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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 2

 

 

Verse 1

§ 8.JESUS’S BIRTH, Luke 2:1-7.

1. In those days—The evangelist having detailed the fact of the birth of Messiah’s forerunner gives now a narrative of the manifestation of Messiah himself. He furnishes a circle of facts obtained by him, perhaps from James, the son of Mary and Joseph, or even from the blessed mother herself, omitted by all the other evangelists.

Cesar Augustus—Under the power and genius of the celebrated Julius Cesar the Roman republic fell, and the imperial government was established. He was succeeded by his nephew, Augustus Cesar, under whom the world of New Testament history was subdued. During his reign the temple of Janus was shut, in token of universal peace, and the Prince of peace made his advent.

The world—The Roman world.

Should be taxed—Not taxed, but the census taken, and the names of all enrolled. No contemporary historian gives any account of this census, but authentic mention is made of a breviarium, or summary of the resources of the empire, which must have been the result of something of this nature. From other sources than contemporary history also we know that there was a topographical survey made of the geographical extent of the empire.

Palestine was not indeed in form a province of the Roman empire, inasmuch as Herod was its king. But his kingdom was a gift from Augustus, who spared his life and placed him in power, although he had forfeited all by taking side with Anthony in the war for the empire against Augustus. The Jews were required to take an oath of allegiance to Augustus as well as to Herod. Augustus was little likely to hesitate to include Palestine in his census, though it is very likely that so vast an enrolment as the whole civilized world would require years, would be executed by different provinces quite separately, and completed by each in accordance with its own customs and institutions.


Verse 2

2. Cyrenius was governor—This verse affirms that the birth of Christ took place at the time of a census which was completed during the rule of Cyrenius. Now the historical fact is that Cyrenius was governor some ten years after the birth of Christ and the death of Herod. This has been for centuries a celebrated difficulty. Some have endeavoured, without authority, to change the text. Plausible but not quite satisfactory interpretations, consistent with the known facts of history, have been put upon the words, which may be found in Clarke’s Commentary. The clear meaning is, that that enrollment, being the first that took place, was completed during the governorship of Cyrenius. The early fathers of the Christian Church did indeed affirm that this census took place under Cyrenius; and Justin Martyr, in the second century, confirms his affirmation thrice made by an appeal to the public registers.

But it was reserved for a German scholar of our own day, A.W. Zumpt, to solve this memorable difficulty and vindicate the accuracy of Luke. By combining a great number of passages from the Roman literature of those times, he proves that not only was Cyrenius governor of Syria ten years after the birth of Christ, but that he was also so at a previous period which probably included that event; or at least might have had such later management of the taxing as that it went under his name. Cyrenius, it is proved, was honoured with a triumph for subduing a tribe of Cilicians; by another train of passages it is shown that Cilicia belonged under the governorship of Syria; so that Cyrenius must have then been governor of Syria. By another series of deductions it is shown that this triumph must have taken place before A.D. 1 or 2; but as the birth of Christ was really four years earlier than our popular A.D. 1, the birth and the governorship are found able to coincide in time.


Verse 3

3. Every one into his own city—The census in Judea was doubtless conducted in Jewish modes. The enrolment must be made at the place of the lineage of the head of the family. Mary goes probably under the protection of her husband in her present condition. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about sixty miles.


Verse 4

4. Went up—Bethlehem was indeed high ground; but anciently any going to a capital or superior place was a going up.

House and lineage—The house included the entire body of ancestors and descendants. The lineage was a direct line of descent.


Verse 6

6. They were there—In Bethlehem, where the royal David was born and had spent his boyhood, these two descendants of his regal lineage have now arrived. But though their family register attests their birth, they are too poor to obtain not merely a palace but an inn.


Verse 7

7. Her first born—See note on Matthew 1:25. Van Oosterzee says, “The question of the brethren of Jesus must be decided independently of the phrase first born.” Not independently, we reply; the argument is far from standing as it would if Jesus were not twice called first born long after it was known, if true, that there was no second born. The proof though not conclusive of itself is cogent.

In swaddling clothes—The verb to swathe or swaddle signifies to wrap tightly round with bandages or cloth. This custom of tightly binding the new-born infant was formerly practiced with injurious severity until medical men grew wiser.

