and Joseph, perhaps before their return to their flocks.

The saying, or, ‘concerning the saying,’ i.e., of the angels. This was the first gospel message told by men.


Verse 18

Luke 2:18. Wondered. With this natural, and probably transient, wonder of those who heard the story, the narrative contrasts the more abiding effect upon Mary. Before Jesus appeared as a teacher, thirty years afterwards, the story was probably forgotten by all but a few earnest souls. If His words and works did not prevent the mass of the Jews from rejecting Him, how little influence would this story have.


Verse 19

Luke 2:19. But Mary. Still in the foreground.

Kept all these sayings. She kept, or more exactly, she was keeping, continued to keep, in her memory, all these sayings, i.e. all these things now spoken of.

Pondering them in her heart. Revolving, comparing, reflecting upon them in the quietude of her heart. She possessed ‘the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit’ (1 Peter 3:4). This accurate detail favors the view that the account was derived, at least indirectly, from her. Evidently she had not a full understanding of the matter.


Verse 20

Luke 2:20. Returned, i.e., to their flock, to their duty. Angelic revelations did not make them unfaithful shepherds. But their ordinary duty was made glad by what they had heard and seen. We hear no more of them. Van Oosterzee: ‘They probably fell asleep, before the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, with the recollection of this night in their hearts, and a frame of mind like that of the aged Simeon. Their names, unknown on earth, are written in heaven, and their experience is the best example of the first beatitude. Matthew 5:3.’

Lessons from the Nativity: God has in every birth His admirable work. But God to be a child, that is the miracle of miracles. The great God to be a little babe; the Ancient of Days to become an infant; the King of eternity to be two or three months old, the Almighty Jehovah to be a weak man; God immeasurably great, whom heaven and earth cannot contain, to be a babe a span long; He that rules the stars to suck a woman’s nipple; the founder of the heavens rocked in a cradle; the swayer of the world swathed in infant bands:—it is a most incredible thing, the blessed ‘mystery’ of godliness. The earth wondered, at Christ’s Nativity, to see a new star in heaven; but heaven might rather wonder to see a new Sun on earth.—Glory and shame, the highest heavens and the lowly manger, angels and shepherds, how much in keeping with the birth of the God-man, God emptying Himself to become man! If it be poetry and not history, then the poet would be greater than the hero (Rousseau). This fact called for angels’ highest strains, and ever since has been stimulating the ‘men of God’s good pleasure’ to voice their thanksgiving for ‘peace on earth,’ in a way not discordant with that song of the future, in which angels and redeemed men shall unite to praise the Babe of Bethlehem, to sing the eternal Gloria in Excelsis.


Verse 21

Luke 2:21. Eight days. Comp. chap. Luke 1:59.

Jesus. Comp. Matthew 1:21.

Which was to called by the angel. Comp. chap. Luke 1:31. This naming was an act of obedience and of faith on the part of both Mary and Joseph (comp. Matthew 1:21; Matthew 1:25). Although Joseph is less prominent in the account before us, he must have been convinced. This verse gives the greater prominence to the naming of the Saviour, but the circumcision has a significance. He was made under the law, that He might redeem us from the law. As a sinless Being this rite was not necessary for Him, but as a born Jew, and as One who fulfilled the law for us, He was circumcised.


Verses 21-40

The fulfilment of the legal requirements respecting the child Jesus: His circumcision and naming on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), as one of the Jewish people, and the redemption from the temple service on the day of purification (fortieth day), as a first-born son (Luke 2:22-24). In the former case the mere fact is stated; in the latter there is added the recognition of the infant by two godly persons, likely to be in the temple.

THE ORDER of events. 1. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21) must have occurred after the presentation in the temple, and before the return to Nazareth. The journey could not have been made during the forty days, and Matthew’s account makes it perfectly obvious that the flight took place from Bethlehem. 2. The Adoration of the Magi took place about the time of the presentation in the temple. The traditional date (January 6), the thirteenth day after our Lord’s birth, is to be rejected. So long an interval (twenty-seven days) is opposed by Matthew 2:13, which indicates a speedy warning to Joseph. Nor would Herod have postponed so long the murder of the Innocents. On the other hand, there was no reason why Joseph and Mary should remain long in Bethlehem after the purification, and Luke 2:39 indicates that they did not. It is uncertain, however, which came first. The priority of the presentation has been urged, because after the visit of the Magi and the revelation of danger, the parents would scarcely venture into the temple; because after the presents from the wise men Mary would not have brought the offering of poverty; because it seems more likely that the child would first receive the homage of pious Israelites and then of the representatives of the Gentiles. On the other hand, however, it may be said that there seems to be no necessity for the delay of the holy family in Bethlehem after the presentation. In any case the revelation of danger made to Joseph followed the presentation, since he obeyed at once (Matthew 2:14).


