New Defender's Study Bible Notes
2:1 all the world. Such a decree does not reflect ignorance on the emperor’s part, but arrogance. As great as the Roman Empire was, he certainly knew that Rome could not gather taxes beyond its own boundaries. He evidently believed that the rather limited part of the “world” (i.e., in Greek, oikoumene, meaning “inhabited world”) which was controlled by Rome was all that deserved the designation.
2:2 Cyrenius. Caesar Augustus, the first and probably greatest true emperor of Rome, consolidated power under himself and effectively terminated the days of the Roman republic, in the period from 44 B.C. (when Julius Caesar was assassinated) until 27 B.C. He died in A.D. 14. Thus, Jesus was born in the later mid-years of his reign. Governors were appointed over the various provinces, and Cyrenius (or Quirinius) was made governor of Syria in 4 B.C., as confirmed archaeologically. The province of Syria included Judaea as a political subdivision. It has also been shown that there was, indeed, a taxing about this time. It is further agreed (see on Matthew 2:2) that 4 B.C. was probably about the date of Jesus’ birth. Although Luke’s accuracy as a historian used to be questioned, archaeological and historical studies by William Ramsay and others have shown that all his references to names, places and events are quite reliable, entirely apart from the further assurance of divine inspiration.
2:3 his own city. Since genealogical records of families in Judah were traditionally kept in their ancestral home towns, this was Rome’s way of assuring that all paid.
2:5 espoused wife. The marriage was not yet physically consummated, but the “espousal” was itself a binding contract, that could be broken only by formal divorce. Joseph, as well as Mary, was willing to endure the scorn of family and friends over the seeming premarital relations between himself and his fiancé that had resulted in her pregnancy. He was a “just man” (i.e., morally righteous, as well as considerate of others) and the message of the angel had assured him that Mary’s child was “of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:19-20). Consequently, he had entered gladly into the espousal contract, even though he knew he could not actually consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25).
2:7 swaddling clothes. In New Testament times, newborn babies were wrapped in a long, narrow band of cloth.
2:7 in a manger. Many years later, that same body would be “wrapped…in linen, and laid in a sepulchre” (Luke 23:53).
2:8 abiding in the field. It is unlikely that shepherds would be abiding in their fields in late December. Furthermore, the seventy-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would probably have been too difficult for Mary in the winter. A more probable time would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when such travel was commonly accepted. Thus, it is rather commonly believed (though not certain) that Jesus’ birth was around the last of September. The conception of Christ, however (which is the real miracle and cause of celebration), may well have taken place in late December of the previous year. Our Christmas celebration may well be recognized as an honored observation of the incarnation of “the Word made flesh.”
2:13 heavenly host. The probability is that this mighty angel, leading the heavenly host in their praises, was Michael the archangel; this occasion was later commemorated by the early church as Michaelmas (i.e., “Michael sent”) on September 29, the same as the date of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It would have at least been appropriate for Christ to have been born on such a date, for it was at His birth that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt (i.e., literally ‘tabernacled”) among us” (John 1:14). This would mean, then, that His conception (and this was the real miracle of the incarnation, since His birth itself was a normal human birth) took place in late December. Thus, it might well be that when we today celebrate Christ’s birth at what we call Christmas (i.e., “Christ sent”), we are actually celebrating His miraculous conception, the time when the Father sent the Son into the world, in the virgin’s womb. This darkest time of the year—the time of the pagan Saturnalia, and the time when the sun (the physical “light of the world”) is at its greatest distance from the Holy Land—would surely be an appropriate time for God to send the spiritual “light of the world” into the world as the “Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
2:16 lying in a manger. The fact that the babe was in a manger does not necessarily mean that the manger was in a barn or cave. In Luke 2:7, the word for “inn” (Greek kataluma) was the same as the word for “guestchamber” (Luke 22:11), the upper room where Christ and His disciples ate the last supper. Many homes of that time kept their animals on the ground floor, with the residents sleeping in rooms on the second floor. It may have been, in the ancestral home of Joseph’s family, the guest-chamber(s) were already occupied, so that Joseph and Mary had to stay on the ground floor where animals were usually housed.
