Luke 2
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Chap. 2:1-20.] Birth of Christ. Its announcement, and celebration by the hosts of heaven.

1, 2.] We go back again now to the birth of John, or shortly after it.

In annotating on these verses, I will first state the difficulty in which they appear to be involved,—then the remarkable way in which a solution has been found.

The assertion in these verses is this—that a decree went forth, &c., and that this enrolment first took place when Cyrenius (Quirinus, see below) was governor of Syria. It would then appear, either that this very enrolment took place under Quirinus,—or that the first did so, and this was subsequent to it. Now both of these senses formerly seemed to be inadmissible. For Quirinus was not known to have been governor of Syria till the year 758 u.c., after the banishment of Archelaus, and the addition of his territory to the province of Syria.

τῆς δὲ Ἀρχ. χώρας ὑποτελοῦς προσνεμηθείσης τῇ Σύρων, πέμπεται Κυρήνιος ὑπὸ Καίσαρος, ἀνὴρ ὑπατικός, ἀποτιμησόμενος τὰ ἐν Συρίᾳ, καὶ τὸν Ἀρχελάου ἀποδωσόμενος οἶκον. Jos. Antt. xvii. 13. 5. And the birth of our Lord occurred at least eight years before this, previous to Herod’s death, and when Sentius Saturninus was governor of Syria. But in a Commentatio of A. W. Zumpt of Berlin (the nephew of the distinguished grammarian of that name), De Syria Romanorum provincia ab Cœsare Augusto ad T. Vespasianum, he makes it highly probable that Quirinus was twice governor of Syria. The substance of his researches is as follows:—In 9 b.c. Sentius Saturninus succeeded M. Titius in the province of Syria, and governed it three years. He was succeeded by T. Quintilius Varus (Jos. Antt. xvii. 5. 2), who, as it appears, remained governor up to the end of 4 b.c. Thenceforward we lose sight of him till he is appointed to the command in Germany, in which he lost his life in a.d. 7. We also lose sight of the governors of Syria till the appointment of P. Sulpicius Quirinus, in a.d. 6. Now from the maxim acted on by Augustus (Dio Cass. Lev_23), that none should hold an imperial province for less than three or more than five years, Varus cannot have been governor of Syria during the twelve years from b.c. 6 to a.d. 6. Who then were the missing governors? One of them has been found, L. Volusius Saturninus, whose name occurs as “legatus Syriae” on a coin of Antioch, a.d. 4 or 5. But his proconsulate will not fill the whole time, and one or two governors must be supplied between Varus, ending 4 b.c., and Volusius, 4 or 5 a.d. Just in that interval falls the census, of which it is said in the text, that it πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου. Could Quirinus have been governor at any such time? From Jan. to b.c. 12 he was consul. Soon after that he triumphed over the Homonadenses (“mox expugnatis per Ciliciam Homonadensium castellis insignia triumphi adeptus,” Tac. Ann. iii. 48). Now Zumpt applies the exhaustive process to the provinces which could by any possibility have been under Quirinus at this time, and eliminates from the enquiry Asia,—Pontus and Bithynia,—and Galatia. Cilicia only remains. But at this time, as he shews, that province had been reduced by successive diminutions, had been separated (Dio Cass. liv. 4) from Cyprus, and, as is shewn by the history of the misconduct of Piso soon afterwards, who was charged with having, as ex-governor of Syria, attempted “repetere provinciam armis” (Tac. Ann. iii. 12), because he had attacked Celenderis, a fort in Cilicia (ib. ii. 78-80), attached to the province of Syria. This Zumpt also confirms by the accounts in Tacitus (Ann. vi. 41; xii. 55) of the Clitæ, a seditious tribe of Cilicia Aspera, who on two occasions were repressed by troops sent by the governors of Syria. Quirinus then appears to have been governor of Syria at some time during this interval. But at what time? We find him in the East (Tac. Ann. iii. 48), as “datus rector C. Cæsari Armeniam obtinenti;” and this cannot have been during his well-known governorship of Syria, which began in a.d. 6; for Caius Cæsar died in a.d. 4. Zumpt, by arguments too long to be reproduced here, but very striking and satisfactory, fixes the time of his first governorship at from b.c. 4 to b.c. 1, when he was succeeded by M. Lollius. It is true this does not quite remove our difficulty. But it brings it within such narrow limits, that any slight error in calculation, or even the latitude allowed by the words πρώτη ἐγένετο might well cover it. I may mention it as remarkable, that Justin Martyr three times distinctly asserts that our Lord was born under Quirinus, and appeals to the register then made, as if from it the fact might, if necessary, be confirmed: Apol. i. 34, p. 65; 46, p. 71: Dial. 78, p. 175.

