Where the world comes to study the Bible

Luke 2


The Birth of Jesus Christ Born of Mary The Birth of Jesus The Birth of Jesus The Birth of Jesus and Visit of the Shepherds
2:1-7 2:1-7 2:1-7 2:1-3 2:1-14
The Shepherds and the Angels Glory in the Highest   The Shepherds and the Angels  
2:8-14a 2:8-13 2:8-14 2:8-12  
  2:14-20   2:14  
    2:15-20 2:15 2:15-20
  Circumcision of Jesus   Jesus Is Named The Circumcision of Jesus
2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21 2:21
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple Jesus Presented in the Temple   Jesus is Presented in the Temple Jesus is Presented in the Temple
2:22-24 2:22-24 2:22-24 2:22-24 2:22-28
  Simeon Sees God's Salvation      
2:25-35 2:25-35 2:25-32 2:25-32 The Nunc Dimittis
        The Prophecy of Simeon
    2:33-35 2:33-35 2:33-35
  Anna Bears Witness to the Redeemer     The Prophecy of Anna
2:36-38 2:36-38 2:36-38 2:36-38 2:36-38
Return to Nazareth The Family Returns to Nazareth   The Return to Nazareth The Hidden Life of Jesus at Nazareth
2:39-40 2:39-40 2:39-40 2:39-40 2:39-40
The Boy Jesus in the Temple The Boy Jesus Amazes the Scholars The Boy Jesus at Jerusalem The Boy Jesus in the Temple Jesus Among the Doctors of the Law
2:41-52 2:41-50 2:41-51 2:41-48 2:41-45
  Jesus Advances in Wisdom and Favor   2:49-50 The Hidden Life at Nazareth Resumed
  2:51-52  2:52 2:51-52 2:51-52

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



 1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

2:1 "decree" These Roman enrollments ran in fourteen-year cycles which began under Caesar Augustus (30 b.c. to a.d. 14, cf. Luke 3:1; Matt. 22:17). We learn of these cycles from Egyptian papyri. They took years to finish. A second census is mentioned in Acts 5:37 and in the writings of Josephus, which says that it was done in a.d. 6; therefore, the first was begun about 8 b.c. (cf. Acts 5:37).

▣ "census" This registration was for the purpose of taxation and military conscription. Jews, however, were exempt from military service. It also included, possibly, an oath of loyalty to Caesar.

"the inhabited earth" This refers to the Roman Empire or the known civilized world (cf. Luke 4:5; 21:26; Acts 11:28; 17:6,31; 19:27; 24:5; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 3:10). It is surely possible that some of these texts reflect a world-wide emphasis, like Matt. 24:14; Acts 17:31; and Heb. 1:6; 2:5).

2:2 "This was the first census" A second census is mentioned in Acts 5:37. These Roman censuses took many years to complete, possibly up to fourteen years (i.e., evidence from Egypt).

▣ "Quirinius" There is a problem with this statement and secular history. Quirinius was the civil governor of Syria in a.d. 6. He was the military leader in Syria, of which Judea was a part, from 10-7 b.c., however, he did not become the political leader until a.d. 6. He came to Judea in a.d. 6/7 for the explicit purpose of registration for taxation (Josephus, Antiq. 18.1-2,26). The footnote in the NRSV gives the information that Quirinius was a special legate of Augustus to deal with a rebellious tribe (Homonadenses, cf. Tacitus, Annals, 13.48) and, therefore, was the military governor of Syria while Varas was the civil governor (Oxford, 1991, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland Murphy, pp. NT 79-80).

A Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of Luke, p. 105, asserts that Quirinius acted as a special representative of the Emperor from 12 b.c. to a.d. 16, which included an administrative charge related to the census. It also asserts that he was twice governor of Syria, from 3-2 b.c. and again in a.d. 6-16. The authors of the UBS Handbook, Reiling and Swellengsegel, cite Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, pp. 975-977, as their source.

2:3 The "everyone" refers to males, possibly males with taxable property (land, businesses, etc.).

▣ "each to his own city" This was the unique aspect related to Jewish culture. Nazareth had a clan from the tribe of Judah (family of Jesse) living there, but for several families Bethlehem was their ancestral city.

2:4 "Bethlehem" This was a small Judean village about six miles southwest of Jerusalem and, therefore, about seventy miles south of Nazareth. It was known in the OT as Ephrath (cf. Gen. 35:19), which became Bethlehem Ephrathah of Micah 5:2. This was a way to distinguish it from a Bethlehem in the north of Israel.

This city is known as the city where Boaz and Ruth, who were ancestors of King David, lived (cf. Ruth 4:11). David's father, Jesse, lived here also (cf. 1 Sam. 17:12). Because it was the ancestral home of David, it was the prophesied but unexpected site of Jesus' birth (cf. Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:5,6; John 7:42).

▣ "because he was of the house and family of David" One wonders how much of the prophecy of 2 Sam. 7:12-17 Luke had in mind (cf. Luke 1:32) when he recorded this phrase about the lineage of Jesus. This phrase may have been a direct allusion to these OT Messianic promises.