Verse 22

Luke 2:22. Their purification. This refers to Mary and Joseph, rather than to Mary and the child. In Leviticus 12:4-6, there is no hint of the purification of the child. The presence of Joseph was required by the law respecting the redemption of the first-born (see on Luke 2:23), and the ceremonial uncleanness, which lasted until the fortieth day in the case of a male child (Leviticus 12:2-4), affected the husband.


Verse 23

Luke 2:23. In the law of the Lord. Exodus 13:2, freely quoted in explanation of the presentation.

Every male that openeth the womb, i.e., every first-born male (‘both of man and of beast’). The sacrifice (Luke 2:24) was required in every case, but the presentation only in the case of the firstborn son. The requirement respecting the first-born was in remembrance of the sparing of the first-born of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 8:17). Instead of the first-born, however, God took the tribe of Levi for the service of the sanctuary (Numbers 3:12; Numbers 8:14-18). At the time of this substitution the number of the first-born in excess of the Levites must be redeemed by the payment of five shekels for each one (Numbers 3:44-51). Afterwards, it appears (Numbers 18:15-16,) that every first-born son was presented and redeemed by the payment of this amount. He who was Himself Priest and Temple, doing God’s service as none ever did, probably submitted to the form of redemption from the temple service. Our Lord’s subsequent conduct in cleansing the temple, shows how little He regarded the payment of legal claims as satisfying His zeal for God’s house (John 2:13-17).


Verse 24

Luke 2:24. According, etc. The offering was, according to Leviticus 12:6 : ‘a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering.’ In the case of poverty: A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons (Leviticus 12:8). Joseph and Mary were not rich, but extreme poverty is not to be inferred from this offering. If they, while sojourners in Bethlehem, had also to pay five shekels at this time, there would be a sufficient reason for their availing themselves of this provision of the law for those who were not rich. ‘Mary cannot bring a lamb for an offering: she brings something better, even the true Lamb of God, into the temple.’ (Van Oosterzee.)


Verse 25

Luke 2:25. Simeon. According to some, this was the son of the famous Rabbi Hillel, and father of Gamaliel the teacher of Paul (Acts 5:34). The Rabbis say that Jesus was born in the days of Rabbi Simeon, son of Hillel. But the name was very common; Luke 2:26 suggests that this man did not live long afterwards, while Rabbi Simeon was alive in A. D. 13; and the language here does not point to a famous man. Another untrustworthy tradition describes him as blind, but receiving his sight on the approach of the child Jesus.

Righteous, as regards the law, and devout, religiously conscientious (comp. Acts 2:5; Acts 8:2).

Waiting for the consolation of Israel, i.e., for the coming of the Messiah to console Israel after the sorrows (dolores Messice)which according to the common belief should precede that coming. Comp. Luke 2:38.

And the Holy Spirit was upon him. This explains the subsequent revelation.


Verse 26

Luke 2:26. Should not see death. Comp. Psalms 89:48; John 8:51; Hebrews 11:5; also the phrase ‘taste death’ (Matthew 16:28; Hebrews 2:9).

The Lord’s Christ, i.e., ‘the Messiah of Jehovah.’ It is implied that Simeon was very old, and would die soon after. How this revelation was made is not hinted.


Verse 27

Luke 2:27. And he came in the spirit into the temple. His steps were ordered by the Spirit, in the power of which he lived. The Spirit led him thither to meet this child, whom he was enabled, by the same Spirit, to recognize as the Messiah.


Verse 29

Luke 2:29. The words of Simeon are poetic in their form, and even in a translation retain their peculiar beauty. The song is called Nunc Dimittis, from the opening words in the Latin version. Like the Magnificat and Benedictus, it is adapted to the peculiar time and circumstances assigned in the narrative.

Now lettest thou thy servant depart, ‘now release thy servant’ The word ‘servant’ corresponds with Lord, i.e., ‘master,’ not Jehovah. Death is regarded as the dismissal from honorable service.