We conclude then, that an ἀπογραφή or enrolment of names with a view to ascertain the population of the empire, was commanded and put in force at this time, unaccompanied (probably) by any payment of money. Mr. Greswell (vol. i. p. 511) cites a passage of Suidas—ὅτι Αὔγουστος Καῖσαρ, δόξαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς οἰκήτορας Ῥωμαίων (?) κατὰ πρόσωπον ἀριθμεῖ, βουλόμενος γνῶναι πόσον ἐστὶ πλῆθος: and has made it probable that, notwithstanding a difficulty in the numbers, this was a census of the empire, and not of the city. We know (see Tacitus, Ann. i. 11: Sueton. Aug. 28, 101: Dio liii. 30; lvi. 33) that Augustus drew up a rationarium or breviarium totius imperii, which took many years to arrange and complete, and of which the enrolment of the inhabitants of the provinces would naturally form a part. Of the data for this compilation, the enrolment in our text might be one.

That Judæa was not a Roman province at this time, is no objection to our text; for the breviarium of Augustus contained the ‘regna’ of the Roman empire, as well as the ‘provincias.’

For a statement of the case and its difficulties as they stood before Zumpt’s discovery, see Wieseler, Chronol. Synops. i. 73-122; and a good summary and criticism of the various hypotheses in Winer’s Realwörterbuch, edn. 3, art. Quirinus: and a new and curious hypothesis in Bp. Wordsw. h. l., who inclines to reject the above solution. In Dio Cassius, where we might expect to find information, this portion of the reign of Augustus is apparently defective.

Κυρην.] P. Sulpicius Quirinus (not Quirinius, for Κυρήνιος is the Greek form of Quirinus, Meyer ii. 222: see Sueton. Tib. 49: Tacit. Ann. iii. 48, where however Beck reads Quirinius).

3-5.] There is a mixture here of Roman and Jewish customs, which is not at all improbable, considering the circumstances. In the Roman census, men, women, and children were all obliged to go and be enrolled. Dion. Hal. iv. 15, ἃπαντας ἐκέλευσε (ὁ Τύλλιος) τοὺς ὁμοπάγους κατὰ κεφαλὴν ὡρισμένον νόμισμά τι συνεισφέρειν, ἕτερον μέν τι τοὺς ἄνδρας, ἕτερον δέ τι τὰς γυναῖκας, ἄλλο δέ τι τοὺς ἀνήβους. But then this census was made at their dwelling-place, not at that of their extraction. The latter practice springs from the Jewish genealogical habits, and its adoption in this case speaks strongly for the accuracy of the chronology. If this enrolment was by order of Augustus, and for the whole empire, it of course would be made so as to include all, after the Roman manner: but inasmuch as it was made under the Jewish king Herod, it was done after the Jewish manner, in taking this account of each at his own place of extraction.

Mary being apparently herself sprung from the lineage of David (see ch. 1:32), might on this account go to Bethlehem, being, as some suppose, an inheritress; but this does not seem to be the Evangelist’s meaning, but that, after the Roman manner, she accompanied her husband.

No stress must be laid on ἐμνηστ., as if she were only the betrothed wife of Joseph at this time;—she had been taken to his house before this: the history in our text happening during the time indicated by Matthew 1:25.