Manger… inn—It seems clear from the text that the manger was not in the inn or kahn. If the stable itself were in the khan it would hardly be said that there was no room for them in the khan. Hence there is good reason to believe with Dr. Thomson, “That the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the babe was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of the farmers of this region.”

Manger “It is common,” says Dr. Thomson, to find two sides of the one room, where the native farmer resides with his cattle, fitted up with these mangers, and the remainder [of the room] elevated about two feet higher for the accommodation of the family. The mangers are built of small stones and mortar in the shape of a box, or rather of a kneading trough, and when cleaned up and whitewashed, as they often are in summer, they do very well to lay little babes in. Indeed, our own children have slept there in our rude summer retreats on the mountains.”

Dr. Thomson well says that the word house used by Matthew (Matthew 2:11) “does not much favour the idea” held by many that the birth took place in a cave. Yet as this idea is as old as the middle of the second century, it is entitled to profound respect. Over the cave selected by that primitive tradition the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, erected the magnificent Church of the Nativity, which still stands, (or rather its successor built by Justinian,) as an object of profound interest to the Christian traveler in the East. It is the oldest Christian Church in the world. The cave which it encloses Isaiah 38 feet by 11, and at the eastern end a silver star in a marble slab designates the spot of the birth.

That a native tradition should have selected a cave as the “house” of the Saviour’s birth is good proof that there is nothing in the supposition unnatural or improbable. In the soft limestone rock of Judea, easily cut and usually dry, caves, either natural or artificial, abound, and they are used for a great variety of purposes. They are used for dwellings, inns, stables, fortresses, refuges, and sepulchers. Pococke mentions a cave capacious enough to hold thirty thousand men; and Dr. Bonar (quoted in Andrew’s Life of Christ) says of the cave of Adullam, “You might spend days in exploring these vast apartments; for the whole mountain seems excavated, or rather honey-combed.” Mr. H.B. Tristam (The Land of Israel; or, Travels in Palestine: London. 1865) says of Endor: “It is full of caves, and the mud-built hovels are stuck on to the rocks in clusters, and are for the most part a mere continuation and enlargement of the cavern behind, which forms the larger part of this human den.” In other parts these cave-houses abound of a more eligible quality, and the traditionary cave of the Nativity bears, therefore, we may admit, strong marks of genuineness.

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Inn—Called a khan when belonging to a village or city; a caravanserai in the rural region.

The khan is not like an American tavern or hotel, a place where all the wants of a traveler or boarder are richly supplied for pay. It is a building erected at public expense, where merely the bare room for man and beast exists; but the traveler must bring his own equipments, furnishings, food, and fodder. In earlier ages, with a scanty population, the hospitable tent-dweller, like Abraham, hastened to entertain his guest with a gratuitous banquet, partly to maintain that law of hospitality which, in the absence of all inns in the country, was necessary to make traveling practicable, and partly because a guest in the desert was a rarity to be accepted and enjoyed. But as a denser population grew, this became too expensive an enjoyment. A single building was set apart for strangers who had no friends in town; and the old habit of hospitality showed itself merely in erecting the khan by town expense.

The khan is usually much on the model of the eastern house, but of much larger extent, as described in our first volume, pp. 121, 326. Four rows of apartments are so constructed as to enclose a large yard, with a well in the centre, where the cattle may be kept. The outer wall is usually of brick upon a stone basement. The apartments are entered by the guest from the yard, and are elevated two or three feet above the level of the yard. Below and behind the row of the travellers’ apartments was often the row, or the long room, of stables, into which the floors of the apartments, being a little extended, formed a platform upon which the camels could eat. (See the section, next page.) The animals stood with their heads towards the platform, and to their noses were suspended hair-bags containing the grain which they ate, which they rested upon the platform in order to thrust their noses into the grain. If the birth took place in the khan stable, this platform was the manger upon which, wrapped in his swaddling clothes, the infant Saviour was laid.

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Verse 8

8. Abiding in the fields—Probably both day and night in the open air.

Keeping watch.—That is taking watch by turns.


Verses 8-20

§ 10.

APPEARANCE OF ANGELS TO THE SHEPHERDSSHEPHERDS’ VISIT TO JESUS, Luke 2:8-20.

At hand—The gentile Magi were brought from afar, but these shepherds are brought from nigh. The former as star gazers were led by the star; the latter as shepherds were brought to the chief shepherd. And these were brought from the same fields of Bethlehem where David the typical shepherd fed his flocks, to visit David’s royal son.


