And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Verses 1-20. - The Redeemer's birth. Verse 1. - There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed; more accurately, that there should be a registration, etc.; that is, with a view to the assessment of a tax. On the historical note of St. Luke in this passage much discussion has arisen, not, however, of much real practical interest to the ordinary devout reader. We will glance very briefly at the main criticism of this and the following verse. Respecting this general registration it is alleged
(1) no historian of the time mentions such a decree of Augustus.
(2) Supposing Augustus had issued such an edict, Herod, in his kingdom of Judaea, would not have been included in it, for Judaea was not formally annexed to the Roman province of Syria before the death of Archelaus, Herod's son; for some years after this time Herod occupied the position of a rex socius. In answer to (1), we possess scarcely any minute records of this particular time; and there are besides distinct traces in contemporary histories of such a general registration. In answer to (2), in the event of such an imperial registration being made, it was most unlikely that Herod would have claimed exemption for his only nominally independent states. It must be remembered that Herod was an attached dependent of the emperor, and in such a matter would never have opposed the imperial will of his great patron.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
Verse 2. - (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) Hostile criticism makes a still more direct attack upon the historical statement made by St. Luke here. Quirinius, it is well known, was governor (legatus or praeses) of Syria ten years later, and during his office a census or registration - with a view to taxation - which led to a popular disturbance, was made in his province. These critics say that St. Luke mentions, as taking place before the birth of Jesus, an event which really happened ten years after. Much historical vestigation has been made with a view to explain this difficulty. It has been now satisfactorily demonstrated that, strangely enough, this Quirinius - who ten years later was certainly governor (legatus) of Syria - at the time of the birth of the Savior held high office in Syria, either as praeses (governor) or quaestor (imperial commissioner). The Greek word rendered by the English "governor" would have been used for either of these important offices. On the whole question of these alleged historical inaccuracies of St. Luke, it may be observed:
(1) Strangely enough, none of the early opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus or Porphyry, impugn the accuracy of our evangelist here. Surely, if there had been so marked an error on the threshold of his Gospel, these distinguished adversaries of our faith, living comparatively soon after the events in question, would have been the first to hit so conspicuous a blot in the story they hated so well. And
(2) nothing is more improbable than that St. Luke, a man of education, and writing, too, evidently for people of thought and culture, would have ventured on a definite historical statement of this kind, which would, if wrong, have been so easily exposed, had he not previously thoroughly satisfied himself as to its complete accuracy. Generally, the above conclusions are now adopted, lately, amongst others, by Godet, Farrar, Plumptre, and Bishop Ellicott (in his Hulsean Lectures). Godet has an especially long and exhaustive note on this subject. The conclusions are mainly drawn from the researches of such scholars as Zumpt and Mommsen. Cyrenius; Latin, Quirinus. He is mentioned by the historians Tacitus and Suetonius. He appears to have been originally of humble birth, and, like so many of the soldiers of fortune of the empire, rose through his own merits to his great position. He was a gallant and true soldier, but withal self-seeking and harsh. For his Cilician victories the senate decreed him a triumph. He received the distinguished honor of a public funeral, A.D. 21 (Tac., 'Ann.,' 2:30; 3:22, 48; Suet., 'Tib.,' 49).
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
Verse 4. - The city of David, which is called Bethlehem. After all the long ages which had passed, still the chief title to honor of the little upland village was that there the greatly loved king had been born. Bethlehem ("house of bread") was built on the site of the old Ephrath - the Ephrath where Rachel died. Of the house and lineage of David. The position in life of Joseph the royally descended, simply a village carpenter, the equally humble state of Mary, also one of the great king's posterity, need excite no surprise when the vicissitudes of that royal house, and of the people over whom they ruled, are remembered. The old kingdom of David had been dismembered, conquered, and devastated. The people had been led away into a captivity from which few, comparatively speaking, ever returned. All that the house of David had preserved were its bare family records. Hillel, the famous scribe, who was once a hired porter, claimed to belong to the old princely house.