2:5 "to register along with Mary" One wonders why Mary traveled so late in her pregnancy when only males were required to return to their ancestral home.

1. Joseph did not want to leave her in Nazareth where she would be verbally ridiculed

2. Joseph or Mary knew the prophecy of Micah 5 and wanted to fulfill it

3. God was working in the situation, unbeknown to either Joseph or Mary


▣ "engaged" Matthew 1:24-25 implies that they were married, but the marriage had not been consummated. In Jewish culture engagement was legally binding. Marriages were arranged by families and this engagement period usually lasted up to a year.

2:6 "While they were there" This may imply an extended period in Bethlehem, possibly to keep Mary from the derision in Nazareth.

2:7 "firstborn" This is used in the OT sense of "heir." It also suggests that Mary had other children (cf. Matt. 13:55-56; John 7:35).


▣ "wrapped Him in cloths" This term (BDB 367) meant to wrap up with cloth, like a broken arm (cf. Ezek. 30:21). It is used of wrapping a newborn in Ezek. 16:4 (cf. Wis. 7:4). It is used metaphorically in Job 38:9.

Apparently the entire body of a newborn was wrapped (similar to American Indians) for its warmth and protection. This would have been the common procedure for every child.

"manger" This was a feeding trough (cf. LX, Isa. 1:3; Pro. 14:4) for domestic animals. These were very crude, non-hygenic conditions, but so was all of the ancient, peasant world.

▣ "inn" The term kataluma is indefinite and could refer to

1. A guest room (animals often lived in close proximity to their owners, cf. Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11; see Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes, p. xv).

2. Justin Martyr (a.d. 110-162/168) says that Jesus was born in a cave used as an animal corral (common in this area).

3. Others say it was in an open-air courtyard of the Inn.

4. The more traditional interpretation is in a room on the lowest level shared with animals of the home owner (i.e., not an inn).

Bethlehem was a very small village. I am not sure there would be enough travelers to warrant an inn (normal word, pandocheion, cf. Luke 10:34). Jewish culture stressed the cultural obligation of hosting relatives. There were so many relatives in town for the enrollment that no guest room was available. Luke uses this same word in Luke 22:11 for a "guest room" (cf. Mark 14:14).

The term is used in a wide variety of meanings in the Septuagint, but one of them is a room in one's house, usually on the roof (cf. 1 Sam. 1:18; 2 Sam. 7:6; 1 Chr. 17:5).

 8In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there appeared 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 with whom He is pleased."

2:8 "In the same region" This refers to Bethlehem.

"shepherds" The rabbis considered them to be religious outcasts and their testimony was not admissible in court (i.e., later Jewish tradition). This was because they lived with the sheep and could not keep all the rules and regulations of the rabbis (i.e., Talmud). There may be some symbolic connection with David's being a shepherd in this same area. The Messiah's birth was announced first to Jewish shepherds! This is surprising, recorded by a Gentile, writing for Gentiles, while Matthew, writing to Jews, mentions the wise men (possibly Gentiles) from the east.

▣ "their flock" There is no way to fix the time of the year of Jesus' birth because the Temple flocks were kept in that area all year. God's Lamb (cf. John 1:29) was born in the same area that the sacrificial lambs used year round in the daily temple sacrifice. If so, these shepherds may have been Levites.

The traditional date of December 25 to celebrate Jesus' birth developed hundreds of years later (i.e., fourth century, Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Luke 2:3.13), apparently chosen to coincide with a pagan, astral festival (winter solstice). Some of the elements of modern Christmas were a part of the Roman holiday known as "the Feast of Saturnalia."

Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the second century, noted the lack of agreement on the exact birth date of Jesus (Stromata, 1.21). Even today some believers celebrate January 6, not December 25 (i.e., Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox).

2:9 "an angel of the Lord" This angel seems to be separate from the heavenly hosts who later speak or sing. The KJV has the definite article, but it is not in the Greek text. This exact Greek phrase is used of the angel who appeared to Zacharias in the Holy Place (see note at Luke 1:11).

▣ "the glory of the Lord" This phrase is often used in the Septuagint to denote the glorious personal presence of YHWH (cf. Exod. 16:7,10; 24:16; 40:34-38; Num. 16:19).


"stood before them" This same verb is used of the two angels at the Ascension (cf. Luke 24:4).

"shone around them" This same word is used by Paul of his Damascus road experience in Acts 26:13. These are the only two occurrences of the term in the NT; it does not appear at all in the Septuagint. I wonder if Luke got the term, which describes God's glorious presence, from hearing Paul's testimony so many times?

NASB"they were terribly frightened"
NKJV"they were greatly afraid"
NRSV, NJB"they were terrified"
NJB"they were terribly afraid"

The Greek phrase is literally "they feared a great fear." The verb and the object are the same term. This is called a "cognate accusative." The sight of the spiritual realm always frightens fallen humanity.

2:10 "Do not be afraid" This is a present imperative with the negative particle, which usually means to stop an act already in process. This is a very common angelic greeting to frightened humanity (cf. Luke 1:13,30).

▣ "good news of great joy" Their "great fear" is now balanced with "great joy."

