Luke 2

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Back to Luke

Jesus is Born (1-7)

Verse 1: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered (NRSV)

  • ”In those days” points back to 1:5 and indicates that this narrative fits into the same time frame as the previous chapter (Reiling 104).
  • ”Decree” is the English translation of the Greek “dogma,” an unquestionable statement.
  • Augustus was the first true emperor (Julius Caesar was Imperator) of the Roman Empire, and was often thought of as the savior and peace-maker for the entire world.
    • It is ironic that the “savior” was in charge when the Savior was born.
    • Augustus was sole ruler from 27 BC-14 AD.
    • Augustus is a title, not his name. His name was Gaius Octavius. Augustus was abouthis high rank and position and divine-like nature.
  • ”The world” is literally “the inhabited world” and generally referred to the Greek world (Liddell 546), though here it is used to refer to the Roman world. At this time that was basically a strip of land completely circling the Mediterranean Sea.
  • ”Register” is here not just a census, but a list of lands, property, and people who can be taxed (Liddell 96).
  • There is no record outside of the Bible to a universal census for the whole Roman world (Stein 105).
    • There are records of smaller censuses being taken for better taxation, which affects the whole Roman world. Individual sites that together formed a nearly universal census.
    • Also, censuses didn't happen in client kingdoms like Israel at the time. This might have been a local one by Herod confused with the one by Quirinius later (Marshall 99).

Verse 2: This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. (NRSV)

  • Compared to the description used in 3:23 to place those events, this is a very vague description.
  • By saying “the first” there is obviously more than one implied to have happened.
    • Another interpretation of this verse is that “first” is more accurately “before” and so this was the census that took place before Quirinius was governor (Marshall 99).
  • Syria was the Roman province to the north of Israel. It was the nearest source of serious Roman military might, as it was guarding against the Parthians.
  • Quirinius is used here to mark time, not because of any importance Syria has to the story.
    • He is probably used because Herod had reigned over Israel for many years and so using him as a marker would have been very imprecise.
    • The best records list the governorships of Syria as follows : “10 B.C., M. Titius; 9–6 B.C., C. Sentius Saturnius; 6–4 B.C., P. Quintilius Varus. The birth cannot be later than this because Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and he was alive when Jesus was born (cf. Matt 2:1–18). We also know that P. Sulpicius Quirinius (Cyrenius, KJV) was governor of Syria from A.D. 6 to 7” (Stein 105).
    • Josephus backs this dating up, saying that the census under Quirinius happened in 6-7 AD, after Herod had died already (Stein 105).

Verse 3: All went to their own towns to be registered. (NRSV)

  • The wording here is literally “each to the city of themselves.” The individual nature of this census is mentioned twice, which makes the next verse surprising.
    • With only this verse, we'd assume that Joseph would have gone where he lived, not to the home of his ancestor.
    • How this home of origin was decided is unclear. It could be land holding, birth, normal residence, ancestry of a specific length back or any number of other things (Marshall 99).
    • In addition, having people go to ancestral cities was not how the Romans did taxes. They worked based on current residence because it was a lot easier (Marshall 101).

Verse 4: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. (NRSV)

  • There isn't any specific rules to the census so we don't know why Joseph had to go back. The most likely idea is that Joseph had property there and had to return as an absentee owner (Marshall 105).
  • The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem was 85-90 miles if you went through Samaria (Stein106), and about a 1000 foot increase in elevation (Reiling 107). “Go up” is therefore a quite literal description.
  • Bethlehem was not usually referred to as the city of David, that was Jerusalem. Bethlehem is called that here, however, because it is the city of David's origins, just like Joseph's (Nolland 104).

Verse 5: He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (NRSV)

  • Mary is mentioned a being engaged, which is an odd way of describing a couple living together and traveling together. This probably is a way of saying that they had not had sexual relations yet (Nolland 104).
  • It is uncertain why Mary came with Joseph.
    • This heavily pregnant she probably shouldn't have made the trip, they weren't married yet, and her home town was Nazareth presumably.
    • Women were generally not expected to register (Stein 106).
  • Again, what is not mentioned that we assume to be there is important. Here, there is no mention of Mary riding on a donkey. As far as we know in the text, they both walked the miles.

Verse 6: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. (NRSV)

  • This doesn't imply that Mary was 40 weeks, it wasn't that precise. This is that the time God chose had arrived.