7.] Now that πρωτότοκον has disappeared from the text of St. Matthew [1:25], it must be here remarked, that although the term may undoubtedly be used of an only child, such use is necessarily always connected with the expectation of others to follow, and can no longer have place when the whole course of events is before the writer and no others have followed. The combination of this consideration with the fact that brethren of our Lord are brought forward in this Gospel in close connexion with His mother, makes it as certain as any implied fact can be, that those brethren were the children of Mary herself.

Ancient tradition states the birthplace of our Lord to have been a cave: thus Justin Martyr, Dial. 78, p. 175, ἐπειδὴ Ἰωσὴφ οὐκ εἶχεν ἐν τῇ κώμῃ ἐκείνῃ ποῦ καταλῦσαι, ἐν σπηλαίῳ τινὶ σύνεγγυς τῆς κώμης κατέλυσε· καὶ τότε, ὄντων αὐτῶν ἐκεῖ, ἐτετόκει ἡ Μαρία τὸν χριστόν, καὶ ἐν φάτνῃ αὐτὸν ἐτεθείκει. And Origen, against Celsus, i. 51, p. 367: ἀκολούθως τῇ ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ περὶ τῆς γενέσεως αὐτοῦ ἱστορίᾳ δείκνυται τὸ ἐν Βηθλεὲμ σπήλαιον ἔνθα ἐγεννήθη, καὶ ἡ ἐν τῷ σπηλαίῳ φάτνη ἔνθα ἐσπαργανώθη. Similarly Eusebius, Athanasius, and others. This tradition is nowise inconsistent with our text—for caves are used in most rocky countries as stables. Bleek has noticed that Justin Martyr refers to a prophecy in Isaiah 33:16 (οὗτος οἰκήσει ἐν ὑψηλῷ σπηλαίῳ πέτρας ἰσχυρᾶς, LXX), and is disposed to think with Calov., ., that the tradition may have arisen from this. But is not the converse much more likely?

καταλύματι, a public inn, or place of reception for travellers; not ‘a room in a private house,’ for then the expression would be, ‘They found no κατάλυμα.’ Of what sort this inn was, does not appear. It probably differs from πανδοχεῖον, ch. 10:34, in not being kept by an host, πανδοχεύς: see note there.

8.] Mr. Greswell has made it highly probable (Diss. x. vol. i.) that our Lord was born on the evening of (i.e. which began) the 5th of April, the 10th of the Jewish Nisan: on which same day of April, and the 14th of Nisan, He suffered thirty-three years after. Before this time there would be abundance of grass in the pastures—the spring rains being over: but much after it, and till after the autumnal equinox again, the pastures would be comparatively bare: see note on John 6:10.

ἀγρ.] spending the night in the open field.

φυλ. φυλακὰς τ. ν., either, keeping watch by night, or, keeping the watches of the night. The former seems most probable: and so Meyer and Bleek: see ref. Xen., and add Alexis in xv. 58, p. 700—ὁ πρῶτος εὑρὼν μετὰ λυχνούχου περιπατεῖν Τῆς νυκτός, ἦν τις κηδεμὼν τῶν δακτύλων.

9.] δόξαthe brightness of God’s presence—the Shechinah (see reff.) which also accompanied His angels when they appeared to men. It is agreeable at least to the analogy of the divine dealings, to suppose with Olshausen, that these shepherds, like Symeon, were waiting for the consolation of Israel.

10, 11.] παντὶ τῷ λ., not (E. V.) to all people, here: but to all the people,—the Jewish people. To them was the first message of joy, before the bursting in of the Gentiles—just as here the one angel gives the prefatory announcement, before the multitude of the heavenly host burst in with their proclamation of ‘peace on earth.’

σωτήρ] a Saviour, as E. V.,—the name being particularized afterwards.

χρ. κύρ.] This is the only place where these words come together. In ch. 23:2 we have χρ. βασιλέα, and in Acts 2:36 κύριον καὶ χρ. (In Colossians 3:24 we have, in a somewhat different meaning (said to servants), τῷ κυρίῳ χριστῷ δουλεύετε.) And I see no way of understanding this κύριος, but as corresponding to the Hebrew Jehovah.