According to thy word, i.e., the revelation mentioned in Luke 2:26.

In peace, in the fullest sense of happiness, blessedness. This is the result of the release asked for.


Verse 30

Luke 2:30. Have seen. These words are emphatic; probably the tradition respecting previous blindness was suggested by them.

Thy salvation, i.e., the Messianic deliverance. He sees the world’s salvation, while beholding the form of a helpless child. The prominence given by Simeon to ‘salvation’ rather than to the person of the child, confirms the early date of the song. It also indicates that Simeon had not heard of the wonderful occurrences which preceded.

Vcr. 31. All peoples, both Jews and Gentiles, as the next verse shows. The past tense is used from a prophetic point of view, as in the songs of Mary and Zacharias.


Verse 32

Luke 2:32. A light. This defines ‘salvation.’

For revelation to the Gentiles. Comp. Isaiah 49:6; where there is a similar prophecy. The idea is that of Old Testament prophecy: The light of the world rises in Israel, extends its influence to other nations, which submit to the Messiah and receive the light of truth. Comp. Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 44:5;

And the glory. This also defines ‘salvation;’ some take it as defining ‘light’ but this destroys the poetic parallelism, and is otherwise objectionable. The end proposed is not the glory of Israel, but the coming of the Messiah, and His salvation is the true glory of Israel, that which really exalts it above other nations, hat for which it was chosen.


Verse 33

Luke 2:33. And his father. ‘Joseph’ was substituted at an early date. ‘The parents’ are spoken of in Luke 2:27 (comp, the words of Mary, Luke 2:48). Our Lord, however, is never rep-resented as calling Joseph by this title. The use of it by Luke, in the legal and popular sense, involves no contradiction of his previous statements. To have avoided the term would look like the over-carefulness of an inventor.

Were marvelling, while Simeon was speaking. Although this was only a confirmation of the more direct revelations previously made, their wonder is made more prominent than their faith.


Verse 34

Luke 2:34. Blessed them. The ordinary benediction of a pious old man.

Unto Mary his mother. This indicates that Simeon knew (by revelation we infer) something of her peculiar relation to the child. He now alludes to the sufferings of the Messiah, already foretold by the Old Testament prophets. This further revelation may have been needed to prevent undue elation on the part of Mary.

Is set, lit., ‘lies.’ The reference is to lying in an appointed place, probably with an allusion to the ‘stone of stumbling’ (Isaiah 8:14; Romans 9:33; comp. 1 Peter 2:8).

For the falling and the rising of many. This is most naturally referred to two classes: some fall through unbelief, stumbling at this rock of offence; others are raised up through faith and holiness. ‘The fall and rising again’ (as in E. V.) points to but one class: those first humbled by a sense of sin and then raised again by this Saviour; but ‘again’ is not necessarily implied.

And for a sign that is spoken against. This refers to the future, but the present is used of what is characteristic. This prophecy was fulfilled during His earthly life; the culmination was the cross, which as the sign of salvation has not yet lost its offence (Galatians 5:11).


Verse 35

Luke 2:35. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul. The sentence is parallel with the last, and should not be put in parentheses. The rejection and suffering of Christ has just been indicated; with this the grief of Mary will correspond. The culmination of her grief is at the culmination of His sorrows: the sword pierces deepest at the cross. This is the key-note of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, This ancient interpretation is preferable to later ones: such as a reference to Mary’s anguish for sin, or her doubt about the Messiahship of her son.

That thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. Neutrality with respect to this one, will be impossible. Whether men fall or rise, the appearance of this child will reveal their secret heart, and this will be done through the cross, to which there is a latent reference throughout. The test is faith in the Crucified One (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).


Verse 36

Luke 2:36. One Anna. ‘One’ is supplied to relieve the English construction.

A prophetess, so called previous to this time.

Phanuel. The name of her husband is not mentioned, probably because he had been so long dead. Nothing further is known of father or daughter, though tradition has been busy in supplementing the narrative.

She was of a great age. From this point to ‘fourscore and four years’ (Luke 2:37), the description is parenthetical, referring to the particulars of her great age.


Verse 37

Luke 2:37. Even unto fourscore and four years. The correct reading suggests that she was now eighty-four years old, not a widow for that period. This is evidently mentioned as a commendation (comp. 1 Timothy 5:3; 1 Timothy 5:5), especially as it is plainly intimated that she was young at the death of her husband.