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Verse 5. - With Mary his espoused wife The older authorities here omit "wife." Translate, with Mary who was betrothed to him.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
Verse 6. - The days were accomplished that she should be delivered. The universal tradition of the Christian Church places the nativity in winter. The date "December 25" was generally received by the Fathers of the Greek and Latin from the fourth century downwards.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Verse 7. - Her firstborn Son. This expression has no real bearing on the question respecting the relationship of the so-called brethren of Jesus to Mary. The writer of this commentary, without hesitation, accepts the general tradition of the Catholic Church as expressed by the great majority of her teachers in all ages. This tradition pronounces these brethren to have been
(1) either his half-brethren, sons of Joseph by a former marriage; or
(2) his cousins. In the passage in Hebrews (Hebrews 1:6), "when he bringeth in the First Begotten into the world," "First Begotten" signifies "Only Begotten." (On the whole question, see Bishop Lightfoot's exhaustive essay on the "Brethren of the Lord" in his 'Commentary on the Galatians.') There was no room for them in the inn. "The inn of Bethlehem, what in modern Eastern travel is known as a khan or caravanserai, as distinct from a hostelry (the 'inn' of Luke 10:34). Such an inn or khan offered to the traveler simply the shelter of its walls and roofs. This khan of Bethlehem had a memorable history of its own, being named in Jeremiah 41:17 as the 'inn of Chimham,' the place of rendezvous from which travelers started on their journey to Egypt. It was so called after the son of Barzillai, whom David seems to have treated as an adopted son (2 Samuel 19:37, 38), and was probably built by him in his patron's city as a testimony of his gratitude" (Dean Plumptre). The stable was not unfrequently a limestone cave, and there is a very ancient tradition that there was a cave of this description attached to the "inn," or caravanserai, of Bethlehem. This "inn" would, no doubt, be a large one, owing to its being in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, and would often be crowded with the poorer class of pilgrims who went up to the temple at the seasons of the greater feasts. Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Verses 8-20. - The Bethlehem shepherds see the angels. Verse 8. - In the same country; that is, in the upland pastures immediately in the neighborhood of Bethlehem. Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Why were shepherds chosen as the first on earth to hear the strange glorious news of the birth of the Savior of the world? It seems as though this very humble order was selected as a practical illustration of that which in the future history of Christianity was to be so often exemplified - "the exaltation of the humble and meek." Mary would learn from this, the first visit of adorers to her Babe, that the words of her song (the Magnificat) would in very truth be realized. The subsequent visit of the learned and wealthy travelers from the East (Matthew 2:1-12) would tell her that the words of the Isaiah prophecy were all literally, in their due order, to be fulfilled, some of them even in the unconscious childhood of her Son (see Isaiah 60:3, 6; Psalm 72:10). Now, among the Jews at that period shepherds were held in low estimation among the people. In the Talmud (treatise 'Sanhedrin') we read they were not to be allowed in the courts as witnesses. In the treatise 'Avodah-Zarah' no help must be given to the heathen or to shepherds. The Mishna (Talmud) tells us that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. This semisacred occupation no doubt influenced these poor toilers, and specially fitted them to be the recipients of the glad tidings. They would hear much of the loved Law in the solemn ritual of the great temple. They would know, too, that there was a rumor widely current in those days that the longlooked - for Messiah was soon to appear, and that their own Bethlehem was to witness his appearing.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
Verse 9. - The angel of the Lord came upon them; better, an angel. The Greek word rendered "came upon them" - a very favorite word with St. Luke - suggests a sudden appearance. The glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. The white shining cloud of intolerable brightness, known among the Jews as the Shechinah, the visible token of the presence of the Eternal, in the bush, in the pillar of fire and cloud which guided the desert-wanderings, in the tabernacle and the temple. It shone round the Redeemer on the Mount of Transfiguration. It robed him when, risen, he appeared to the Pharisee Saul outside Damascus. The occasional presence of this visible glory was exceedingly precious to the chosen people. The terror felt by the shepherds was the natural awe ever felt by man when brought into visible communion with the dwellers in the so-called spirit-world.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Verse 11. - A Savior. Another favorite word with SS. Paul and Luke. The terms "Savior" and "salvation" occur in their writings more than forty times. In the other New Testament books we seldom find either of these expressions.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Verse 12. - Lying in a manger. This was to be the sign. On that night there would, perhaps, be no other children born in the Bethlehem village; certainly the shepherds would find no other newly born infant cradled in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Verse 13. - With the angel a multitude of the heavenly host. "The troop of angels issues forth from the depths of that invisible world which surrounds us on every side" (Godet). One of the glorious titles by which the eternal King was known among the chosen people was "Lord of sabaoth," equivalent to "Lord of hosts." In several passages of the Scriptures is the enormous multitude of these heavenly beings noticed; for instance, Psalm 68:17, where the Hebrew is much more expressive than the English rendering; Daniel 7:10, "Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him" (see, too, the Targum of Palestine on Deuteronomy 33, "And with him ten thousand times ten thousand holy angels;" and "The crown of the Law is his [Moses'], because he brought it from the heavens above, when there was revealed to him the glory of the Lord's Shechinah, with two thousand myriads of angels, and forty and two thousand chariots of fire," etc.).