Verse 7: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (NRSV)

  • ”Firstborn” here leaves open that Mary and Joseph had other children, and is differentiated from “only son.”
  • ”Wrapped him in bands of cloth” is one word in Greek. The emphasis here is not on the type of cloth, but on the wrapping.
    • The word used here is to swaddle something (Arndt 760), which is the correct way of taking care of a new baby.
    • There is no unusual circumstances implied by this term.
  • Mangers were simply feeding troughs and would have been low cost cribs for poorer families. There is no stable mentioned here, just a manger.
  • What is amazing about this verse is what is missing, just as much as what is said.
    • This was David's ancestral home, and yet there is no mention of his family. Family were expected to take in family visiting, but not here.
    • There is also mention of an innkeeper, or animals being present, or the wise men.
    • There is no mention of where they had the child, just not in the inn.
  • The inn was probably not a formal building, but a crude shelter for traveling caravans, and so probably did not have an innkeeper (Stein 107).
  • The text does not say that there was no room in the inn, but that there was no place for them at the inn.
    • This might be indicative of discrimination against them as much as crowding.
    • The term used is “place,” which can denote literal position (no space for them) or metaphorical space (they were not welcome).
    • The fact that they apparently couldn't find a relative to stay with also indicates that this could be people reacting to an unwed mother staying with her fiancé.

Shepherds Hear the Good News (8-21)

Verse 8: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (NRSV)

  • These shepherds were living in the fields. Not just there for the night, but staying there. These were not wealthy people.
    • The word usage of "were" living is indicating that this was not an abnormal event, but that it was a regular or continuous occurrence.
    • Shepherds were in the fields with their flocks from March to November (Marshall 108) and only sometimes with them in the winter. There is no known association with this story and a particular date or season in the text.
  • "Guarding" is listed twice, they were literally guards guarding their flocks.
  • This was night. Somehow isn't it appropriate that during the darkness of this world Jesus was born in the darkness of night? Also, this probably woke the shepherds up, which can't help with the confusion.
  • The shepherd was regarded as nearly scum, and thought to have a very bad character.
    • King David is the exception, not the rule to shepherd behavior. They were considered the lowest class.
    • Shepherds were also unclean according to the law, outcasts (Stein 108).
    • In Greek thought, the shepherding life was considered ideal, but this is not a Greek story and is definitely using Jewish suppositions (Marshall 108).
  • We don't know how old these shepherds were, or how many there were.
    • The number would be based on the size of the flock, and their age would be based on whether this was their primary occupation or not.
    • With King David's example, it seems that the youngest would watch the flocks if the family did more than herd sheep. If the family only herded sheep, then it would be any age.
  • As Jesus was born in a manger it makes sense that shepherds would not only be nearby, but perhaps also know that particular manger.

Verse 9: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (NRSV)

  • The angel "appearing" is more literally "establish," "come on". There is the sense of unexpected events, but also a sense of something coming from above or being imposed on. One person standing still and something coming to them without their knowledge or desire.
  • Glory literally has the ideas of abundance, dignity, honor, etc (NDBT )
    • Usually it refers to the presence or power of God. Often it comes with light, fire, etc.
    • It's what God has, and no one else does.
    • The first mention here is probably the power, the essence, the presence of God and how awesome that is.
    • The second mention in verse 14, however, appears to be a different meaning. It seems to be praising God for what's so awesome about him, not acknowledging his presence there.
    • God's glory usually was limited to the temple (Green 131), but with God himself coming to earth, so was his glory.
  • This experience was quite similar to Mary, and Joseph, and Zechariah's experiences.
    • An angel appeared, induced fear, offered reassurance, a message and a sign that it would happen.
    • But this was the first time the message came to those on the outside. Before it was to parents, and now the message is coming to strangers.
  • Fear is a completely normal reaction to God's presence or angels appearing.
    • Literally, the shepherds “feared a great fear.” The repetition adds emphasis.
    • Today we might say “they wet themselves with fright” to convey the intensity of the feeling.