Who departed not, etc. Description of her mode of life. She not only appeared in the temple at the ordinary hours of prayer, and on ordinary fast days (Monday and Thursday), but her life was devoted entirely to religious exercises. As, however, she represents expectant Israel, this cannot be an argument in favor of monastic life. The tradition that Mary had been brought up under her guidance in the temple is groundless. Simeon and Anna ‘stand in striking contrast to the infant Saviour, exemplifying the Old Covenant decaying and waxing old before the New, which is to grow and remain.’ Van Oosterzee.


Verse 38

Luke 2:38. At that very hour, i.e., when the meeting with Simeon took place.

Gave thanks unto God, according to the better supported reading. She gave praise to the Father for sending the Messiah.

Spake of him. Evidently of the child.

To all them, etc. Not openly to everybody, but to the circle of pious people expecting the Messiah. This probably took place on the spot (comp. Luke 2:17). It may have been the hour of prayer, when numbers of this class would be present.

For the redemption of Jerusalem. The correct reading favors this translation, which refers to the same Messianic expectation indicated by the E. V., but points to Jerusalem as the place where redemption would begin. These expectant souls were probably obscure persons, and any extended knowledge of the prophecies respecting this child would be checked by the flight to Egypt and the withdrawal to Nazareth. Thus the accounts of Matthew and Luke undesignedly supplement each other.


Verse 39

Luke 2:39. They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. Of itself this suggests that Joseph and Mary went directly and immediately from Jerusalem to Nazareth. But this is not expressly stated. It is, however, difficult to suppose that Luke had seen Matthew’s account, or vice versa.


Verse 40

Luke 2:40. And the child grew. Comp, the account of John’s youth (chap. Luke 1:80). The next section illustrates what is stated in this verse, and Luke 2:52 repeats and extends the statement. Growth of body is mentioned first, a point not to be overlooked.

And waxed strong. The words ‘in spirit’ are inserted from chap. Luke 1:80, and refer the statement to mental and spiritual development; but without this interpolation the sense is: Our Lord in His genuine human development, grew strong as he grew in body, had a healthy physical growth.

Being (or ‘becoming’) filled with wisdom. In mind and spirit too He grew. This being filled with wisdom was an increase of knowledge in proportion to His physical growth, including as the next incident (especially Luke 2:49) plainly implies, an increasing consciousness of God as His Father, an awakening of His own divine-human consciousness, a recognition of Himself, a revelation of the wisdom belonging to His Divine nature. For this ‘wisdom ‘was in Him and is distinguished from what is stated next: and the grace of God (the favor of God His Father) was upon him. Comp. Luke 2:52.


Verse 41

Luke 2:41. Went, were accustomed to go.

At the feast of the Passover. On the Passover, see Matthew 26:2. The male Israelites were required to appear at the three yearly feasts (Exodus 23:14-17). Women, according to the teachings of a prominent Rabbi (Hillel), were bound to attend the Passover feast Mary probably went from pious motives, rather than Rabbinical rules.


Verses 41-52

THIS section gives an example of the wisdom just spoken of (Luke 2:40), the more significant because the incident occurred at the age (twelve years) when a Jewish boy became a ‘son of the law,’ was first fully subjected to the obedience of the law. The whole story is told so simply, with such internal marks of truthfulness, that no reason for rejecting it can be found. It is in marked contrast with the unnatural fictions of the Apocryphal Gospels.

ON OUR LORD’S CHILDHOOD. It was a real childhood and youth ripening into manhood. Here where Scripture is well nigh silent, we find an unanswerable argument for the doctrine of the Divine-human Person of Christ. How could such a one as Jesus afterwards became grow up in such a place and in such circumstances, unless He were the Incarnate Word? The human advantages He enjoyed were common to all the Jews. We find no trace of any contact with the learning of those days; there was no school of philosophers in despised Nazareth. Nor can He be ranked with self-made men of genius. For while these too have been deprived of living teachers, their development can still be accounted for by the use of other educational means, and we have to trace the energy with which such have sought these means and improved them. But there is no trace of such a life of application here. Nay, the character of His subsequent teaching forbids the theory that he thus attained His knowledge. It is too unique to be the result of study. Schaff (The Person of Christ): ‘He confined Himself strictly to religion. But from that centre He shed light over the whole world of man and nature. In this department, unlike all other great men, even the prophets and the Apostles, He was absolutely original and independent. He taught the world as one who had learned nothing from it and was under no obligation to it. He spoke from Divine intuition as one who not only knows the truth, but who is the truth, and with an authority which commands absolute submission, or provokes rebellion, but can never be passed by with contempt or indifference. His character and life were originated and sustained in spite of circumstances with which no earthly force could have contended, and therefore must have had their real foundation in a force which was supernatural and divine.’


