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LUKE - Chapter 2

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Luke 2

Supplemental Commentary:

Note.  Only those parts of the Third Gospel that are peculiar to it are commented on here.  For all other parts the reader should consult the Commentaries on the parallel passages in the other Gospels.

Prelude:  The Coming of the Savior  1, 5 -- 2, 52 (continued)

2, 1-7:  The Birth of Jesus.    1-5.  The census of Cyrinus.  Some years ago it was the custom for critics to attack the accuracy of St. Luke's statements regarding this census.  But recent discoveries, especially of Egyptian papyri, have brilliantly verified the truth of these words of the Evangelist.    1.  Augustus was the Caesar, or emperor, of the Roman Empire from 31 B.C. to 14 A.D.  During his reign a census of the Roman citizens of the whole empire was made on three occasions: in 28 B.C. in 8 B.C.  and in 14 A.D.   As to the enrollment of the non-citizens in the various provinces outside of Italy, we know from the Egyptian papyri that there was a regular periodic census of these people every fourteen years.  We have records for all these enrollments for each fourteen-year period from 19/20 A.D. to 257/258 A.D.  The census of 5/6 A.D. is mentioned by Josephus and referred to in Acts 5, 37.  Fourteen years before that would be 8 B.C.  This was probably the first occurrence of this periodic census and coincided with the census of the Roman citizens, so that Luke could speak of the whole world, i.e., all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire, being enrolled.    2.  Luke calls this the first census to distinguish it from the later census mentioned in Acts 5, 37.  However, the civil governor of Syria from 9 to 6 B.C. was Sentius Saturninus.  Cyrinus did not become civil governor of Syria until 6 A.D.  Moreover, Tertullian refers to the records of this census as accessible to those who might have had doubts about the birth of Christ and says that it was taken up in Judea by Sentius Saturninus.  But on the other hand we have evidence that is just as certain, that at this time Cyrinus was military commander in Syria, and Luke clearly had good grounds for attributing this census to him.  It is not quite certain what was the relationship between Saturninus and Cyrinus in regard to the census in Judea.  Instead of Cyrinus the better Latin manuscripts have Quirinus.  His full name was Publius Sulpicius Quirinus, (or, Quirinius).  The Greek word for governor is often used in the sense of "military commander."    3.  Each to his own town: these fourteen-year enrollments were by "households," as is clear from the papyri; everyone had to go to the place where he had his official residence.  But there is not the slightest evidence that people had to go to their ancient ancestral home.  If that was the case all of Galilee would have been emptied by the census, for almost all of its inhabitants were Jews, i.e., descendants from the tribe of Juda, whose original home was in Judea.

4.  Joseph must have considered Bethlehem his real home.  Perhaps he owned a piece of property there, for one of the main reasons for the census was the assessment of taxes.  From Matt. 2, 21 f it seems that Joseph had intended after the birth of Jesus to make Bethlehem his permanent home.    5.  His espoused wife: the best Greek manuscripts read simply, "his betrothed" (the same word as in 1, 27).  But it is certain that at this time Mary and Joseph were fully married (cf. Matt. 1, 24), and the word, wife, gives the correct sense.  Luke still speaks of Mary as merely "betrothed" even at Christ's birth, lest the reader might wrongly think that her marriage was consummated.  Mary naturally accompanied her husband to Bethlehem, whether she herself was obliged to register in the census or not.    6.  While they were there: this would seem to imply that they had arrived in Bethlehem at least a few days before the birth of Jesus.    7.  The stupendous event of the appearance on earth of the Incarnate Son of God is told in a few touching words---a masterpiece of charming simplicity that is vastly superior to the vulgar exaggerations of the apocryphal Gospels.  Firstborn: the Greek word corresponds with the Hebrew technical term of which neither the etymology nor the usage implies later births.  The Evangelist wishes merely to stress the fact that the Mosaic Law of the firstborn, involving various duties and privileges (cf. Ex. 13, 2), applied to Jesus also (cf. 2, 22 f).  Luke mentions that Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes, not as if this were extraordinary, for it seems that all new-born infants were thus swathed, but because he is about to quote the angel's words in reference to this.  The manger implies that our Lord was born in a place where cattle were kept; according to the traditional site in Bethlehem, this was a cave which was used as a stable.  The Evangelist does not tell us why Joseph had sought for lodgings in the oriental inn or khan, nor do we know why he failed to find room there, but the commonly accepted explanation is that that town was overcrowded because of the census.  Later on, the Holy Family lived in a regular house at Bethlehem (cf. Matt. 2, 11).

