Luke 2:1-20 (Basic Bible Commentary)

November 24th, 2013

The Birth of Jesus (2:1-21)

Caesar Augustus was the Roman emperor from 26 B.C. to A.D. 14. Caesar was the title of the ruler and Augustus was the name given him by the Roman Senate after he assumed the office. Previously his name was Gaius Octavius, and he was a nephew of Julius Caesar. Quirinius—a correction of Cyrenius as stated in the King James Version—was appointed governor in A.D. 6 and took a census, or registration of the population, about A.D. 8. Here some confusion exists because Herod the Great, identified by Luke as ruler at this time (1:5), died before Quirinius assumed office. Therefore, there is an historical discrepancy that makes it difficult to identify the exact year of Jesus' birth.

The method of registration of the population as stated here was for each to return to his own town (verse 3) or homeplace of the family group. Bethlehem, meaning house of bread, was the ancestral home of the line of David (see 1 Samuel 17:15). Joseph was a descendant of David (3:23, 31), and thus would go to Bethlehem with any family members he had to register. They traveled from Nazareth, a village in Galilee fifteen miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, where Mary and Joseph had been living (1:26).

Verse 7 reports specifically on the birth of Jesus. These transients found no room at the local inn, since the town would have been thronged with visitors for the required registration. They apparently found shelter in a bedding place for farm animals. This could well have been a cave, for such are still used today for animal shelters or for shelter by nomadic families in the Middle East. Here they would find privacy, some comfort on the grasses or straw left over from feeding, and some protection from storm or sun. The wrapping of a baby in bands of cloth, completely encircling the body, was a cultural custom.

The baby is referred to as the firstborn, thus implying that other children were born later to Mary. Mark names four such brothers and suggests that there were at least two sisters (Mark 6:3).

For shepherds to be with their sheep at night was not unusual in Palestine. Shepherds moved with their flocks from place to place seeking enough plant growth for the sheep to feed upon in the midst of dry, arid countryside. These nomadic shepherds might carry tents with them to use for longer stays in one area. However, often they simply camped out in the open. Some of the spiritual insights of the Old Testament were likely received in such a setting (see, for example, Psalm 19:1 and 23).

Once again an angel appears as a messenger (verse 9). Awed by this unexpected glorious confrontation, the shepherds were frightened, just as were Zechariah (1:12) and Mary (1:29). In all three incidents, the angel first sought to relieve that sense of fear. One need not be afraid of a message from God. Here is where the Greek word gospel occurs in the text. It means good news (verse 10). Interestingly, the good news was that a homeless couple had brought forth a child, whose coming was for each and every wanderer upon the face of the earth, to whom it was first announced. In this child each could find a personal (to you is born) savior and the Messiah (NRSV; Christ, NIV), in whom God would be present (the Lord).

The anthem of the heavenly host (verse 14) is commonly known by the Latin wording gloria in excelsis, which states the first line. It affirms that God merits the highest glory for this divine entrance in and among humanity in Jesus. To express glory is to offer the highest praise.

As the shepherds went to Bethlehem (city of David), the two marks by which they were to identify the Christ child were the cloth wrappings and the manger location (verses 12, 16).

The Jewish law provided that every male child was to be circumcised (see commentary on 1:59) on the eighth day after birth (Leviticus 12:3). This covenant rite was exercised upon Jesus.

excerpt from: Basic Bible Commentary in the Ministry Matters Library

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