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Verse 14. - On earth peace. At that juncture, strange to say, the Roman empire was at peace with all the world, and, as was ever the case in these brief rare moments of profound peace, the gates of the temple of Janus at Rome were closed, there being, as they supposed, no need for the presence of the god to guide and lead their conquering armies. Not a few have supposed that the angel choir in these words hymned this earthly peace. So Milton in his 'Ode to the Nativity' -
"No war or battle's sound
Was heard the world around
The idle spear and shield were high uphung:
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood,
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye
As if they surely knew their souvran Lord was by." But the angels sang of something more real and enduring than this temporary lull. The gates of Janus were only too quickly thrown open again. Some seventy years later, within sight of the spot where the shepherds beheld the multitude of the heavenly host, the awful conflagration which accompanied the sack of the holy city and temple could have been plainly seen, and the shrieks and cries of the countless victims of the closing scenes of one of the most terrible wars which disfigure the red pages of history could almost have been heard. Good will toward men. A bare majority of the old authorities read here, "On earth peace among men of good will;" in other words, among men who are the objects of God's good will and kindness. But the Greek text, from which our Authorized Version; was made, has the support of so many of the older manuscripts and ancient versions, that it is among scholars an open question whether or not the text followed in the Authorized Version should not in this place be adhered to.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
Verse 17. - And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. Thus these men, at the bottom of the social scale in Israel, were chosen as the first preachers of the new-born King. Gradually the strange story got noised abroad in the city. The vision of Zacharias, the story of Mary, the two strange births, the marvellous experience of the shepherds. Following upon all this was the arrival of the Magi, and their inquiries after a new-born Messiah, whom they had been directed by no earthly voices to seek after in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. It was then that the jealous fears of Herod were in good earnest aroused, and the result was that he gave immediate directions for the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem, of which St. Matthew writes.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Verse 19. - But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Such a note as this could only have been made by Mary herself. She knew her Child was in some mysterious sense the Son of God. A glorious being not of earth had told her that her Boy would be the Savior of Israel. The visit of the rough shepherds to her in the crowded caravanserai, and their strange but quiet and circumstantial story of the angel's visit to them, was only another link in the wondrous chain of events which was day by day influencing her young pure life. She could not as yet grasp it all, perhaps she never did in its mighty gracious fullness; but, as at the first, when Gabriel the angel spoke to her, so at each new phase of her life, she bowed herself in quiet trustful faith, and waited and thought, writing down, we dare to believe, the record of all that was passing, and this record, we think, she showed to Luke or Paul.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Verses 21-40. - Circumcision and presentation of the Child Jesus. Verse 21. - For the circumcising of the Child. These ancient rites - circumcision and purification - enjoined in the Mosaic Law were intended as perpetual witnesses to the deadly taint of imperfection and sin inherited by every child of man. In the cases of Mary and her Child these rites were not necessary; but the mother devoutly submitted herself and her Babe to the ancient customs, willingly obedient to that Divine Law under which she was born and hitherto had lived.
And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
Verse 22. - When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished. This period lasted forty days from the birth. The forty days, according to the date of the nativity accepted universally by the Catholic Church, would bring the Feast of the Purification to February 2.
(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
Verse 24. - A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. The proper offering was a lamb for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering; but for the poor an alternative was allowed - instead of the more costly present of a lamb, a second pigeon or dove might be brought. The deep poverty of Mary and Joseph is shown in this offering. They would never have put the sanctuary off with the humbler had the richer gift been in their power.
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
Verses 25-35. - The episode of Simeon and his inspired hymn. Verse 25. - And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. Many expositors have believed that this Simeon was identical with Simeon (Shimeon) the son of the famous Hillel, and the father of Gamaliel. This Simeon became president of the Sanhedrin in A.D. . Strangely enough, the Mishna, which preserves a record of the sayings and works of the great rabbis, passes by this Simeon. The curious silence of the Mishna here was, perhaps, owing to the hatred which this famous teacher incurred because of his belief in Jesus of Nazareth. Such an identification, although interesting, is, however, very precarious, the name Simeon being so very common among the people. Waiting for the consolation of Israel. There was a general feeling among the more earnest Jews at this time that the advent of Messiah would not be long delayed. Joseph of Arimathaea is especially mentioned as one who "waited for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43). Dr. Farrar refers to the common Jewish prayer-formula then ill use: "May I see the consolation of Israel!" A prayer for the advent of Messiah was in daily use.