2, 8-20:  The Shepherds at the Crib.  Just as Christ was born in a stable like the poorest of the poor, so it was fitting that His first visitors should be poor and simple peasants.    11.  A Savior: in the spiritual sense, saving man from his sins; an allusion to His name of Jesus (cf. Matt. 1, 21).  The only other instance in the Gospels of this title of our Lord is in John 4, 42.  Christ the Lord: perhaps the Greek word christos is used here as an adjective, i.e., "the Anointed Lord," or perhaps the original reading was as in 26, "the Anointed of the Lord."  In any case the shepherds would have understood the phrase merely in the sense of "the Messias."    12.  This sign was given to the shepherds not only that they might know that the angel had spoken the truth but also to assist them in finding the Child, for there would not be another infant in Bethlehem who would be so recently born that he would still be wrapped in swaddling clothes and at the same time lying in such an odd cradle as a manger.    14.  Cf. 19, 38.  Among men of good will is the reading of the best manuscripts, but many manuscripts read "among men good will."  The Greek word that is translated here as good will is used especially of God's "benevolence" towards men.  No particular group of men is meant here; the sense is "mankind to whom God is well-disposed."    17.  They understood: the Greek verb means "they made known."    19.  While the shepherds spread the good news, Mary meditated in silence on the deeper meaning of this mystery.  We may rightly understand this verse as meaning, "It was Mary who remembered all these things," and infer that the Evangelist derived his information about the infancy of Jesus either directly or indirectly from Mary; cf. 51.

2, 21-40:  Circumcision and Presentation.    21.  Jesus naturally observed the Jewish law of circumcision just as He observed all other laws of the Old Testament.  The Evangelist mentions the circumcision merely in passing, and stresses rather the bestowal of the holy name of Jesus on this occasion (cf. 1, 31b; Matt. 1, 21.25b).  The rite of circumcision was given to Abraham "for a sign of the covenant" between God and him (Gen. 17, 11).  No Jew considered himself a son of Abraham unless he was circumcised (cf. Rom. 4, 11 f.); it was by circumcision that he became subject to the Law (Gal. 5, 3).  But according to the divine will the Son of God not only became man, but also became a son of Abraham, subject to the Law of Moses, "born under the Law, that he might redeem those who were under the Law" (Gal. 4, 4 f).  Therefore, according to the divine plan of Redemption it was necessary for Jesus to be circumcised.

22.  Her purification: the Greek text has "their purification," which can only mean "the purification of Mary and Jesus."  Two different laws of Moses were complied with on this occasion: the purification of the mother (Lev. 12) and the presentation of the firstborn son (Ex. 13, 2.12.15).  The Evangelist, following perhaps the popular custom, combines both rites under the name of "purification."    24.  This sacrifice was connected with the rite of the mother's purification.  It was really a double sacrifice: one dove or young pigeon as a sacrifice for "sin," i.e., ritual uncleanness resulting from childbirth, and a yearling lamb, for which the poor could substitute another dove or young pigeon, as a holocaust, i.e., a thanksgiving sacrifice for the birth of a child.  While Mary was not obliged, strictly speaking, to offer the former sacrifice, the thanksgiving offering was even more appropriate in her case than it was for ordinary mothers.  Perhaps too much stress is placed upon the poverty of Mary in making the offering of the "poor," for from the way Luke cites the law it would seem that the substitution of a bird for the lamb was the ordinary practice at that time.  No sacrifice was prescribed in connection with the presentation of the firstborn, but the infant son that was consecrated to the service of the Lord was to be bought back at the price of five shekels (Num. 18, 16; cf. also Ex. 34, 19; Num. 3, 12 f; 8, 16-18).