Verse 42

Luke 2:42. Twelve years old. At this age a Jewish boy became ‘a son of the law ‘and was henceforth bound to obey the law in the full scope of its requirements. After this age attendance at the Passover was necessary; but the passage before us gives no hint that this was the first time the child Jesus had accompanied His parents thither. In the original, Luke 2:42-43 form but one sentence.


Verse 43

Luke 2:43. Fulfilled the days. The seven days of the feast. (Exodus 12:15, Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:2.)

Tarried behind in Jerusalem. This and the next clause are the emphatic parts of the sentence (Luke 2:42-43).

And his parents did not know it. This does not imply want of proper care on their part. Such a child had not been wont to cause anxiety. How it happened is not stated. The main point is, that He, afterwards (Luke 2:51) and before so obedient, remained without consulting His parents, and justified Himself for so doing (Luke 2:49). His action was occasioned by an irresistible longing to remain in the sacred city and in the house of God. This longing He gratified without consulting those to whom He ordinarily owed obedience. Such conduct would have been disobedience, implying moral imperfection, if Jesus were not more than man. The sole justification is in the higher relationship He asserts (Luke 2:49).


Verse 44

Luke 2:44. In the company. The band of fellow-travellers. These caravans were often large, and usually made up of those from the same district.

A day’s journey. During the day no anxiety would be felt respecting so obedient a child, but at night he would be expected to rejoin His parents.

Kinsfolk and acquaintance. This was natural, and shows the composition of the caravan.

Luke 2:45. Turned back to Jerusalem, seeking for him, i.e., on the way as they returned.


Verse 46

Luke 2:46. After three days. Reckoned from the time when they missed Him: one day returning (possibly part of another, as they searched on the way), another of search in Jerusalem, the third day that of finding Him. Others prefer to reckon from their departure out of Jerusalem: one day out, one to return, the third of search. Either is preferable to the theory that three full days were spent in looking for Him in Jerusalem. He must have been most of the time in the temple, and it would scarcely take them so long to think of searching for Him there.

In the temple. In one of the porches of the court of the women. They found Him where Mary might go (Luke 2:48), and in these porches the Rabbis held their schools.

Sitting in the midst of the teachers, the Jewish Rabbis. There is nothing to prove that He sat there, as a teacher. The position is mentioned to show that He was not hid, but where He could easily be seen. Nor can it be proved that scholars stood and teachers sat in these assemblies. The custom in the East is for scholars to sit cross-legged on the floor.

Both hearing them, and asking them questions. The ‘hearing’ is mentioned first, which opposes the idea of His having taken the position of a Rabbi. ‘Asking them questions,’ was simply in accordance with the Jewish custom: the scholars asked questions.


Verse 47

Luke 2:47. Were amazed at his understanding; as manifested in His comprehension of the subjects (undoubtedly religious) under discussion.

His answers. This is added as the special ground of amazement. None of these answers have been preserved, but the subsequent reply to Mary indicates the wisdom of His words. But we must beware of the improbable and unwarranted view that He spoke as a teacher, or oracularly. ‘A lecturing, demonstrating child, would have been an anomaly, which the God of order would never have exhibited’ (Olshausen). There is nothing premature, forced, or unbecoming His age, and yet a degree of wisdom and an intensity of interest in religion, which rises far above a purely human youth.


Verse 48

Luke 2:48. They (i.e., His parents) were astonished. Comp. Luke 2:50.

His mother said unto him. This indicates that there was a special reason for her speaking rather than Joseph. But the answer shows that these chapters were not written to unduly exalt Mary.

Son. Greek, ‘child’

Why, etc. There is a tone of reproach in the question, and also a hint that Jesus had never before grieved the mother’s heart. This separates Him at once from all other boys.