And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
Verse 26. - That he should not see death. The idea of the aged Simeon comes from a notice in the apocryphal 'Gospel of the Nativity,' which speaks of him as a hundred and thirteen years old. These legendary "Gospels" are totally devoid of all authority; here and there possibly a true "memory" not preserved in any of the "four" may exist, but in general they are extravagant and improbable. The Arabic 'Gospel of the Infancy' here speaks of Simeon seeing the Babe shining like a pillar of light in his mother's arms. There is an old and striking legend which speaks of this devout Jew being long puzzled and disturbed by the Messianic prophecy (Isaiah 7:14), "A virgin shall conceive;" at length he received a supernatural intimation that he should not see dearth until he had seen the fulfillment of the strange prophecy, the menacing of which he had so long failed to see.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
Verse 27. - And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus. This was evidently the usual expression which the Nazareth family adopted when they spoke of the Child Jesus (see, again, in Ver. 48 of this chapter; and also in Ver. 33, where the older authorities read" his father" instead of "and Joseph"). The true story, which they both knew so well, was not for the rough Galilaean peasant, still less for the hostile Herodian. The mother knew the truth, Joseph too, and the house of Zacharias the priest, and probably not a few besides among their devout friends and kinsfolk. The Nazareth family, resting quietly in their simple faith, left the rest to God, who, in his own season, would reveal the secret of the nativity.
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
Verse 29. - Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. The beautiful little hymn of Simeon was no doubt preserved by the Virgin Mary and given to St. Luke. The Nunc dimittis has been used constantly in the liturgics of Christian Churches for fourteen centuries. The thought which runs through the hymn has been well put by Godet: "Simeon represents himself under the image of a sentinel, whom his master has placed in an elevated position, and charged to look for the appearance of a star, and then to announce it to the world. He sees this long-desired star; he proclaims its rising, and asks to be relieved of the post on the watch-tower he has occupied so long. In the same way, at the opening of AEschylus's 'Agamemnon,' when the sentinel, set to watch for the appearing of the fire that is to announce the taking of Troy, beholds at last the signal so impatiently expected, he sings at once both the victory of Greece and his own release."
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
Verses 31, 32. - Before the face of all people; a Light to lighten the Gentiles; more accurately rendered, all peoples. Men like Isaiah, who lived several centuries before the nativity, with their glorious farreaching prophecies, such as Isaiah 52:10, were far in advance of the narrow, selfish Jewish schools of the age of Jesus Christ. It was, perhaps, the hardest lesson the apostles and first teachers of the faith had to master - this full, free admission of the vast Gentile world into the kingdom of their God. Simeon, in his song, however, distinctly repeats the broad, generous sayings of the older prophets.
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
Verse 33. - And Joseph and his mother marvelled. It was not so much that Simeon foretold new things respecting the Child Jesus that they marvelled; their surprise was rather that a stranger, evidently of position and learning, should possess so deep an insight into the lofty destinies of an unknown Infant, brought by evidently poor parents into the temple court. Was their secret then known to others whom they suspected not?
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
Verse 34. - And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this Child. It is noticeable that, while Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, he refrains from blessing the Child, of whom, however, he pointedly speaks. It was not for one like Simeon to speak words of blessing over "the Son of the Highest." The words which follow are expressly stated to have been addressed only to Mary. Simeon knew that she was related - but not Joseph - to the Babe in his arms; he saw, too, that her heart, not Joseph's, would be pierced with the sword of many sorrows for that Child's sake. Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against. For nearly three centuries, of course with varying intensity, the name of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers was a name of shame, hateful and despised. Not only among the Roman idolaters was "the Name" spoken against with intense bitterness (see the expressions used by men like Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny), but also among his own nation, the Jews, was Jesus known as "the Deceiver," "that Man," "the Hung." These were common expressions used in the great rabbinical schools which flourished in the early days of Christianity.