25.  Simeon is a representative of that pious class of Jews who at this time were awaiting a spiritual Messianic kingdom (cf. 38b).  He is generally spoken of as an "old man" but this is not stated in the text, unless it is perhaps  implied in the promise that he had received, that he should not die until he had seen the Messias (26).  The consolation of Israel: the coming of the Messias; cf. the same thought in different words, the redemption of Jerusalem (38).    28.  He also received him: from this phrase it seems fairly certain that Simeon was not the priest who officiated at the presentation of Jesus.  Blessed God: gave grateful praise to God.

29-32:  This hymn of Simeon, which is known from the first words of its Latin translation as the Nunc Dimittis, has been used in the Church since an early age as part of the liturgical night-prayers (Compline).    29.  Lord, servant: more exactly, "Master, slave."  Dismiss: properly, "liberate, enfranchise."  In peace: i.e., contented, now that God's promise to him has been fulfilled (cf. Gen. 46, 30).    30.  Thy salvation: practically equivalent to "Him whom thou has sent for our salvation."    32.  A light of revelation: either, "a light that is to be manifested," or, "a light by means of which divine truth will be manifested"; cf. 1, 78 f; Isa. 42, 6; 49, 6; 52, 10.

33.  His father: both before the law and in the eyes of the people Joseph was the father of Jesus; since the Evangelist has already stressed the virgin-birth of our Lord, he knows that the reader will not misunderstand this ordinary form of speech.    34 f.  The mission of Christ will have a twofold effect in accordance with the dispositions of men.  Some will be scandalized by His humility, poverty and death on the cross, and hence refuse to acknowledge Him as the Christ, so that He will be the occasion of their eternal ruin.  To others, however, who receive Him and His doctrine He will bring eternal life.  Cf. Isa. 8, 14; Rom. 9, 33; 1 Pet. 2, 7.  The sense would be clearer if the passage were punctuated: And for a sign that shall be contradicted---and thy own soul a sword shall pierce---that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.  Christ makes every man take a definite stand in His regard; as a result every man thereby shows the dispositions of his heart.  The prophecy concerning our Lady, which is expressed in the parenthesis, was fulfilled especially in Christ's Passion.  Man's rejection of her divine Son was to her a sword of sorrow.    36 f.  Presuming that Anna was at least fourteen years old when she was married, she would have been at least one-hundred-and-five years old at this time.  But since the original reads "she was a widow until eighty-four years," many commentators understand this as meaning that she was eighty-four years old at this time.

39.  According to the most probably opinion the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt, as recorded in Matt. 2, must be placed between the presentation of our Lord and the return to Nazareth.  Luke gives a mere summary of the events here, wishing simply to state that, although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He passed His youth in Nazareth.  Therefore, the phrase, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth should most probably be understood as referring to the same return to Nazareth as is related in Matt. 2, 23.    40.  Cf. 52.

2, 41-52:  The Child Jesus in the Temple.  According to Ex. 23, 14-17 all male Israelites were obliged to visit the temple on the feasts of the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  However, at this time the Rabbis interpreted this law of Moses as obliging only the Jewish men who lived in Judea.  Women did not come under this law at all.  But many who were not strictly obliged often attended these feasts at Jerusalem out of devotion.    42.  See note to text.