The word translated "good news" (euangelizō, cf. Luke 1:19) is a combination of the words "good" and "message." It is used often in the Septuagint for preaching a glad message (cf. 1 Sam. 31:9; 2 Sam. 1:20; 4:10; 18:19-20,31; 1 Kgs. 1:42; Ps. 39:10). It came to be used in a technical sense for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 3:18; 4:18,43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1; Acts 5:42; 8:4,12,25,35,40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:2,15,21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18).

▣ "for all the people" This was the promise of Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6; and of the eighth century prophets. This is the mystery hidden in ages past, but now fully revealed in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13). This good news even reaches to outcast shepherds (and by implication to Luke's Gentile readers)! This same universal emphasis is repeated and defined in Luke 2:32.


2:11 "for today" The NET Bible has a good comment about Luke's use of "today" (cf. p. 1796, #9). Luke often uses it to denote the presence of the new age.

1. Luke 2:11 – Christ's birth

2. Luke 4:21 – OT quotes from Isa. 61:1-2 (at Luke 2:18-19)

3. Luke 5:26 –Jesus' healing of the leper (sign of the new age)

4. Luke 13:32-33 – healings (sign of the new age)

5. Luke 19:9 – salvation comes to Zaccheus' house

6. Luke23:43 – with Jesus in Paradise

7. Acts 4:9 – healings of Peter denote the new age

8. Acts 13:33 – Jesus' resurrection (sign of the new age, quote from Ps. 2:7)

The new Messianic age, the age of the Spirit, has now broken into time! 

▣ "the city of David" This refers to Bethlehem. See note at Luke 2:4.

▣ "Savior" This title was used of YHWH in the OT (cf. Luke 1:47; Isa. 43:3,11; 45:15,21; 49:26; 60:16). In the Roman Empire it was used of Caesar. The word in Hebrew means "deliverer" (BDB 446) and is part of the name of Jesus (i.e., Hosea, BDB 448). This and 1:47 are surprisingly the only use of this term in the Synoptic Gospels.

The fact that Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth is called by two major OT titles of YHWH (Savior and Lord) is striking. When you add the title Messiah (Christ), it is obvious that Luke is piling affirmation on affirmation of the deity of Jesus. The Synoptics, especially Mark, tend to hide Jesus' deity until the end. John clearly and forcefully asserts Jesus' pre-existence and deity in John 1:1-18. Luke, by using these titles, sets the theological stage for Gentiles (the audience for both John's and Luke's Gospels) to comprehend who Jesus was/is.

▣ "Christ" The literal meaning is "Anointed One" from the verb chriō. It refers to the Coming King (Mashiach, Ps. 2:2; 18:50; 84:9; 89:49-51; 132:10,17) who will be called and equipped to do God's will in initiating the restoration and the New Age. The Hebrew term is translated in Greek as "Christ."



▣ "Lord"The Greek term "Lord" (kurios) can be used in a general sense or in a developed theological sense. It can mean "mister," "sir," "master," "owner," "husband" or "the full God-man" (cf. John 9:36, 38). The OT (Hebrew, adon) usage of this term came from the Jews' reluctance to pronounce the covenant name for God, YHWH, which was from the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14). They were afraid of breaking the Commandment which said, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (cf. Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). They thought if they did not pronounce it, they could not take it in vain. So, they substituted the Hebrew word adon, which had a similar meaning to the Greek word kurios (Lord). The NT authors used this term to describe the full deity of Christ (e.g., Luke 2:11; John 20:28; Acts 10:36; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:11; James 2:1; Rev. 19:16). The phrase "Jesus is Lord" was the public confession of faith and a baptismal formula of the early church (cf. Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). In Acts 2:36 both Christ and Lord are used of Jesus.


2:12 "This will be a sign for you" One wonders if this was an intentional allusion to Isaiah 7. Zacharias and Mary had to believe without immediate confirmation, but these shepherds are given immediate confirmation. I wonder if they followed Jesus' life and ministry, if they were in the crowds that followed Him. I am surprised we do not hear more about their eyewitness testimony.

"in a manger" There was nothing unusual about His clothing, but there was something unusual about the Messiah lying in an animal feeding trough!

2:13 "heavenly host" This is literally "army of heaven." It reflects the Hebrew "sabbaoth," which also has a military connotation (cf. Jos. 5:14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at Luke 1:68.

2:14 "Glory to God in the highest" God is given glory for

1. His person ("in the highest")

2. His good news ("peace among men")

3. the sending of His Son

4. the good news of His finished work of redemption of fallen mankind)

God deserves glory (see Special Topic at Luke 2:9) and praise from creation and from His redeemed children!

There is some confusion as to the physical location of these angels. The first angel seems to have appeared on the earth next to the shepherds, but the large number of angels may have appeared in the sky. The text is ambiguous. The phrase "in the highest" refers to God, not the angels.