12.] Olshausen hazards a conjecture that the stable or cave may possibly have belonged to these shepherds. But I think the words ἕως ., ver. 15, do not look as if Bethlehem were their home. It seems clear that the spot was somehow known to them by the angel’s description.

βρέφος—not ‘the child;’—the angel in giving the sign, generalizes the term—they were to know the truth of his words, by finding a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

14.] The disputes about this short song of praise are (with one exception, see below) so much solemn trifling. As to whether ἐστιν or ἔστω should be supplied, the same question might be raised of every proclamation which was ever uttered. The sense of both these is included. It is both There is, and Let there be, glory, &c. The song in the . is in three clauses, forming a Hebrew parallelism, in which the third clause is subordinate to and an amplification of the second, and so is without a copula to it.

εὐδοκία (see reff.) is that good pleasure of God in Christ by which He reconciles the world to Himself in Him (2Corinthians 5:19). And this it is, whether εὐδοκία or εὐδοκίας be read. The interpretation of the latter reading by the . and R.-Cath. interpreters generally, as “bonæ voluntatis,” “peace on earth for those that like it,” is untenable in Greek as well as in theology. The only passage which seems in any degree to justify it is Philippians 1:15, τινὲς … διʼ εὐδοκίαν τὸν χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν, where however we have nothing like the harsh usage which must be assumed here, of the subjective gen. with the absolute sense of the noun. The only admissible rendering is, ‘Among men of God’s good pleasure,’ i.e. among the elect people of God: cf. for the gen. Acts 9:15: Colossians 1:13. And so Bleek renders: und auf Εrden Friede unter den Menchen des Wohlgefallens, namlich, des gοttlichen Wohlgefallens. A curious connexion of εὐδοκίας with εἰρήνη is found in the passage of Origen-int. by which the gen. is supported:—“Pax enim quam non dat Dominus super terram non est pax bonæ voluntatis.” This might perhaps be admissible as matter of mere construction, especially as St. Luke loves to separate genitives from their nouns in construction by an intervening word or words: but it would be difficult to justify it exegetically. As regards the reading, the evidence is materially affected by the fact that B reads εὐδοκίας a prima manu, as I have myself ascertained at Rome: and that reads the same. I have therefore now edited the genitive without any marks of doubt. 1862.

15.] If the bracketed words be retained, it will be better to understand them as applying to the shepherds merely, than (with De Wette and Meyer) to suppose οἱ ἄνθ. to be used as distinctive of the shepherds from the angels. Such distinctions are not usual, whereas the redundant ἄνθρ. is: see reff. οἱ ποιμένες specifies what οἱ ἄνθρ. stated generally: the men, viz. the shepherds.

19.] συνετ., in her memory.

ῥήμ. may have its literal sense, words: viz. those spoken by the shepherds:—or its Hebraistic, as above, ver. 15, which is more probable—all these things now spoken of.

συμβ., revolving them—comparing one with another.

21.] His circumcision. The second καί must not be rendered ‘also.’ It is simply redundant, as in reff. The Lord was made like unto His brethren (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15) in all weakness and bodily infirmity, from which legal uncleanness arose. The body which He took on Him, though not a body of sin, was mortal, subject to the consequence of sin,—in the likeness of sinful flesh: but incorruptible by the indwelling of the Godhead (1Peter 3:18). In the fulfilment therefore of His great work of redemption He became subject to legal rites and purifications—not that they were absolutely necessary for Him, but were included in those things which were πρέποντα for Him in His humiliation and ‘making perfect:’ and in His lifting up of that human nature, for which all these things were absolutely necessary (Genesis 17:14), into the Godhead.

22-38.] The purification in the Temple. Symeon and Anna recognize and prophesy of Him.

22.] See Leviticus 12:1-8, where however the child is not, as here, expressly included in the purification. (It is hardly possible that Joseph should be implied in the αὐτῶν, as , Meyer, interpret it.) The reading αὐτοῦ is remarkable, and hardly likely to have been a correction. αὐτῆς, adopted by the E. V., is almost without authority (see var. readd.), and is a manifest correction.