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Verse 35. - Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also. Christian art has well caught the spirit of her life who was, in spite of her untold suffering, "blessed among women," in depicting her so often and so touchingly as the mother of sorrows (Mater Dolorosa). The childhood in the Nazareth home, and the early manhood in the Nazareth carpentry, were no doubt her happiest days, though, in those quiet years, expectation, fears, dread, curiously interwoven, must have ever torn that mother's heart. The days of the public ministry for Mary must have been sad, and her heart full of anxious forebodings, as she watched the growing jealousies, the hatred, and the unbelief on the part of the leading men of her people. Then came the cross. We know she stood by it all the while. And, after the cross and the Resurrection, silence. Verily the words of Simeon were awfully fulfilled. Bleek, quoted by Godet, makes an interesting suggestion on the subject of the sword piercing Mary's heart: "Thou shalt feel in thine own heart their contradiction in regard to thy Son, when thou thyself shall be seized with doubt in regard to his mission."
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
Verses 36-38. - Greeting of Anna the prophetess. Verse 36. - There was one Anna, a prophetess. The name of this holy woman is the same as that of the mother of Samuel. It is not necessary to assume that this Anna had the gift of foretelling future events. She was, at all events, a preacher. These saintly, gifted women, though never numerous, were not unknown in the story of the chosen people. We read of the doings - in some cases the very words are preserved - of Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, and others. Of the tribe of Aser. It is true that at this period the ten tribes had been long lost, the "Jews" being made up of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin; but yet certain families preserved their genealogies, tracing their descent to one or other of the lost divisions of the people. Thus Anna belonged to Asher.
And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
Verse 37. - Which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Probably, in virtue of her reputation as a prophetess, some small chamber in the temple was assigned to her. This seems to have been the case with Huldah (2 Chronicles 34:22). It has also been suggested that she lovingly performed some work in or about the sacred building. Farrar suggests such as trimming the lamps (as is the rabbinic notion about Deborah), derived from the word lapidoth, splendor. Such sacred functions were regarded among all nations as a high honor. The great city of Ephesus boasted her name of νεωκόρος, temple-sweeper, as her proudest title to honor.
And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
Verse 39. - And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord. Another note, which tells us of the rigid obedience which Mary and Joseph paid to the Law of Israel, under which they lived. Marcion, the famous Gnostic heretic (second century), who adopted this Gospel of St. Luke, to the exclusion of the other three, as the authoritative Gospel for his sect (the Marcionites), omitted, however, all these passages of St. Luke's narrative in which the old Mosaic Law was spoken of with reverence. They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. To complete the story of our Lord's early life, we must insert from St. Matthew, before this return to Nazareth, the visit of the Magi, and the flight to and return from Egypt. It is probable - even if the Gospel of St. Matthew, as we have it, was not then written - that these details, the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt, were facts already well known to those whom this Gospel was especially designed to instruct.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Verse 40. - And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Another of this evangelist's solemn pauses in his narrative. In this short statement the story of twelve quiet years is told. From these few words St. Luke evidently understands the humanity of Jesus as a reality. The statement that "he waxed strong, filled with wisdom" (the words, "in spirit," do not occur in the older authorities), tells us that, in the teaching of SS. Paul and Luke, the Boy learnt as others learnt, subject to the ordinary growth and development of human knowledge; thus condemning, as it were, by anticipation, the strange heresy of Apollinarius, who taught that the Divine Word (the Logos) took, in our Lord's humanity, the place of the human mind or intellect. And the grace of God was upon him. The legendary apocryphal Gospels are rich in stories of the Child Jesus' doings during these many years. But the silence of the holy four, whose testimony has been received now since the last years of the first century by the whole Church, is our authority for assuming that no work of power was done, and probably that no word of teaching was spoken, until the public ministry commenced, when the Messiah had reached his thirtieth year. "Take notice here," wrote Bonaventura, quoted by Farrar, "that his doing nothing wonderful was itself a kind of wonder.... As there was power in his actions, so is there power in his silence, in his inactivity, in his retirement."