Verse 10: But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: (NRSV)

  • ”Do not fear” is in the command form. This was not a request.
  • The word translated as “gospel” is more literally “good news.”
    • Bringing you good news" is the word that we translate as evangelize. The angel is evangelizing right here.
    • The angel is saying not to fear, because the news he has isn't about fear but joy.
    • It's good news of great joy, which is in contrast to the fear. The message itself is in contrast to fear and stops fear. This isn't bad, but good.
    • Everyone can hear the message, and that message brings joy, not fear.
  • Literally, this message is "all the people," not "all people" and is probably therefore referring to the Jews. But it turns out to be applicable for all of us thankfully.

Verse 11: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (NRSV)

  • ”Today” is often used as a reference to eschatological events coming to fruition right then (Fitzmyer 409).
  • At birth, Jesus is titled with being our Messiah, savior, and Lord.
    • The Roman emperors, starting with Augustus who was ruling at this time, were often considered gods. Augustus was called a savior and lord who brought peace to the whole world. His birthday was celebrated as the beginning of the good news he would bring (Green 133).
    • Other mystery religions also had this same language (Marshall 109).
    • There seems to be a deliberate attempt to parallel Jesus and the emperors, with Jesus being so different and yet winning the comparison.
  • ”Christ Lord” is the exact wording here, with Christ being the Greek word for the Jewish concept of anointed savior.
    • It is a little vague, and could be “Lord and Messiah” or “An anointed savior” (Marshall 110). Possibly even “the Lord's messiah”.

Verse 12: This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (NRSV)

  • It is standard in the Bible for God to give a sign to people so that they could know the big thing would happen because the small one happened.
    • Normally, a sign would be a miraculous thing, an external sign like Zechariah's blindness.
    • This was not a miraculous sign and so stands out as strange. It is a contrast, the angel's words and yet the poverty of the surroundings.
  • The angel never directly tells the men to go find the child, but assumes quite rightly that they will be so excited about the news they will want to go there. It was the shepherds' choice, however.
  • It is assumed that since this is the sign, no other baby would be lying in a manger anytime around.

Verse 13: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, (NRSV)

  • This group of angels is part of the “host” which is a military term (Marshall 111). These are hardened soldier angels breaking out in joyous praise.
  • There isn't any singing here. They just yelled it, joyful proclamation, not organized singing. They just couldn't be quiet.
    • There is almost a feeling that only one angel was sent but the others couldn't wait and broke in with shouts of praise the news was so good.
    • This is poetic, however, and was probably turned into a song later, but there is no mention of the angels singing.
  • There isn't anything about the angels flying, or having wings, or being a choir, or anything like that. They simply appeared, with God's glory shining all around them (though that isn't mentioned as being from the angels).

Verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (NRSV)

  • ”Heaven” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied in translation as a way of making it clear that this is taking about the location of God, not degree of glory.
  • There are no verbs in the angels' exclamations. We have to supply them. I think the most probably interpretation should be that it is a present reality, or a call for it to be real now.
  • There are parallels here with heaven/earth, glory/peace, and God/men (Stein 109).
  • This use of “glory” is different than the use in verse 14. There is was a manifestation of God's presence and power. Here it seems to be about Praising God for who he is.
  • ”Peace” is a much more complicated notion that you might think. It can also convey the Hebrew notion of “Shalom.”
    • Shalom is about wholeness, and well-being. If this is the peace prayed for then it is about the entire individual and fulfillment in all they do.
    • Peace could also be used here as a synonym for salvation (Stein 109).

Verse 15: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (NRSV)

  • The shepherds “saying” they should go to Bethlehem is in a tense that indicates this wasn't a one time thing.
    • They were excited, they kept talking about it, they all were saying it.
    • This wasn't one person suggesting it on a whim and everyone else tagging along behind.
  • The “let us go” is also in a mood that is one of wishing and desires. This was what they wanted to do.

Verse 16: So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. (NRSV)

  • The shepherds actually acted on what they were told to do, and didn't just sit there. And they went “with hast” or “quickly.”
  • A manger is an animal feeding trough, we don't know what it was made from but possibly clay, or carved from a rock or dug into the ground. It was probably not wood as Israel does not have a lot of wood available.
    • The point here is probably that feeding-troughs were on the outside of dwellings, or in caves, stables, not inside where the people normally lived.
    • There is no evidence that Mary and Joseph were using the shepherd's feeding troughs, though it is possible.
  • There is no mention of a stable in any of the gospels. We just know they used a manger as a crib, not where Jesus was born. It is possible they were outside the entire time, or that the innkeeper had sold out his stable and others were there with them.