Verse 9

9. The angel—An angel. No particular angel is specified.

Came upon Expressive of more suddenness than appeared to them would be.


Verse 10

10. Fear not—The same introductory dismissal of fear as Gabriel addressed first to Zacharias and then to Mary.

All people—All the people; for as these shepherds were representatives of the Jews, so Israel is the people to whom is the immediate joy; yet it redounds to all the world besides.


Verse 11

11. Unto you—You, the people of Israel.

City of David—The true place for the birth of David’s royal son.

A Saviour—Too high a title for a mere man.

Christ—The Anointed, the Messiah.

The Lord—Which is the Greek for the incommunicable name Jehovah.


Verse 12

12. The sign was not itself a miraculous one, but the prediction of it was so. The thing which they would find would be such a verification of the prediction as to attest itself true, and show them that the real Christ was found. The babe, the swaddle, and the manger were the three tokens.


Verse 14

14. Glory to God in the highest—In the highest heavens. Commentators understand this as a reference to the Jewish threefold heavens. This glory ascends to the highest. This glory among the highest is placed in contrast to the peace on earth. See note on Matthew 21:9.

Good will to men Rather good will among men. The first clause represented what takes place between God and men from the mediation of Christ. Glory ascends to heaven, peace descends to earth. Such is the reconciliation between God and men. Good will among men represents men’s reconciliation among each other. Is it a fallacy to suppose that here is a parallel clause for each one of the Holy Trinity? There is God, to whom accrues glory in the highest; there is Christ, who is our peace; there is the Holy Ghost, through whose communion there is good will among men.

It is not clear whether these clauses were sung as a continuous strain, or whether they were heard in single floating fragments, or whether by alternate responses. The last would give them most of the character of the Hebrew choral service. So they would be truly an angel choir in the gallery of the firmament.


Verse 17

17. Made known abroad—That is, they related at Bethlehem the appearance of the angels and the prediction by which they had been induced to visit the place where the infant Jesus was.

Abroad—There is hardly any thing in the Greek equivalent to this word abroad. It does not appear that the shepherds narrated the facts out of the circle surrounding the child. Herod and his court at any rate seem not to have so far been informed of it as to be aroused to any alarm at the birth of a king of the Jews. It was not until the arrival of the Magi explicitly inquiring for the new born king that the palace at Jerusalem was disturbed.


Verse 18

18. All they—The Bethlehemites wondered at those statements of the angelic ministrations related by the shepherds.


Verse 19

19. Kept all these things—The whole train of events; miraculous birth of John, the annunciation of the angel to herself, the visits of the shepherds and of the Magi.


Verse 20

20. Glorifying and praising God—This conduct on the part of the returning shepherds indicates that the supposition is true that they piously waited for the hope of Israel, the Messiah.

CHRISTMAS, the NATIVITY, the anniversary of our Saviour’s birth, has been for ages celebrated by all Christendom upon the 25th of December. The accuracy of this date is a matter of interesting inquiry.

1. Upon grounds of tradition the authority for it is very slight. The Eastern Church, within whose bosom the locality of that sacred birth is centrally included, knew nothing of the date for centuries, and really celebrated the Lord’s birth on the 6th of January, the day of the Epiphany. (See note on Luke 3:22.) The fixing of the day of Christmas was really done at Rome, and was transmitted from thence over the Eastern Church. The authority for the selection of that day was the government record of the taxing, or census of Cyrenius, said to be in the imperial archives at Rome. But the authenticity of these records is too untenable to allow any weight to the argument.

2. Probably a main argument with the ancient Church for the nativity in December was based upon the assumption that Zacharias was high priest, and that the annunciation was made to him on the great day of atonement, which was in September. For, reckoning from September, nine months would bring us to the birth of John in June; and Jesus, being six months younger than John, (in all fifteen months,) must have been born in December. But the supposition that Zacharias was high priest is now by all admitted to be baseless.

3. But, after all that has been said, the negative argument drawn from the climate is unanswered. Mr. Andrews does indeed show from Barclay and others that there are often periods about Christmas which are the loveliest in the whole year. But Mr. Barclay’s meteorological tables show the average in inches of rain-fall through seven years to be as follows: November, 2 inches; December, 14; January, 13; February, 16; March, 8; April, 1; and May, 1. Average range of the thermometer through five years, November, 67; December, 53.3; January, 49.6; February, 52.1. So that December is within a trifle of being the severest month of the year.