NASB"on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased"
NKJV"on earth peace, good will toward men"
NRSV"on earth peace among those whom he favors"
TEV"peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased"
NJB"on earth peace for those he favors"

There is a manuscript variant connected to the last word in Greek. The genitive form (cf. NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB) is found in MSS א*, A, B*, D and in the Greek text used by Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, and Augustine. The UBS4 gives this form an A (certain) rating. This grammatical construction is unusual for Koine Greek, but is a Semitic construction found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The opening chapters of Luke have many of these Semitic constructions (cf. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 133), which may reflect Aramaic-written documents.

The familiar King James rendering gives the wrong theological impression. This is not a text on God's love for all humanity like 2:10; John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; or 2 Pet. 3:9, but of God's offer of peace to those who know Him and are involved in His kingdom. The gospel was not good news to many Jews of Jesus' day, so it cannot refer to Israel alone. It is surely true that the mystery of God's election and human free will is difficult to harmonize, but both are biblically true. We must not proof-text part of the NT tension, but fully embrace the tension—preach God's sovereignty to whosoever will receive! There is a tension between Luke 2:10 (whether Israel or humanity) and Luke 2:14!

SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/Predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance

 15When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

2:15 These shepherds recognized the prophetic aspect of the angels' message and wanted (both verbs are subjunctive) to go and confirm this great revelation in the nearby village.

I would have hated to be the one shepherd who had to stay and watch the sheep!

This verse uses rēma as "thing" (cf. Luke 2:19) instead of "word" or "statement" (cf. Luke 2:17).

2:16 It was not hard to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby in the small village of Bethlehem. The scene was exactly as the angels had said.

2:17-18 To whom does the "all" refer? It could be the people and visitors in Bethlehem or, because of the proximity of Jerusalem and the importance and source of the message, it may refer to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. However, notice that we do not hear of the message again anywhere else in the NT. Possibly the bias of the Jewish leadership against shepherds caused them to discredit the whole account.

2:19 "But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart" Mary thought about these events again and again (cf. Luke 2:51). Luke's source for these early years seems to have been Mary. He possibly visited her while Paul was in prison at Caesarea for two years.

2:20 It must have been hard to return to life as usual. I wonder how many of these shepherds were still alive when Jesus began His public ministry some thirty years later.

▣ "glorifying and praising God" This involves two present participles.

1. glorifying God Luke 2:20; 5:25,26; 7:16; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43; 23:47; Acts 4:21; 11:18; 21:20; 23:47

2. praising God – Luke 2:13,20; 19:37; Acts 2:47; 3:8,9

Other parallel expressions are

1. blessed by God – Luke 1:64,68; 2:28; 24:53

2. gave thanks to God – Luke 2:38

3. give glory to God – Luke 2:14; 17:18; 19:38; 12:23 (negated)

It is obvious this is a recurrent theme in Luke's writings. God deserves glory, praise, and blessing!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why was the Roman world enrolled?

2. Is there a problem with Luke's chronology?

3. Why is Jesus' birth in Bethlehem so important? What does this say about God's control of history?

4. Why was Jesus born in a stable?

5. What is the significance of God's angel announcing Christ's birth to shepherds?

6. Why are the titles "Savior," "Messiah," and "Lord" so important?



There are several Jewish rituals referred to in this passage.


A. The Ritual of Circumcision

1. The sign of YHWH's covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:1-14)

a. every male

b. eight days old (cf. Lev. 12:3)

c. for all generations

d. for domestic servants (cf. Exod. 12:44)

e. the uncircumcised male is to be cut off from the faith community

2. flint knives used

a. Exodus 4:25

b. Joshua 5:2-3

3. no special place, but done by the father (cf. Gen. 17:23-27), usually locally (not in the Tabernacle)

4. done by Patriarchs (cf. Gen. 34:13-24), but neglected in captivity (cf. Exod. 4:24-26) and restarted in conquest (cf. Jos. 5:4-9)


B. The Ritual of Childbirth Purification

1. period of uncleanness

a. any fluid that leaked from the body caused one to be ceremonially unclean

b. the mother was unclean for seven days after the birth of a son (cf. Lev. 12:2)

c. the mother was unclean for fourteen days after the birth of a daughter (cf. Lev. 12:5)

d. she remains unclean for forty days for a son (cf. Lev. 12:3-4 and eighty for a daughter (cf. Lev. 12:6)

e. this ceremonial uncleanness is compared to the monthly menstrual cycle

2. rite of purification

a. after a waiting period the mother comes to the tabernacle and brings an offering of

(1) a one year old lamb for a burnt offering (cf. Lev. 12:6)

(2) a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (cf. Lev. 12:6)

(3) if the person is poor, then two pigeons or turtle doves are acceptable (cf. Lev. 12:8)

b. these procedures result in a ceremonial cleansing


C. The Rite of Redemption of the Firstborn

1. Because of the death of the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of non-priestly families was given to serve YHWH (cf. Exodus 13).

2. The Levites and Priests as a tribe took the place of the firstborn males in serving YHWH (cf. Num. 3:12,45; 8:14).

3. The priest (any priest) had to be paid a set price by the parents to buy back their firstborn male child (cf. Exod. 34:20).