Verse 17: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; (NRSV)

  • Because the shepherds could immediately start talking about this and have people listen, wherever Mary and Joseph were there were evidently many people around.
    • The use of “this child” indicates that others could see Jesus as well, and were around.
  • Literally, the shepherds share the “word” that God has made known to them. “Word” here means the prophecy, the declaration that the angels gave them.
  • This is a new word for “child” but there isn't much theological difference.

Verse 18: and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (NRSV)

  • Amazement is not the same thing as belief. People could be amazed and shocked, and yet not truly understand and accept it.

Verse 20: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (NRSV)

  • This is nearly the reverse of what they had been doing earlier. Panic had been turned into praise.
  • There is also a parallel with what the angels were doing. They came glorifying and praising God and when they saw Jesus the angel's praise became the shepherd's own.

Jesus at the temple (41-52)

  • This is the only mention of Jesus' youth in the entire Bible. There are a lot of non-canonical/heretical works out there that are classes as “infancy gospels” which seek to tell the story of Jesus growing up, but those are unreliable at the best.
  • This is also the first occurrence of Jesus himself taking an active role, though here he yields to his family.

Verse 41: Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover (NRSV)

  • ”Every year” is literally “year by year” and illustrates the passage of time so that we know Jesus is not still a baby (Nolland 128).
  • There is no explicit mention of Jesus coming along, until he is left behind. We can assume that he came along each year as he came along this year.
  • Jerusalem was on top of a mountain. So any time it mentions "going up" it is literally going up.
  • Jesus' parents were dedicated. They did not need to have Jesus come along, or Mary. They went farther than many others of their day spiritually.
  • Passover was one of the major Jewish holidays (it still is) where the Hebrew people celebrated God saving them from the Egyptians and leading them into the promised land.
    • It was a seven or eight day celebration (Stein 121), though you did not have to be there the entire time.
    • Every adult male was expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Passover. (Nolland 129) We know Mary went too, and Jesus, though neither of them were required to go.
  • Nazareth was about 80 miles away from Jerusalem.
    • An army could move 15-20 miles a day, and those are trained people.
    • These people probably traveled a bit slower, because while they could go faster with less people they also were less trained and had youngsters.
    • So it probably would have taken about four to five days to go from Jerusalem to Nazareth.

Verse 42: And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. (NRSV)

  • Jesus was twelve years old here, which is the beginning of the transition for adulthood for the Jews of the time. He wasn't an adult yet, but he was no longer just a child. Nolland 129)
  • At the age of 13, Jewish boys had to begin observing all the law, (Stein 121) so Jesus was preparing for that time, but he didn't have to do this.
  • ”As usual” is an indication that this was the regular habit of Jesus' family, that this had happened every year.

Verse 43: When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. (NRSV)

  • The English says they left after the entire festival, but the original says they "stayed their time." Jews were only required to go for two days of the festival (Marshall 126), it is likely that is what this was meaning, though they were very dedicated people and could have stayed for the entire time.
  • See verse 44 for discussion on how Mary and Joseph would not know Jesus was there.
  • It is unclear as to how Jesus got left. Perhaps it was unintentional, or perhaps Jesus intended to stay.
    • Jesus' mother certainly blamed Jesus for not coming along, implying his guilt but that can also just be motherly anxiety attacking the nearest source.
    • Jesus seems to imply that he was waiting to be found and went to where he expected them to look for him.
    • The term used for "Remained" is also used for "await" or "abide", the term used for God's presence. If Jesus did this on purpose, he wanted to abide there, be with God.

Verse 44: Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. (NRSV)

  • Israel was much more of a communal atmosphere than the average household today in America.
  • Because every man was required to go to Jerusalem it is hypothesized that entire towns would travel together.
    • The use of the word “caravan” here is in only use of that word in the NT. (Fitzmyer 441) From sources outside the NT this is probably referring to a quite large group.
    • That means quite a few people would be in this group, and Jesus would have known almost everyone.
    • In this atmosphere it is not unlikely that Jesus would be with other people and his parents would not know it, especially as this travel was a regular yearly occurrence.

Verse 46: After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (NRSV)

  • None of this was expected of Jesus, he went above and beyond here. Just coming at all was more than he was required to do, but he came, let alone everything else.
  • Jesus was not yet teaching in the temple, he was listening and asking questions.
  • Three days is a simple logical statement and no scholar seems to think that it was meant to prefigure the resurrection. It is simply the time Mary spent looking, and why she was so anxious.