Thy father and I. This form of speech was required by usage. It may, however, imply that Mary had never told her son of the remarkable circumstances of His birth, and then His answer, assuming a knowledge of His Father, would be the more remarkable.


Verse 49

Luke 2:49. How is it that ye sought me, or, ‘were seeking me?’ A boy of twelve years would understand the mother’s anxiety. (In Oriental countries maturity comes earlier than among us.) Were He only human, the answer would have been mocking. But ‘in all the simplicity and boldness of holy childhood,’ He expresses astonishment that they had not known where He would be and where He ought to be. He knew and felt there was something in Him and in His previous history, which ought to be known to Mary and Joseph, that justified His being where He was and forbade their anxiety about Him. Mary’s reproach implies that she had not told Him of the things she had been ‘pondering in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). This makes the answer the more remarkable, while its quiet repose shows that the child was superior to the mother.

Did ye not know. This, like the previous clause, implies that they ought to have known this.

That I must be. This points to a moral necessity, identical with perfect freedom. Our Lord afterwards uses it of ‘His appointed and undertaken course’ (Alford). At this time when legal duty fell upon a Jewish boy, He would express His conviction of duty. It represents the time when children begin to feel that they have entered upon ‘years of discretion,’ and assumed for themselves the moral responsibility hitherto largely resting upon their parents.

In my Father’s house. Lit., ‘in the things of my Father.’ It may mean: abiding in, occupied in that which belongs to my Father, to His honor and glory, including all places and employments peculiarly His. The place in which He was, is in any case included. But it seems best to restrict the sense to the place. Greek usage favors this. The question about seeking Him makes it necessary to accept the reference to the temple as the primary one, even if the wider reference is not excluded. They need not have sought Him, they ought to have known where to find Him. At the same time it is true that He here suggests the sphere in which He lived, whether in or out of the temple. The words: ‘my Father,’ assert what was implied, or only negatively expressed, in the previous part of the response. He claims God as His Father, and not only justifies His conduct by this claim, but expresses the conviction that they should have recognized it. There is a contrast with the phrase, ‘Thy father’ (Luke 2:48). This is the first recorded utterance of Jesus, and in it the Divine-human self-consciousness is manifest. The narrative suggests that this was the first time words of this deep meaning had fallen from His lips. Christ’s first saying was not a moral precept, but a declaration concerning His relation to God. The calmness of the response confirms the view that the consciousness of this relation had previously existed.

Luke 2:50. And they understood not the saying. This was natural, even after the remarkable peculiarities of our Lord’s birth. Twelve years had passed since then, and their faith might have grown weaker. While they knew something as to His Person, they could not understand the deeper meaning which He seemed to comprehend so clearly and express so decidedly. Further, what He said came from Himself and not from their information; this obedient child deviated from His parents’ expectation and calmly justified His conduct. No wonder they did not understand. In these days men, after all the light from Christ’s life, after all the evidences of His power in the Christian centuries, fail to understand this saying of His, respecting His own Person.


Verse 51

Luke 2:51. Was in subjection unto them. Rendering full obedience, probably working at His reputed father’s trade (Mark 6:2). In the light of Luke 2:49 this obedience appears as a self-humiliation. It adds to our conception of the completeness of His vicarious work during these long years, to remember that there were other children in the household to try Him in the ways so common to children. The passive virtues could scarcely be manifested had He been alone.

But his mother, etc. Joseph disappears from the history at this point He probably died at some time during the eighteen years before our Lord’s ministry began. Mary kept all these sayings in her heart during these years, and from her the Evangelist may have derived his information.


Verse 52

Luke 2:52. Advanced, not ‘increased.’

In wisdom and stature, or, ‘age;’ see Matthew 6:27. The former sense is included, if the latter be accepted.

In favor (or, ‘grace’) with God and men. The favor with God found expression at His baptism, and that expression implies sinless perfection. The innocence of childhood, free in this case from all childish faults, developed into complete holiness of life, in the way of positive obedience. During this time of youthful obedience and subjection, was performed a large part of that work which the second Adam must do as fulfilling the law for others. This work found ‘favor with God’ The favor with men was probably not complete. Even in youth He must have testified by His life against the worldly people of Nazareth (comp. chap. Luke 4:28-29). The exercise of His passive virtues must have been constant and increasing. His patient waiting has a lesson never more needed than in this bustling age.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/luke-2.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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