4. This seems to be reflected in Luke 2:23 and 27b, while the mother's rite of purification is in Luke 2:22,24.

5. The rabbis say that this redemption can be done with any priest on the thirty-first day. This does not fit the timing of Mary's forty-day uncleanness. Some scholars would see only two rituals in this context.


D. The command that all males (and by implication, their families) come to the tabernacle/Temple at least on the three annual feast days (cf. Exod. 23:14,17; Lev. 23)

1. The three main feasts

a. Passover/Unleavened Bread (cf. Exod. 23:14-15; Lev. 23:4-8; Num. 28:16-25)

b. Feast of Harvest/Pentecost (cf. Exod. 23:16; 34:22-34; Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31)

c. Feast of Ingathering/Booths (cf. Exod. 23:16; Lev. 23:34-36; Deut. 16:13-17)

2. Jesus' parents brought Him to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover when He was twelve (cf. Luke 2:41-43) just before His bar mitzvah at thirteen

3. Jesus fulfilled all aspects of the Mosaic Law (cf. Luke 2:39)


E. It is surprising how few OT quotes are in Luke's Gospel (Luke 2:23,24; 3:4-6). This is also true of Mark (who wrote for Romans). These three occur in Luke's first three chapters, which are possibly from his interviews with (or documents from) Mary. Luke, writing for Gentiles, does not feel the need to document OT prophecies as does Matthew (cf. Matt. 1:23; 2:15,18,23; 3:3; 4:15; 8:17; 12:18-21; 13:25; 21:5; 27:9), who writes for Jews.



 21And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

2:21 "eight days old" This was the Jewish time for circumcision (cf. Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3). It was considered so important that it was even performed on the Sabbath. All of the people in the Mediterranean area were circumcised (except the Philistines). The Romans performed this rite on the ninth day, the Greeks on the seventh or tenth day, and the Arabs on the thirteenth birthday (cf. Gen. 17:23-26). For the Jews it was a sign of YHWH's Covenant with Abraham. Jesus was born under the Law. See Contextual Insights, A.

▣ "His name was then called Jesus" The parents usually named their children, but this child's name had been revealed by Gabriel (cf. Luke 1:31; Matt. 1:21).

Jesus (Greek) and Joshua or Yeshua (Hebrew) are the same Hebrew names. They are a combination of the covenant name for God, YHWH, and the noun "help" or "deliver." The exact way to combine these two nouns is uncertain, a verb must be supplied. Here are some options.

1. "YHWH saves"

2. "salvation is of YHWH"

3. "YHWH delivers"

4. "YHWH is the deliverer"


 22And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord"), 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

2:22 "the days for their purification" The pronoun "their" has bothered Bible students because it involves a sin offering for both the mother and the child. Jesus was born under the law (cf. Luke 2:21-22,27; Gal. 4:4-5) and He was to fulfill all things (cf. Matt. 3:15). He completely identified with the Jewish customs of His day. The period of purification was forty days after birth for a son and eighty days for a daughter (cf. Lev. 12:1-5). See Contextual Insights, B.

▣ "up to Jerusalem" Bethlehem is higher than Jerusalem physically, but to the Jews, no place on earth was spiritually higher than Jerusalem. In the Bible one must always go "up to Jerusalem." There are two or three Jewish rituals mentioned in Luke 2:22-44. The first was performed locally (circumcision), the others at the Temple at a later time. Mary's purification after forty days and buying back the firstborn male child was done according to later rabbinical traditions on the thirty-first day.

2:23 "Every firstborn male" This Jewish rite (cf. Exod. 13:2,12,13,15) was instituted at Passover (cf. Exodus 12). The Levites as a group took the place of the firstborn as God's special servants. The price of redemption in Jesus' day was five shekels, which was given to any priest (cf. Numbers 18:16). This was the normal price of a sacrificial lamb. See Contextual Insights, C.

2:24 "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" This was the cheapest purification offering one could make. One bird was for a sin offering and the other was for a burnt offering (cf. Lev. 12:6-8). This rite is in reference to the purification of Luke 2:22. Any bodily emission made a Jewish person ceremonially unclean, therefore, birth was something that had to be dealt with by sacrifice. The women could watch the ritual by looking from the Nicor gate, but they could not enter into the inner court of the Temple because (1) they were considered ceremonially unclean and (2) they were women.

This offering shows that the wise men from the East had not yet brought their gifts.

 25And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29"Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel."

2:25 "Simeon" This is a very common name (BDB 1035, meaning "hearing" from Gen. 29:33). Some ancient sources suppose that he might have been the son of Rabbi Hillel and the father of Gamaliel, but this is very doubtful. Others suppose that he was the president of the Sanhedrin. These suggestions are proposed so that Simeon would be a priest and this would be the rite of the buying back of the firstborn male child, but this is not in the text! Tradition says that he was old, but the text is silent.

▣ "righteous" See full note and Special Topic at Luke 1:6.

▣ "devout" This term literally means "taking hold well." It refers to one who is careful about religious matters, therefore, a pious person. It was used in the Septuagint in Lev. 15:31 and Micah 7:2. It is found only in Luke's writings in the NT (cf. Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; 8:2; 22:12).