Verse 48: When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” (NRSV)

  • If the parents were this astonished to find Jesus in the temple, perhaps they were not in the temple to look for him. They could have come to pray or any other reason, but they did not expect Jesus there.
  • The words Mary uses when she accosts him are ones used for betrayal (Nolland 131). She felt that Jesus had betrayed their trust.
  • He was gone for four days. Three days looking, one day of travel. No wonder his parents were worried, but Jesus seems completely engrossed in what he was doing.

Verse 49: He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (NRSV)

  • Jesus was actually surprised that they didn't know where he would be. This was not attempting to mislead them.
  • What Jesus did was not intended as rebellion, just as taking his parent's dedication to the next step.
    • By acting on his desire to get to know God more fully he got in conflict with his parents who served God.
    • Jesus was acting against the norms of the day, far beyond the expectations for anyone, let alone his age.
  • This story is not about his parents being wrong and Jesus right or vice versa, it is about his parent's dedication being good and Jesus' dedication being better. Sometimes we have a hard time judging good from better.
  • The point here seems to be that obedience to parents and earthly concerns comes within obedience to God.
  • Joseph is not mentioned by name in this story. And when Mary talks, she says “your father” to which Jesus replies with a different “my father”. There seems to be a purposeful attempt to raise the issue of who Jesus' father really was in the mind of the reader. It was more than man.
  • Jesus reply to his parents is literally “to be in the of my father.”
    • We have to supply a word. In Greek it is just implied with the use of an additional “the”.
    • That's why so many translations have different readings. The most popular options are “house” and “work.”
    • There are other options, however, as the “the” in question is plural, and if it was meant to be specific Jesus would have made it specific.
    • The generic insertion of “things” is quite possible, as it is almost always general ideas that get words left out, not specific ones. So Jesus was possibly saying “didn't you know I would be involved in the things of my father?” This is about everything having to do with God, not just place or actions.
  • This verse is often thought of as a piece of Jesus' divinity coming through.

Verse 51: Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. (NRSV)

  • Explaining why Jesus came back with his parents is a tricky issue.
    • The Bible makes clear Jesus was an obedient child, and that obeying one's parents is very important, however Jesus also makes clear that God comes first.
    • In his adult life, Jesus turned away his family when they came to him and wanted special treatment. He submitted this time. Perhaps because he was done, perhaps because he was younger, perhaps just because it wasn't an unreasonable request.
    • It seems that here is an example of not causing another to stumble. His parents were really worried, and so he went with them. It was the more important thing at the time. Later in his life taking care of family was not the first priority.
  • There is a huge change going on here. Jesus was not even mentioned as coming with the parents in the beginning of this passage, but now he goes back and they come with him (Green 156). Jesus is no longer the passive recipient of what happens, he is the subject.

Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

Back to my Hometown1-5A traveler has to go home to pay taxes, which sets up for an introduction of May and Joseph's story.The Bethlehem CandleChildrenChildren's Church
Christ in Others41We are to be Jesus to the people around us.Humility
GeneralAdventMessage Idea
Giving Jesus Your Presence1-20Slow down and just notice people around you. Give them your ear and your presencePresenceAdultsAdventMessage Idea
Glory Around Us9The glory of God is no longer in the temple, but known to us all.Glory
Message Idea
God Trusted Us39-40God shows he trusts people with Jesus' birthTrust
GeneralChristmasMessage Idea
Let's Go See15-17Two puppets talk about how if we want something we go for find it, not just sit.The Shepherd's CandleChildrenChildren's Church
Preparing For Baby1-20Christmas is about getting our lives ready for a new babyPreparationAdultsChristmasMessage Idea
Simeon and Anna: An example of Patience22-40God has started a new thing, but it isn't done yet, there is still much to pray for and mourn over.Patience
AdultsAdventMessage Idea
Surprising Good News1-20Appearances are deceiving. All that matters is that God is there.SurprisesAdultsChristmasMessage Idea
The Angels' Story8-20What if the angels that Christmas night had gone to other people as well as shepherds and none of them had listened?Christmas
The Great Reversal1-20Through God, the smallest thing can be bigger than an empire.Value
GeneralChristmasMessage Idea