Bengel denies that either the Lord or His mother wanted purification; and mentions that some render αὐτῶν ‘of the Jews,’ but does not approve of it (John 2:6 is certainly no case in point). See the last note, on the necessity of purification for both.

23.] God had taken the tribe of Levi instead of the firstborn that openeth the womb, Numbers 3:12, and required only the excess in number of the first-born over the Levites to be redeemed (ib. vv. 44-51). This arrangement appears afterwards to have been superseded by a general command to redeem all the first-born at five shekels of the sanctuary (Numbers 18:15, Numbers 18:16).

24.] The offering (ref. Levit.) was, a lamb for a burnt-offering, and a pigeon for a sin-offering: but if the parties were too poor to bring a lamb, then two pigeons. But as Bleek remarks, we are not hereby justified in assuming extreme poverty to have been the condition of our Lord’s family. This no where appears from the gospel history.

25.] It appears that this Symeon might have been Symeon the son of Hillel,—and father of Gamaliel, mentioned in Acts 5:34 ff. But we have no means of ascertaining this. It is no objection to it that he is here merely ἄνθρωπος, seeing that Gamaliel himself is only φαρισαῖός τις in Acts 5:34.

παράκλ.] See Acts 28:20. It was a common form of adjuration among the Jews, ‘Ita videam consolationem, si’ &c., referring to Isaiah 40:1.

On the general expectation of deliverance at this time, see on Matthew 2:1 ff.

26.] Of the nature of this intimation, nothing is said. Symeon was the subject of an especial indwelling and leading of the Holy Ghost, analogous to that higher form of the spiritual life expressed in the earliest days by walking with God—and according to which God’s saints have often been directed and informed in an extraordinary manner by His Holy Spirit. In the power of this intimation, and in the spirit of prophecy consequent on it, he came into the Temple on this occasion.

28.] καί here again is not also, but simply the introduction to the apodosis.

29.] ἀπολύεις, not τοῦ ζῆν, or ἐκ τῆς γῆς,—but as being τὸν δοῦλόν σου, he thinks of his death as the termination of, and so dismissal from, his servitude. Meyer. Bleek thinks that there is no such allusion, but that the word is used absolutely, as in Genesis 15:2: Numbers 20:29.

32.] See Isaiah 49:6. The general term of the last verse (πάντ. τ. λαῶν) is here divided into two, the Gentiles, and Israel.

It is doubtful, whether δόξαν is to be taken as co-ordinate with φῶς (so Bengel, Meyer, De W., al.), or with ἀποκάλυψιν. The former seems more probable; and so E. V.

33. ὁ πατ. αὐτοῦ] In ver. 48 we have Joseph again called by this name. Our Lord Himself would not speak of him thus, see ver. 49; but in the simplicity of the narrative we may read οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ and such expressions, without any danger of forgetting the momentous history of the Conception and Nativity.

34.] κεῖται εἰς, is appointed for—see reff.: not (Meyer) ‘lies here, in my arms.’

πτῶσιν, as a stone of stumbling and rock of offence (Isaiah 8:14: Romans 9:33), at which they should fall through unbelief.

ἀνάστ., rising up—in the sense of ch. 1:52—by faith and holiness; or, the πτῶσις and ἀνάστ. may refer to the same persons; as it is said by our Lord, ‘He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ I prefer this last interpretation, as cohering best with the next verse: see note on it.