4. But it must be specially noted that the strongest negative argument is not drawn from the flocks in the field. The gravelling question is this: Would the government select midwinter for a registration of all Palestine, including northern Galilee as well as southern Judea, which would compel a general journeying of the inhabitants often from nearly one end to the other? Let any one read Dr. Thomson’s account of a winter travel in Palestine, vol. i, pp. 329-332, and he will perhaps shudder to send the virgin from Nazareth to Bethlehem in December. Our own conclusion is, that the fixing the birth of Christ in December is unsustained by tradition and invalidated from Scripture.


Verse 21

§ 11.CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS, Luke 2:21; Matthew 1:25.

21. Eight days—According to the Jewish laws, Genesis 17:12, Leviticus 12:1-6.


Verse 22

22. Brought him to Jerusalem—From Bethlehem to the temple at Jerusalem.


Verses 22-38

§ 12.JESUS PRESENTED IN THE TEMPLE, Luke 2:22-38.

The presentation in the temple must have preceded the arrival of the Magi; as after their presence Jesus would have not have been safe from Herod’s hands.

Jesus underwent circumcision as he underwent death; not because of his own sin, but because he stood as representative of sinners and as a bearer of the sins of others.

Called Jesus—See note on Matthew 1:21.


Verse 23

23. Every male that—In the patriarchal dispensation the male first born was priest of the family, and belonged as such to Jehovah, the Lord. But under the Mosaic dispensation the sons of Aaron were chosen priests.

Numbers 8:15-20. But as God redeemed the first born from death in coming out of Egypt, they were to be presented before the Lord, and redeemed at the price of five shekels. Jesus himself was thus redeemed.


Verse 24

24. A pair of turtle doves—The proper sacrifice was a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtle dove. Or if the mother be not able to bring a lamb, then two turtle doves or two young pigeons. The deep poverty of the holy family is not proved by this. They had been weeks from home upon expenses, and this alone may have rendered larger offerings undesirable.


Verse 25

25. Name was Simeon—Some able thinkers have supposed this to be Rabban Simeon, (father of the learned Gamaliel,) president of the council, a man of eminence and learning, and living at this time. As the Jews, nevertheless, celebrated both the father and son of Simeon, but say very little of him, it has been imagined that his fault may have been his acknowledgment of the infant Jesus as Messiah. To the objection that Luke would not have introduced so distinguished a personage with the words “there was a man,” etc., it is plausibly replied that Luke introduces his still more distinguished son Gamaliel with the words “there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee,” etc. Acts 5:34. To the objection that Rabban Simeon was not a very aged man, it may be replied that it is not explicitly said that this Simeon was aged. The phrase “should not see death until,” etc., is essentially used of the apostle in Matthew 16:28. The phrase “now lettest thou thy servant depart,” etc., might be used by any man of mature age, who feels that he has gained the goal of his earthly life. Anna’s extreme age is arithmetically stated; but it is outside the evangelist’s narrative only that we bear of “aged Simeon.”

Just—In dealings towards men.

Devout—Towards God.

The consolations of Israel—Israel is a child of sorrow; but his consolations were to come in the Messiah.


Verses 25-35

25-35. The Nunc Dimittis; or Prophecy of Simeon.

As in the body of the Jewish population we have abundant evidence that the expectation in regard to the Messiah was, that he would be a warlike deliverer of the nation from the Roman yoke, so in the shepherds we have the representatives of the general class of the more spiritual. But in Simeon and Anna we seem to have representatives of the higher order of saints, whose views were fully enlightened by a study of the prophets and the influences of the divine spirit.


Verse 27

27. Came by the Spirit—The Spirit, which was attested by its own self-evidence beyond mistake, led the holy man into the temple at the time that Jesus was being brought. The mature saint and the young Messiah met, and the venerable representative of the old law did profound homage to the infant and divine founder of the new Gospel.


Verse 29

29. Lettest thou thy servant—He, as the Lord’s servant, is now ready to be discharged from his earthly service. His swan-like song to God has been celebrated for its beauty in all ages of the Church. It was his blessed lot.

On earth thy salvation to see,

And then to enjoy it above.