2:21 circumcising of the child. The rite of circumcision, as a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:9-14), is known also to be of significant health benefit to the male. Its performance on the “eighth day” is also now known to be the optimum time for it to be done, in terms of the most rapid recovery of the child from the operation. The coagulants in the blood of an infant normally reach their optimum effectiveness eight days after birth. Even though circumcision was only a Jewish law, the infant Jesus experienced it and thus, as our example, it is at least appropriate that Christian boys and men (whether Jews or Gentiles) likewise practice it.
2:21 named of the angel. See Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31.
2:24 turtledoves. See Leviticus 12:8. Joseph, despite his royal lineage, was only a young carpenter, too poor to bring a lamb for his offering.
2:30 thy salvation. The aged Simeon saw through the Holy Spirit that the infant in his arms would bring salvation both to Jews and Gentiles (Luke 2:32). In the Bible’s first mention of “salvation,” father Jacob said he had been waiting for it (Genesis 49:18). Now Simeon, the namesake of his second son, had actually seen it, by the Spirit, in the person of little Jesus.
2:34 for a sign. There are four “signs” associated with the birth of Christ: (1) the sign of the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14); (2) the sign of the guiding star (Matthew 2:2); (3) the sign of the swaddling clothes (Luke 2:12); and (4) the sign of the stumbling stone (Luke 2:34). The opposition which would mark the entire life of Christ would begin with His birth, as Herod would seek, unsuccessfully, to slay Him. Many would fall over this “rock of offence” in Israel (I Peter 2:8), but many would rise again.
2:35 thy own soul. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would indeed feel the terrible sword of the evil one as her divine Son was impaled on the cross (see note on John 19:25-27).
2:40 filled with wisdom. As a little child, Jesus already was “strong in [the] Spirit” and “filled with wisdom.” Though not specifically stated, this surely implies that He, like John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from His mother’s womb.”
2:46 in the midst. Even as a child, Jesus was “in the midst” of things. Note Luke 4:30; John 8:59; 19:18. After His resurrection He suddenly appeared “in the midst” of His disciples (John 20:19,26). Even today, He is “in the midst” wherever “two or three are gathered together in my name” (Matthew 18:20). In the eternal ages to come, He will again stand “in the midst” of the elders representing all the redeemed (Revelation 5:6).
2:49 wist. That is, “know.”
2:49 my Father’s business. As a boy, Jesus had already become a deep student of the Scriptures, more than able to hold His own with the learned “doctors” (i.e., Rabbis). His parents, knowing His interests as well as His divine mission, should have known where He would be—hence His gentle question. The reference to “His Father’s business” indicates that, even in His humanity, at the key age of twelve years, He already had begun to realize His identity and purpose.
2:51 was subject unto them. This is the first use in the New Testament of the Greek word here translated “subject unto,” also frequently translated “submit to” or “be obedient to.” Thus, when we are told to “be subject one to another” (I Peter 5:5) and “to every ordinance of man” (I Peter 2:13) and other such humbling acts, it helps to recall that this definitive act of submission was by Christ Himself.
2:52 increased in wisdom. Jesus is God (John 1:1) and God is omniscient, so how could He “increase in wisdom?” This question points up the mystery of His divine/human nature. He was fully God, yet fully man (apart from sin), and this mystery is simply beyond our human comprehension. We are told that Christ “emptied Himself” (the essence of the Greek term translated “made Himself of no reputation” in Philippians 2:7), thereby implying a voluntary setting aside of His “omni” attributes in order to take “the form of a servant.” In the records of His life and teachings, there is abundant evidence of His deity, including His own claims (e.g., John 8:12; 11:26). At the same time, there is abundant evidence of His true humanity, including the fact that He “increased in wisdom” as He also grew in stature. Every act and teaching must be carefully studied in context to sort this out in each instance.