▣ "consolation of Israel" This term is used several times in Luke's writings (cf. Luke 2:25; 6:24; Acts 4:36; 9:31; 13:15; 15:31), but it is not used in the other Gospels. It seems to be parallel to "the redemption of Jerusalem" in Luke 2:38 (cf. Luke 24:21) and possibly "the kingdom of God" in Luke 23:51 (cf. Mark 15:43). Therefore, it has an eschatological orientation (cf. Isa. 40:1-2). It is also a favorite phrase of Paul. In one paragraph in 2 Corinthians 1 he used it six times.


"the Holy Spirit was upon him" The gospel is not the result of human research or discovery. It is the supernatural revelation of the Spirit of God (cf. Luke 2:26-27).

The Spirit is the source of the revelations of the working out of the redemptive plan of God in these opening chapters of Luke:

1. Elizabeth, Luke 1:41

2. Zacharias, Luke 1:67

3. Simeon, Luke 2:25,26

Notice the imperfect tense. The Spirit did not come and go, but remained upon him.


2:26 "Lord's Christ" The Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not experience physical death until he saw God's Redeemer, the Anointed One, the Messiah (see Special Topic at Luke 2:11) with his own eyes (sounds like Job 19:25-27).

The term "revealed" is a periphrastic perfect passive indicative. God did it and the revelation remains. The verb is used in the Septuagint of God's revealing Himself (cf. Jer. 32:30; 33:2; 36:23).

The term "Lord" obviously refers to YHWH and "Christ" to baby Jesus. Jesus did not earn His Messiahship; He was born the Christ (no Adoptionism, no Gnosticism, see Appendix: Glossary of Terms).

2:27 "the parents" This is simply the language of description. This says nothing about the doctrine of the virgin birth (cf. Luke 1:34; Matt. 1:18-25).

▣ "to carry out for Him the custom of the Law" This seems to refer to the Jewish rite of the redemption of the firstborn (cf. Exodus 13). See Contextual Insights, C.

2:28 "and blessed God" Simeon's blessing is directed toward YHWH for sending His promised redeemer (for all people, cf. Luke 2:29-32).


NRSV, NJB"Master"

The term despotēs is used often in the Septuagint for YHWH (cf. Gen. 15:2,8; Jos. 5:14; Isa. 1:24; 3:1). In English we get the word "despot" from this Greek word. It is used of one who has supreme authority and power. It is used of YHWH in Acts 4:24 and Rev. 6:10 and of Jesus in 2 Pet. 2:1 and Jude 4.

"to depart in peace" This is an OT idiom of physical death after a long, happy life (cf. Gen. 15:15; Jer. 34:5). Death is not an enemy to those who know God!

"according to Your word" This refers in context to Luke 2:26. The Greek term "revealed" (perfect passive participle) is regularly used in the passive voice of divine revelations (cf. Matt. 2:12,22; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Heb. 8:5; 11:7).

2:30 This emphasis on seeing God's salvation may come from OT prophecy (cf. Isa. 52:10) or reflect the same message.

In these opening chapters of Luke the term "salvation" has two connotations:

1. In the OT texts quoted it refers to the physical deliverance of Israel.

2. In light of the gospel it refers to spiritual salvation, which is brought through faith in Jesus' person and work.

In the OT, Israel is saved from the nations, but now Israel's Messiah will save the nations!

2:31-32 "all peoples. . .light. . .Gentiles" This is the universal gospel, which must have been very shocking to the Jews (I wonder if Simeon fully understood these prophecies in light of Christ), but was thrilling to be heard by Luke's Gentile readers (cf. Isa. 2:2-4; 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 51:4; 60:1-3). This phrase could mean "in the presence of the Gentiles" (cf. Ps. 98:1-3; Isa. 52:1-10), however, this does not fit the context. It is amazing how many allusions there are to Isaiah's prophecies in the first two chapters of Luke. Isaiah, of all the prophets, saw this universal salvation (which becomes the theme of the NT (i.e., 24:47; John 1:12; 3:16; 4:10; Acts 10:34-35,43; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14; 2 Pet. 3:9).

 33And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

2:33 "were amazed" This is a periphrastic imperfect. They marveled again and again. This possibly refers to the Gentiles being included in God's salvation! Mary already had the testimony of Gabriel and Elizabeth. Both Mary and Joseph had the shepherd's message.


NASB"is appointed"
NJB"is destined"
TEV"is chosen"

This term is literally "to lie upon" or "be placed upon," but it came to have a metaphorical extension of "an appointed sign" in the Septuagint of Jos. 4:6. It is used in this sense several times in the NT (cf. 1 Thess. 3:3, which is also a present passive [deponent] indicative).

▣ "the fall" God's universal redemptive plan (see Special Topic at Luke 2:11), which will be manifested by a suffering Messiah, will not be easy to believe for many people. But, how they respond will determine their spiritual destiny and eternity (cf. John 1:12; 3:16-19; 9:39).