Verses 29-35

29-35. The utterances of Elisabeth, Mary, and Simeon are consecutive. Each begins where the other ends. Mary sings her own born Messiah; Zacharias celebrates the triumph of Israel; and Simeon announces the hopes of the Gentiles. But besides this holding forth the Messiah as a saviour for Gentile as well as Jew, what is remarkable is, that he announces in Jesus a suffering Messiah as well as a glorious. Nay, he announces that the blessed mother should also be a sorrowing mother. Though she has exulted, loftily and truly, in the thought that her son should sit on the throne of David, she learns now that calumny will make him its sign, and a sword shall pierce her soul. Human life is made of the extremes of joy and sorrow; but to whose lot did such blended joy and sorrow ever fall?


Verse 30

30. Thy salvation—Embodied in the person of the new born Messiah.


Verse 32

32. To lighten the Gentiles—The secular and unspiritual masses of Jews fell into the fanatical and arrogant notion, that Christ was to be merely a circumscribed and exclusively Jewish Messiah; the twelve apostles could hardly be made to resign that notion. Even after the resurrection it took the independence of a martyred Stephen and all the powers of an inspired Paul to assert the full rights of the Gentiles in the Church of God. Scholars have said that in the work of opening the gates of Christianity to the Gentiles Stephen was the forerunner of Paul. Might it not be said that Simeon was the forerunner of Stephen, and the Gentile Luke the historian of both? Yet the true doctrine on the subject is explicitly and repeatedly declared not only here but in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Compare Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 49:6. Those who understood the prophets, and caught their true spirit like Simeon, would not need the power of prophecy to understand those passages.


Verse 34

34. Unto Mary—Simeon blesses both, but he addresses Mary. He recognizes that she and not the husband is the parent.

Is set for the fall and rising againIs set should rather be rendered is laid or lies. It is a metaphor drawn from a stone over which some are seen stumbling and falling, others seen rising. So this child is the test by which men shall stand or fall. The phrase rising again is better translated uprising. It does not mean that those who rise are those who have fallen. Christ is the test, by faith in whom men shall rise or fall by unbelief. The Jewish nation fell; the apostles, the primitive Church, the believing Gentiles rose.

A signA sign which indicated God’s will to men, yet a mark at which calumny should aim its shafts.


Verse 35

35. A sword—The calumny aimed at the sign shall pierce her soul. The cross of the son shall be a sword to the mother.

Thoughts be revealed The sign, and the test, namely, the Messiah, shall bring out the secret characters, the moral feelings and thoughts of men. It would show what by nature they are; what by will and free agency they make themselves. Those truly preferring holiness, God, and heaven would repose faith in him.

Those who prefer sin and hell would reject him.


Verse 36

36. Anna (whose name is the same with the Old Testament Hannah) was of the tribe of Asher. Her native province stretched its whole eastern side along the margin of the Mediterranean, and included those among the most ancient cities of the earth, Tyre and Sidon. Northward it bordered on Syria. Its pure and healthful climate should have been the abode of piety. When in the deepest stage of Israel’s apostacy Hezekiah sent his messengers to call them to attend the passover, most of the northern tribes laughed them to scorn; but a few families in Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulon humbled themselves and went to the holy feast, 2 Chronicles 30. One is tempted to believe that we have here one of the descendants of some family of that faithful few, whose piety was all the deeper because maintained amid surrounding apostacy.


Verses 36-38

36-38. Anna the Prophetess.


Verse 37

37. A widow of fourscore years—It is honorable to Israel that the true widow was honored. If Anna were married, as is often the case with girls in the East, at thirteen, was seven years a wife, and eighty-four years a widow, she was now one hundred and four years old. But more probably this eighty-four years was her entire age. Though second marriages were not forbidden, yet among both Jews and Romans, a reverence was paid to the pure widow who retained unbroken and unrepeated her first wedding vows. So long had been Anna’s spotless widow-hood, and so profound was her piety, that whether she really uttered inspired predictions or not, she received the sacred epithet of prophetess. She departed not from the temple; for probably reverence for her piety secured for her the privilege of residing in some one of the chambers of the women’s court.


Verse 38

38. That instant—Not at that precise moment, but at that hour.

Gave thanks likewise… and spake of him—The triad of hymns is divided between Elisabeth, Mary, and Simeon. Neither Zacharias, Joseph, nor Anna are inspired to utter sacred song. But Anna gives thanks and preaches Jesus to the Christians in heart, and in anticipation, who doubtless form her circle in life.