46.  After three days is probably to be understood as "on the third day"; cf. the same phrase in regard to the Resurrection.  Mary and Joseph spent one day in the caravan from Jerusalem, one day in the return journey, and on the third day they found Jesus.  The Greek word that is here and often in the New Testament translated as temple signifies properly "the sacred enclosure," i.e., the courts and porches of the temple where the Rabbis and, later on, Christ Himself often taught the people.  Sitting: the Jewish teacher sat on a chair while his pupils sat on the ground (cf. Acts 22, 3, where "a pupil of Gamaliel" is literally "at the feet of Gamaliel").  Both listening and asking questions: the regular rabbinical method of instruction.    47.  It is significant how this twelve-year-old Boy from Nazareth amazes the Rabbis with His wisdom.    48.  They, i.e., Mary and Joseph, were astonished: apparently the reason of their astonishment was the sight of Him in such a learned assembly.

49.  About my Father's business: literally, "In the things of my Father"; many commentators, arguing from the usage of similar phrases in the Greek documents of that period, translate, "at my Father's," i.e., at my Father's house.  The sense is "Why did you look elsewhere for me, since you should have known that I would be in the temple."    50.  Neither Joseph nor Mary understood at this time the relationship between this early public appearance in the temple and the great work of the Redemption.    51.  Luke stresses here the obedience of Jesus towards His parents, lest the reader might think that His words to them in the temple showed undue independence.  His mother kept all these things: cf. 19.    52.  The sense is, "As Jesus grew older He constantly manifested greater wisdom and grace."  Grace is not used here in the theological sense but in the original sense of the word, "graciousness, favor"; Jesus showed Himself universally attractive.  On His advance in wisdom, see note to text.

Confraternity Bible:

The Birth of Jesus  1 Now it came to pass in those days, that a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken.  2 This first census took place while Cyrinus was governor of Syria.  3 And all were going, each to his own town, to register.

4 And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem---because he was of the house and family of David--- 5* to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.  6 And it came to pass while they were there, that the days of her to be delivered were fulfilled.  7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds  8 And there shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly.

10 And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; 11 for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.  12 And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."  13 And  suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will."

15 And it came to pass, when the angels had departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds were saying to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us."

16 So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.  17 And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this child.  18 And all who heard marvelled at the thing told them by the shepherds.  19 But Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in her heart.  20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them.

Circumcision and Presentation  21 And when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, his name was called Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22* And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord--- 23* as it is written in the Law of the Lord,
"Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"---
24 and to offer sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

25 And behold, there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.  27 And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he also received him into his arms and blessed God, saying,
29 "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace;

30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:

32 A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and a glory for thy people Israel."
33 And his father and mother were marvelling at the things spoken concerning him.  34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted.  35 And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."

36 There was also Anna, a prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser.  She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood, 37 and by herself as a widow to eighty-four years.  She never left the temple, with fastings and prayers worshipping night and day.  38 And coming up at that very hour, she began to give praise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 And when they had fulfilled all things prescribed in the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, into their own town of Nazareth.  40 And the child grew and became strong.  He was full of wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.

The Child Jesus in the Temple  41 And his parents were wont to go every year to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover.  42* And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  43 And after they had fulfilled the days, when they were returning, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know it.  44 But thinking that he was in the caravan, they had come a day's journey before it occurred to them to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances.  45 And not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem in search of him.

46 And it came to pass after three days, that they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  47 And all who were listening to him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  48 And when they saw him, they were astonished.  And his mother said to him, "Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold, in sorrow thy father and I have been seeking thee."

49 And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me?  Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"  50 And they did not understand the word that he spoke to them.

51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them; and his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart.  52* And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.


5: Apparently Mary, who at this time was married to St. Joseph, was also obliged to be registered.

22: According to the Mosaic Law, a mother was unclean for seven days after the birth of a son and then had to remain at home for another thirty-three days.

23: Ex. 13, 2.

42: With the completion of his thirteenth year a young Jew became "a son of the Law" and was obliged to the observance of the entire Law.  Jewish parents familiarized their sons with the major duties of the Law a year or two before this obligation began.

52: As God, our Lord has infinite knowledge; as man, He had from the beginning the greatest possible infused knowledge and also the beatific vision.  His human mind, however, could advance in experimental knowledge, which is only acquired through the medium of mental faculties and bodily senses.