It is possible that "fall" refers to unbelieving Jews tripping over Jesus (cf. Luke 20:17-18; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). He is the stone which the builders rejected (cf. Isa 8:14; 28:16; Matt. 21:42,44; Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 Pet. 2:8). Hearers of the gospel must make a choice about Jesus. There is no neutral ground about Him (cf. Matt. 10:34-39). He is the Christ or He is a false Messiah (cf. John 10:1-18; 14:6).

▣ "and rise" This same Greek term is translated "resurrection" in other texts. This special Child, the Messiah, will be the only way to be right with God. Trusting Him will determine one's eternal state. The mystery of evil is that even with the Holy Spirit and the good news of Christ, many will reject Him (cf. Luke 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 4:4).

NASB"for a sign to be opposed"
NKJV"for a sign which will be spoken against"
NRSV"to be a sign that will be opposed"
TEV"He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against"
NJB"destined to be a sign that is opposed"

One of the evidences which affirms Jesus' Messiahship is His rejection. This may be an allusion to OT texts like Isa. 6:9-10, of which Jesus says is the purpose of parables (i.e., to hide meaning, cf. Luke 8:10; Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:12; John 12:36b-43). The OT predicts again and again that only a faith remnant will be saved (delivered).

2:35 "a sword" This refers to the large sword which was carried by the Romans. This is a metaphorical reference to Jesus' rejection and crucifixion. Mary was present at Jesus' crucifixion (cf. John 19:26-27). This phrase seems to be addressed to Mary specifically. Notice the dashes in NASB.

▣ "thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" There is no middle ground with Jesus. He polarizes every group and by each one's response, his/her heart is revealed (cf. Luke 8:17-18). Being Jewish never did make one automatically right with God (neither does church membership or religious activity).

 36And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:36 "prophetess" There had not been any truly inspired spokesperson for God since Malachi (or the writer of Chronicles). Women in places of leadership were not a new or unusual thing in the OT. Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Ruth, Huldah, and Esther are examples (cf. Acts 2:17; 21:9).



▣ "the tribe of Asher" This shows the presence of a tribe out of the northern ten tribes who were exiled by Assyria in 722 b.c. in Jesus' day; some of the northern tribes did return.

2:37 "widow to the age of eighty-four" This woman had dedicated her life to God after the early death of her husband.

▣ "she never left the temple" This is the kind of phrase that becomes a point of contention among commentators. Some modern believers assert that it must be literal (i.e., she lived there) or the Bible is not true. For me this is obviously hyperbole. She was there during the day and at all special events. Worshiping God was her life. The same issue of literal vs. metaphorical relates to Ezekiel's lying in front of his house in Babylon for days on end (cf. Ezek. 4:4-8).

2:38 "to speak of Him" We are not told what she said, therefore, why would Luke mention her at all? It was to give the evidence of two witnesses required by Mosaic Law (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Both the young (unborn John) and the old (Simeon and Anna) as well as male and female recognized who He was.

▣ "looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" See note at "consolation of Israel" at Luke 2:25. Zacharias also speaks of this in Luke 1:68-74. For "redemption," see Special Topic at Luke 1:68.

 39When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

2:39 "When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord" Jesus and His parents were orthodox Jews in every sense. They completely fulfilled the Mosaic requirements due at the temple for themselves and their child.

▣ "returned to Galilee" This was Jesus' initial area of ministry, which was predicted in the OT (cf. Isa. 11:1). This would have been the first part of the Promised Land, which was invaded and defeated by Syria, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.

▣ "Nazareth" The village where Jesus grew up was called Nazareth. It is not mentioned in the OT, the Talmud, or in Josephus. It apparently was not settled until the time of John Hyrcanus (i.e., Hasmonaen), who ruled from 134-104 b.c. The presence of Joseph and Mary from this village implies that a clan of David's line settled here.

There may be an etymological connection between the names Nazareth and the Messianic title Branch (cf. Matt. 2:23, "called a Nazarene"), which is netser in Hebrew (cf. Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). See Special Topic at Luke 4:34.

It was apparently a term of reproach because of its location far from Jerusalem in a Gentile area (cf. John 1:46 and Acts 24:5, even though this, too, was prophecy [cf. Isa. 9:1]). This may be why "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was inscribed on the placard which was placed on the cross above Jesus' head.

2:40 "The Child continued to grow" Jesus developed normally as a human child (as did John, cf. Luke 1:80) physically, emotionally, and spiritually (cf. Luke 2:52, see Special Topic at Luke 1:80). This may be an anti-Gnostic statement. He obviously attended synagogue school with the other children.

See Special Topic below.


"the grace of God was upon Him" The Greek term charis has a wide semantic range. Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 262, list "kindness, gift, thanks, and good will" as possible translations. The sense in which it is used in this verse is unique to the Synoptic Gospels. The term is used several times in Luke's Gospel, but only here in the sense of "grace."

 41Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; 43and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it, 44but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day's journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him. 46Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You." 49And He said to them, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?" 50But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

2:41 "went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover" Jewish males over 21 years of age were required to attend all three major annual feasts (cf. Ex. 23:14-17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16). In the first century this was reduced to one feast because of the number of Jews living outside of Palestine. This is another evidence of Jesus' parents' dedication to the law of Moses. Mary was not required by law to attend, but she wanted to.