Looked for redemption—Redemption, from the wickedness, oppression, and impending ruin of a guilty age and world through the advent of a holy Messiah sent from God. The truly devout dwelt upon and longed for the holy Deliverer who would turn away unrighteousness from Jacob. The mere political patriots looked for a hero-king who would make Jerusalem something higher than Rome.

In Jerusalem—Even in this fallen city and depraved age a few there were whose piety, like that of Zacharias and Elisabeth, was true, profound, and acceptable to God.


Verse 39

§ 13JESUS RETURN TO NAZARETH, Luke 2:39-40. Matthew 2:1-23.

39. Performed all things… returned… Nazareth—Between the finishing of the rites and the return to Nazareth most interpreters insert the entire narratives of the Magi, Herod, flight into Egypt, and return.


Verses 40-52

§ 14. JESUS GOES TO THE PASSOVER AT TWELVE YEARS OF AGE, Luke 2:40-52.

To the question, What sort of a boy was Jesus? this brief passage forms the whole scripture answer. We learn from it that he had a true human soul as well as body. He was a genuine natural child, infant, and boy. When as an infant the shepherds paid to him their homage, and the Magi presented their gifts, he was, perhaps, unconscious of the nature of the transactions. When, at the age of some two and a half years, his parents brought him from their flight into Egypt to the hills of Nazareth, his body grew: and amid the bold scenes of hill and dale, with the blue Mediterranean in the distance, his mind received its expansion. As the synagogue and the lessons at home unfolded the truths of the Old Testament to his view, telling of the Messiah to come, it is wonderful to think what might have been the first presentiments to his mind that he was himself that Messiah. Perhaps this passage tells us of the first distinct consciousness that God was his Father in the highest sense.


Verse 41

41. To Jerusalem every year—Thrice a year was the requirement to go to Jerusalem (Exodus 34:23;) though it is little likely that the same person often fulfilled the three journeys. But these parents every year, once at least, performed the journey to attend the great national feast of the Passover, when the slain lamb foretold the sacrifice of the lamb of God, and the symbols of emancipation from Egypt shadowed forth the far higher redemption. (See notes on Matthew 26:1; Matthew 26:20-26.)


Verse 42

42. Twelve years old—At twelve the Jewish child was called the “son of the law,” and was held subject to its precepts. At this age, therefore, and probably for the first time, Jesus obeys the law to attend the Passover. The scenes of this great festival, of which he was himself the predicted subject, and in which he was himself at his crucifixion to perform so sorrowful and so finishing a part, must have opened his mind wonderfully, and have brought his soul to a sublime excitement.


Verse 43

43. Fulfilled the days—The seven of the Passover week—

Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem—In their annual visits to Jerusalem the parents of Jesus must have formed acquaintances and made friends in different parts of the city. The parents of Jesus may then have started for home at a time unknown to him, supposing that he was with some of their traveling friends or relatives. Meantime with joy is he in his own Father’s house; and the topics which he is hearing discussed fill his whole mind, and exclude all thoughts of his Galilean home. The obvious inference is, that the human mind of Jesus may be unknowing of a fact beyond the reach of its natural finite faculties.

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Verse 44

44. In the company—The caravans in which the passover companies went for the purpose of protection against beasts and robbers must have been each large, composed of many parties, clans, and kindreds. Jesus might easily therefore have been not missed until the end of the first day.

Went a day’s journey

“The usual rate of traveling in the East is three miles an hour; and as the number of hours devoted to traveling rarely exceeds six or eight hours, the distance of an ordinary day’s journey may be considered as twenty or twenty-five miles. The first day, however, on starting on an expedition forms an exception to this rule: on that day it is not customary to go more than six or eight miles, and the tents are pitched for the first night’s encampment almost within sight of the place from which the journey commences. The only reason I heard assigned for starting thus late and stopping so early was, that it furnished an opportunity, if anything should prove to be forgotten, to return to the city and supply the deficiency. ‘We halted early,’ says Mr. Beldam, ‘according to custom, the distance being but thirteen miles from Cairo, in order to muster our forces, and ascertain that all things were provided for a longer flight.’