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
Verses 41-52. - The Child Jesus at Jerusalem. Verse 41. - Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. The Law required the attendance of all men at the three great Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). The dispersion and subsequent residence of so many Jews in distant lands had much broken up the regular observance of these directions. Still, many devout Jews were constantly present at these feasts. This Mosaic ordinance was only binding upon men, but R. Hillel recommended women always to be present at the Passover. The constant yearly presence of Joseph the carpenter and Mary at this feast is another indication of the rigid obedience of the holy family of Nazareth to the ritual of the Law of Moses.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
Verse 42. - And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. When a Jewish boy was three years old he was given the tasselled garment directed by the Law (Numbers 15:38-41; Deuteronomy 22:12). At five he usually began to learn portions of the Law, under his mother's direction; these were passages written on scrolls, such as the shema or creed of Deuteronomy 6:4, the Hallel Psalms (Psalm 114, 118, 136). When the boy was thirteen years old he wore, for the first time, the phylacteries, which the Jew always put on at the recital of the daily prayer. In the well-known and most ancient 'Maxims of the Fathers' ('Pirke Avoth'), we read that, at the age of ten, a boy was to commence the study of the Mishna (the Mishna was a compilation of traditional interpretations of the Law); at eighteen he was to be instructed in the Gemara (the Gemara was a vast collection of interpretations of the Mishna. The Mishua and Gemara together make up the Talmud. The Mishna may roughly be termed the text, the Gemara the commentary, of the Talmud).
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
Verse 43. - And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem. The feast lasted seven days. Now, a boy in the East, twelve years old, is usually far more advanced than is ever the case in our Northern nations, where development is much slower. We may well suppose that the Boy was left much to himself during these days of the feast. It requires no stress of imagination to picture him absorbed in the temple and all that was to be seen and learned there. It was, doubtless, his first visit since infancy to the glorious house. Slowly, surely, had he been growing up into the consciousness of what he was and whence he came: may we not in all reverence assume that his self-recognition first really burst forth from the depths of his childhood's unconsciousness in that solemn week spent in the storied temple courts? When Joseph and Mary and their friends, as was usual after the seven days, commenced their return journey, the Boy, instead of joining this homeward-bound company of pilgrims, went as usual to the temple and the great teachers there, wholly absorbed in the new light which was breaking in upon him. There they found him. Strange that they should have for so long searched in other places. Had they only called to mind the sacred secret of the Child, surely they would have gone at once to the temple; was it not, after all, his earthly home, that holy house of his Father in Jerusalem?
But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
Verse 46. - And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple. According to the common way of reckoning among the Hebrews, this expression, "after three days," probably means "on the third day." One day was consumed in the usual short pilgrim-journey. His absence at first would excite no attention; on the second, as they missed him still, they sought him in the various pilgrim-companies; and on the day following they found him in the temple courts, with the doctors of the Law. Sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. In the temple enclosure, says the Talmud, there were three synagogues - one at the gate of the court of the Gentiles, another at the entrance of the court of the Israelites, a third in the south-east part of the inner court: it was in these that the rabbis expounded the Law. Among the famous doctors, or rabbis, then living and teaching in Jerusalem, were the famous Hillel, then very aged, verging, we are told, on his hundredth year; his almost equally illustrious rival, Shammai; Gamaliel, the master of Saul of Tarsus; Jonathan, the compiler of the Chaldee Paraphrase of the sacred books; Simeon, the son and successor of Hillel; Nicodemus, who, some years afterwards, came to Jesus by night, and, when the end was come, reverently assisted in laying the King's Son with all honor in his tomb in Joseph of Arimathaea's garden. We may, with great probability, assume that amongst those "doctors" whom the Boy questioned at that Passover Feast, some if not all of these well-known men were sitting. The apocryphal Gospels, as usual, profess to give us details where the true story is reverently silent. The 'Gospel of Thomas' (second century), for instance, tells us that Jesus, when on the road to Nazareth, returned of his own accord to Jerusalem, and amazed the rabbis of the temple by his solution of the hardest and most difficult questions of the Law and the prophets. In an Arabic Gospel of somewhat later date than that of Thomas, we find the Boy even teaching the astronomers the secrets of their own difficult study. Probably Stier's simple words approach the nearest to the truth here, when he suggests that his questions were "the pure questions of innocence and of truth, which keenly and deeply penetrated into the confused errors of the rabbinical teaching."
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
Verse 48. - Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. Mary's words have in them something of reproach. Joseph, it is noticeable, stands evidently apart; but the mother, strangely as it would seem at first, associates him in "thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." Had she, then, forgotten the past? Who but Mary could have repeated this sacred memory of her mistake, and of the Boy's far-reaching answer? What forger could have imagined such a verse?