2:42 "when He became twelve" Jesus was coming very close to His Bar Mitzvah, which made a Jewish boy a "son of the Law." This occurred at age thirteen. It is possible that Luke recorded His age as twelve to show how fully developed He was in the Scriptures even at this age. Jesus obviously, by this time, recognized who He was (cf. Luke 2:49).

2:43 "spending the full number of days" These bands of pilgrims came in groups for safety reasons and usually stayed either two or seven days (cf. Exod. 12:15-16; Lev. 23:6-8; Deut. 16:3).

▣ "Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it" Usually in these caravans of pilgrims the men and women traveled separately and often times the children would play together. Probably each parent thought that Jesus was in the care of the other.

2:44 "went a day's journey, and they began looking for Him" Usually these caravans left Jerusalem and stopped at Beereoth, about eight to ten miles from Jerusalem, for the night. The normal distance of a day's journey was over twenty miles.

2:46 "after three days" This includes their one day travel away from Jerusalem, the one-day journey back, and one day to search for Jesus.

▣ "in the temple" On the Sabbath and on feast days the rabbis lectured in the covered porches of the Court of the Women (outermost courtyard of the shrine).

"both listening to them and asking them questions" This is a helpful model for all of us. We all have teachers who have influenced us and we thank God for them. It is good to have a receptive spirit. However, there must come a time of mature reflective thought when we ask questions about what we have been told, even of those we trust. Maturity both listens and questions. The truth that was shared by others must become our truth.

2:47 "And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers" This is an imperfect middle indicative, which suggests a repeated experience. This was Jesus' only known chance to hear the great rabbis in Jerusalem and discuss the Law with them. These would be the same type of leadership that would not listen to Him as an adult.

This verse addresses the exceptional nature of Jesus, while Luke 2:52 stresses the normalcy of Jesus. Both are true. Jesus knew very early who He was and why He came! Yet, He was truly human!

2:48 "were astonished" This literally is "struck with a blow" (cf. Luke 2:48; 4:32; 9:43; Acts 13:12).

▣ "Your father and I" Notice the contrast between Mary's use of the pronoun "your father" and Jesus' use of the pronoun "My Father" in Luke 2:49. Verse 50 clearly states that Mary and Joseph did not clearly make the distinction, but young Jesus did!

▣ "have been anxiously looking for You" This is an imperfect. They had been looking for three days (cf. Luke 2:46) and were extremely anxious about Jesus' welfare.

2:49 "Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house" These are the first recorded words of Jesus. This shows that Jesus knew something of His origin and purpose, even at this early age. This also may be Luke's attempt to refute the heresy of "Adoptionism."

For an interesting discussion of "adoptionism" and how early scribes modified their texts so as to reject this heretical Christology, see Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 47-118. For a brief definition see my glossary in the appendices.

2:50 There are three places in Luke's Gospel where it is specifically stated that Jesus hearers did not understand.

1. his parents – 2:50

2. the crowd – 9:45

3. the Twelve – 18:34 (about Jesus' death)

The Twelve were privileged to much of Jesus' private instruction (cf. Luke 10:21-24), but still they were unable to receive the information about His suffering and death in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 9:32; John 2:22; 12:16; 14:26) until after the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:45).

In John's Gospel this disconnect is part of the vertical dualism (i.e., Jesus is from above but humans are from below).

2:51 "He went down with them and came to Nazareth" This is the last mention of Joseph. Apparently he died at an early age, but the couple had several other children first (cf. Matt. 12:46; 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3,5,10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19).

▣ "continued in subjection to them" This is a periphrastic imperfect passive, "He was continually subject to them." The law was very strict on this (cf. Deut. 21:18-21). Jesus grew up in a normal Jewish household, obeying and following the normal Jewish rules for children.

▣ "and His mother treasured all these things in her heart" Mary remembered these early events (cf. Luke 2:19), but did not understand them (cf. v 50) until after the resurrection. Luke apparently interviewed Mary and she is one of the sources of his Gospel. Possibly this interview took place during Paul's two-year imprisonment at Caesarea by the Sea.

 52And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

2:52 Jesus had a normal childhood. He is truly human (contra the Gnostics); that is how He understands us completely (cf. Heb. 2:18; 4:15)! 


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Jesus need a sin offering to be offered for Him and Mary?

2. What is so unusual about Simeon's message?

3. Why is Hannah mentioned if her words about Jesus are not recorded?

4. Did Jesus have a "normal" childhood?

5. List the three Jewish rites which are discussed in Luke 2:21-41.

6. Why did Luke omit the account of the wise men and the flight to Egypt?

7. What was orthodox Judaism's attitude toward Jesus?

8. What do Luke 2:40 and 52 imply?

9. Was the occurrence in Luke 2:40 Jesus' Var Mitzvah?

10. Describe what a pilgrim caravan was like. Does this explain how Jesus' parents could have missed Him for a whole day?

11. Why were Jesus' parents astonished? Why was Jesus astonished at their reaction?


Report Inappropriate Ad