“The parents of Jesus are said to have traveled a day’s journey on their return, without knowing what had become of their son; they were ignorant whether he was in the company or not, and as if indifferent respecting his safety, make no inquiry in regard to him till the close of the day. Certain critics (it is one of Strauss’s objections) have represented this as so improbable [as well as careless in his parents] and unnatural as to throw discredit upon the truth of the entire narrative. But if the first day’s journey occupied two or three hours only, the difficulty disappears. They had reason to suppose that he was with some of the relatives or friends who were traveling with them; they could act naturally enough under the impression for so short a time, and would have no occasion for anxiety until his continued absence, when they came to halt, aroused their fears.” Hackett’s Bib. Ill., pp. 15-19.

Tradition of no great value fixes upon El Bireh, about three miles north of Jerusalem, as the spot where the present caravan stopped; inasmuch as this is the ordinary first station for the night with parties traveling north. But says Hackett, in his Eastern Travels, (p. 19,) “What route the parents of Jesus actually took on that occasion we cannot decide. The Galilean caravans, in order to avoid Samaria, usually crossed the ford of the Jordan near Bethshean, now Beisan, into Peraea, then passed down on the east side of Jordan, recrossed the river near Jericho, and ascended to Jerusalem through the desert which lies between the two cities. (See note on John 2:12.) A company returning to Galilee by the same route would be apt to stop, for the first night, near the eastern foot of the Mount of Olives; a ride at foot pace of not more than two hours. They would not be likely to go further the first day, because that would oblige them to encamp in a hostile region.”


Verse 46

46. After three days—One day spent in going homeward, one in returning, and the third on which he was found. The parents with their son doubtless rejoined their caravan.

In the temple—Where he was yet to dispute with the national doctors in a different style. The last time he had been in the temple was at his circumcision, when holy Simeon blessed him. Jesus was not in the temple building proper, but in some one of the apartments in the enclosure.

Probably it was in one of the porticoes of the court of the women, where the schools of the Rabbis were held. But Lightfoot thinks it may have been even in the Sanhedrim.

Sitting—The sceptical claim that pupils always stood to receive the lessons of the doctors is not well established. Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, (Acts 22:3.) But in fact Jesus was not a pupil but an auditor.

Sitting in the midst of the doctors—Cavillers have here raised many minute objections. An effort, say they, is made by Luke to make the boy Jesus a monstrous prodigy. He sits as chief doctor in the midst of a circle of listening rabbies, who are amazed at his miraculous teachings. All this is futile. The so-called Apocryphal Gospels are indeed guilty of the puerile folly of making Jesus a monstrosity of boyish doctorship. The Jewish doctors admit that they promoted R. Eleazar Ben Azariah to the presidency of the Sanhedrim at sixteen. And the historian Josephus shows a similar vanity in regard to his own precocious knowledge of law. “In my education, I attained to a great reputation for learning, appearing to excel in memory and understanding. Yet being a boy of about fourteen years, I was eulogized for my love of learning, and the chief priests and the first men of the city always collected to learn from me something more accurate about points of law.” The modest statement of Luke is in striking contrast with the exaggerations alike of the Apocryphals, the doctors, and the historian, yet gives us a most interesting and natural view of his pure but eminent development. No position of superiority or even equality to the rabbies, is intimated; and yet surely to no young Samuel or Moses would so deep a reverence be due even from hoary rank and learning as to this young Messiah.

The seats of the doctors were raised fronting the rest of the assembly and in the Sanhedrim at any rate, formed a semicircle, so that the half-surrounded Jesus could easily be in their midst. Of the doctors διδασκαλοι, didaskaloi, Greek for teachers. The root of this Greek word δαχ, dach, is the same as the Latin root doc, and the same as the Saxon teach. Hence διδασκαλος, doctor, and teacher, are the same word in different forms. Some of the greatest doctors of Jewish history lived about this period. The great Hillel, the restorer of ancient rabbinical lore, “a second Ezra,” whose scholars were thousands, died this very year. His successor, Simeon, first received the title of rabban, and was followed in line by Rabban Gamaliel, Paul’s tutor, and by others who were named among the greatest of Jewish geniuses and holy men.

Hearing them and asking questions—But it is not said teaching or disputing. He sat not as a doctor, but as an inquirer among the doctors. The method of instruction among the Jewish doctors was very conversational and catechetical; teacher and pupil indulging in both interrogation and reply.