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
Verse 49. - How is it that ye sought me? To the gently veiled reproach of Mary, Jesus replies, apparently with wonderment, with another question. It had come upon him so quietly and yet with such irresistible force that the temple of God was his real earthly home, that he marvelled at his mother's slowness of comprehension. Why should she have been surprised at his still lingering in the sacred courts? Did she not know who he was, and whence he came? Then he added, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? There was an expression of Mary's which evidently distressed the Child Jesus. Godet even thinks that he discerns a kind of shudder in his quick reply to Mary's "thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." "In my Father's house, where my Father's work is being done, there ought I to be busied. Didn't you know this?" But the twelve silent uneventful years of life at Nazareth, the poor home, the village carpentry, the natural development of the sacred Child, had gradually obscured for Mary and Joseph the memories of the infancy. They had not forgotten them, but time and circumstances had covered them with a veil. Now they were very gently reminded by the Boy's own quiet words of what had happened twelve years before. Scholars hesitate whether or not to adopt the rendering of the old Syriac Version, "in my Father's house," instead of the broader and vaguer "about my Father's business," as the Greek will allow either translation. It seems to us the best to retain the old rendering we love so well, "about my Father's business." The whole spirit of Jesus' after-teaching leads us irresistibly to this interpretation of the Master's first recorded saying.
And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
Verse 51. - And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth. The question of Mary, and the quiet grave answer of the Child Jesus, were all that seems to have taken place. It served, no doubt, to bring back to Mary's mind what had long passed, and the memory of which for her was beginning somewhat to fade. This was, no doubt, one of the uses of the temple scene, but it had other and deeper purposes to serve. It was then, perhaps, as we have already reverently surmised, in the gradual development and growth of the Redeemer, that consciousness who he really was first dawned upon "the Child Jesus." And was subject unto them. This recital of the temple scene, the meeting with the great rabbis there, the few words of surprise addressed by the Boy to Mary and Joseph when they sought him "sorrowing" - "as if it were possible," to use Stier's expression, for "him to be in wrong or in danger" - this recital alone breaks the deep silence which shrouds the first thirty years of "the Life." For some eighteen years after that visit to Jerusalem Jesus appears to have lived and toiled as a carpenter at Nazareth, with Joseph and Mary while they both lived, with Mary and his halfsisters and brothers when Joseph was dead. Justin Martyr, living a century and a half later, speaks of the ploughs and yokes the Master's own hands had fashioned during float long quiet pause in his life. Why, it is often asked, were not these years spent in Jerusalem and in the temple neighborhood, in the center of busy life and active Jewish thought? Godet suggests an answer which, if not exhaustive, is at least satisfactory: "If the spiritual atmosphere of Nazareth was heavy, it was at least calm; and the labors of the workshop, in the retirement of this peaceful valley, under the eye of the Father, was a more favorable sphere for the development of Jesus than the ritualism of the temple and the rabbinical discussions of Jerusalem." Joseph is never again mentioned in the gospel story; the probability is that he died some time in that period of eighteen years. But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. As twelve years before, Mary - pondering in her heart - had treasured up the rough adoration of the shepherds and their strange story of what the angels said to them about her Child (ver. 19), as doubtless she had done too when the Magi laid their costly gifts before the Babe at Bethlehem, and when Simeon and Anna in the temple spoke their prophetic utterances over the Infant; so now the mother, in quiet humble faith, stored up again her Son's sayings in her heart, waiting with brave and constant patience for the hour when her God should grant her to see face to face the mysterious things she had hitherto seen only "in a glass darkly."
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Verse 52. - And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Another of these little word-paintings of St. Luke in which the work and progress of long years is depicted. The purpose of this brief statement is clear. The evangelist would teach us that, with Jesus, bodily development proceeded in the same orderly fashion as it does with other men, while wisdom - deepening with the years - passed into his soul as it passes into the souls of other men, by the ordinary channels of instruction, study, and thought. On the last words, "in favor with God and man," Dean Plumptre very beautifully writes, "The Boy grew into youth, and the young Man into manhood, and his purity and lowliness and unselfish sympathy drew even then the hearts of all men. In that highest instance, as in all lower analogies, men admired holiness till it became aggressive, and then it roused them to an antagonism bitter in proportion to their previous admiration." The Greek word in this verse translated "increased" would be more literally rendered "kept advancing." The word is used for pioneers hewing down trees and brushwood which obstruct the path of an advancing army. The word in the original, Englished by "stature" some scholars translate by "age;" either rendering is permissible, but the word used in the English Version is better fitted for the context of the passage.