Verse 47

47. Astonished at his understanding and answers—Ebrard repudiates the idea that it was upon some dry and futile rabbinical subtlety that Jesus was thus wise. “What if, on the contrary, Jesus had just heard some passages from the prophets read; had asked for explanation; put some questions; and then, from the fulness of his own innate knowledge had given answers himself which were so striking as to leave every thing the doctors had said far behind, and therefore to excite the greatest astonishment?” No subject could be more intensely absorbing to the future Messiah than the matters of type, sacrifice, and prophecy. As in a mirror, he would more and more clearly read his own features and future destiny. In a little more than twelve years he was to return to this temple, claim his rights as Messiah, and in due time make the sacrifice of which all other sacrifices were but the types.


Verse 49

49. How is it—The first word of Jesus’s utterance on record. It exhibits even in this his childhood the characteristics of his style of discourses even in his later years. Especially do we find those characteristics which belong to the discourses preserved by John, and which are by rationalists pretended to be John’s own composition. We find the same parabolic force, which conceals the meaning under the figure; for the moment not understood, yet so remembered as to be understood hereafter.

How is it that ye sought me?—Why did ye not come directly here? Where else could I be than in this holy, blessed spot? Strange that so beautiful a gush of childlike holy joy, at the delightfulness of his present place, should be interpreted into an expression of disrespect to his parents!

Wist—Knew.

My Father’s business—There seems to be a strong reason for giving this the meaning assigned by many scholars, Know ye not that I must be in my Father’s house? Why seek me? There is one sole blessed place suitable for me, and where I might be expected to linger. Yet both the terms house and business come in fact to the same thing. If he was in his Father’s house it must be on his Father’s business. If on his Father’s business where but in his Father’s house?


Verse 50

50. Understood not—Sceptics like Strauss have pronounced it unaccountable that, when Mary had been assured by Gabriel that Jesus was son of the Most High, she and Joseph should not understand that Jesus now claimed God as his Father. 1. But they understood not the great transition that had taken place within him at this age of becoming a son of the law. Since the time of the angel’s declaration the word father at Joseph’s home had been Joseph’s name. This sudden transfer of the title to God was without warning to these parents. Mary had just called Joseph his father, and she naturally understood Jesus’s use of the term in the same sense. She cannot therefore at the moment understand how loosing himself from his father’s company was being about his Father’s business. 2. The parent’s views of the Messiahship included the idea of royalty, righteous dominion, and perhaps warlike heroism and bold exploit. Mary’s song at his conception, as already remarked, was strongly tinged with the Old Testament images of this nature. It might not, therefore, be very obvious to her at the instant how a quiet interview with the doctors in the temple was any part of his business as Messiah or as the Son of God. 3. But “his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” When this first doubtful sign of his conscious divine Sonship was confirmed by other proofs, she soon saw, we may believe, its joyful meaning. The predictions of his infancy will be fulfilled; he is the great Messiah. This first saying was so felt by her heart and preserved by her memory as to be recorded in this Gospel forever.


Verse 51

51. Was subject unto them—And thus from the very divinity of his nature he was able to give the most wonderful example of filial obedience known or conceivable.

Kept all these sayings—Who should remember them but that mother? And from whom could Luke, or whoever was the writer of this account, derive it but from her lips?


Verse 52

52. Jesus increased—Compare this with Luke 2:40, which closes the account of his last being in the temple as this does the present. Also Luke 1:80, which describes John’s growth. Higher attributes are ascribed to Jesus than to John.

Increased in wisdom—His, then, was a finite, limited mind, capable of growth and development.

Favour with God—For though his entire being was in the favour of God, yet as that being increased in amount, the amount of favour increased proportionately.

And man—Even the rude Galilean highlanders of Nazareth, it would seem, felt softened towards his gentle, expanding nature. And that even in spite of his want of a true Galilean’s fierce and fiery spirit, betokening that he would make no figure in the world. So when he came at a subsequent period, once and again, to present his Gospel to Nazareth, Nazareth adhered to her first impression that the boy of Joseph the carpenter, though a child of singular omens, could never come to any thing great.

Thankful should we be that this beautiful fragment gives us a glimpse of that long period between the Saviour’s infancy and the commencement of his ministry. It is embosomed deeply in the natural texture of eastern life; it is perfect in its fitness to the human-divine character of the youthful Jesus; it bears in its clear simplicity the signatures of historic truth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/luke-2.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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