35.] This prophecy I do not believe to have its chief reference to the deep sorrows of the mother of our Lord on beholding His sufferings (Euthym., al.), much less to her future death by martyrdom (Epiphan., Lightf.); least of all to the Crucifixion, which by shedding the blood of her Son, would also pierce her heart and drain it of its life-blood and make it childless, as Bp. Wordsw. referring to Bede, Aug., who however (cf. Aug. Ep. ad Paulinum cxlix. 33, vol. ii., and Bede, in Luc. Expos. i. vol. iii. p. 346; Homil. lib. i. 15, vol. v. p. 81) say nothing of the kind, but simply refer the saying to her grief at beholding the Passion: and to Origen, who (in Luc. Hom. xvii. vol. iii. p. 952) gives a totally different interpretation, “pertransibit infidelitatis gladius, et ambiguitatis mucrone ferieris, et cogitationes tuæ te in diversa lacerabunt, cum videris illum quem Filium Dei audieras … crucifigi &c.” None of these interpretations satisfy us: for the words stand in a totally different connexion, and one far worthier of the honour of that holy woman, and of the spiritual character of Symeon’s prophecy: that prophecy is, of the struggle of many in Israel through repentance to faith in this Saviour; among which number even His mother herself was to be included. The sharp pangs of sorrow for sin must pierce her heart also (cf. esp. Acts 2:37); and the general end follows; that the reasonings out of many hearts may be revealed; that they who receive the Lord Jesus may be manifest, and they who reject Him: see John 9:39. Similarly Bleek: finding moreover in the traces of her connexion with our Lord in the Evangelic history the piercing and dividing of her soul, and in the last notice of her in Act_1, the triumph of her faith after the Ascension.

37. νηστ. καὶ δεήσ.] Not merely in the ordinary hours of prayer, at nine, and three, or the ordinary fasts on Monday and Thursday, but in an ascetic-devotional method of life.

νύκτα is put first, because fasts were reckoned from one evening to another. Meyer. Is it not rather because the greater solemnity and emphasis rests on the religious exercise by night?

38.] The ἀνθωμολ. has been understood (by Erasm., Calv., Calov., al.) to refer to Symeon’s also having praised God: but Winer, Meyer, and Bleek more accurately regard the prep. as pointing to the retributive nature of the offering of praise.

It was possibly at the hour of prayer; as she spoke of Him to numbers, who would at such a time be flocking to the temple.

39, 40.] Return to Nazareth.

39.] Certainly the obvious inference from this verse is, that Joseph and Mary returned from Jerusalem to Nazareth direct. But it is only an inference, and not the assertion of the text. This part of the gospel history is one where the Harmonists, by their arbitrary reconcilements of the two Evangelistic accounts, have given great advantage to the enemies of the faith. As the two accounts now stand, it is wholly impossible to suggest any satisfactory method of uniting them; every one who has attempted it has, in some part or other of his hypothesis, violated probability and common sense. But, on the other hand, it is equally impossible definitely to say that they could not be reconciled by a thorough knowledge of the facts themselves; and such an assertion, whenever made, shews great ignorance of the origin and course of oral narration. How many things will a relator say, being unaware of certain important circumstances outside his narrative, which seem to preclude those circumstances? How often will points of time be apparently brought close together in such a narration,—between which, events most weighty to the history have occurred? The only inference from these two accounts, which is inevitable, is, that they are wholly independent of one another. If Luke had seen the Gospel of Matthew, or vice versa, then the variations are utterly inexplicable; and the greatest absurdities of all are involved in the writings of those who assume this, and then proceed to harmonize. Of the dwelling at Nazareth before the Nativity, of the circumstances which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, of the Presentation in the temple, Matthew’s account knows nothing; of the visit of the Magi, the murder of the Innocents, the flight to Egypt, Luke’s is unaware. In all the main circumstances of the Conception and Nativity they agree, or are easily and naturally reconciled (see further in note on John 7:42).

40.] ηὔξανενin body. ἐκρ., in spirit: πνεύματι is a correct gloss. “The body advances in stature, and the soul in wisdom … the divine nature revealed its own wisdom in proportion to the measure of the bodily growth.” Cyril. Oxf. transl. p. 30.

πληρ., becoming filled: see ver. 52 and note there.

41-52.] Visit to the Temple at the Passover. The history of this incident serves for an example of the wisdom wherewith the Child was filled. Bleek. “The Evang. next shews that what he has said is true.” Cyril. ib.

41.] See Exodus 23:14-17. Women, according to the maxims of the school of Hillel, were bound to go up once in the year—to the Passover.

τῇ ἑορτῇ] at, or in the feast; not ‘to the feast;’ nor, ‘on account of the feast.’

42.] At the age of twelve, a boy was called by the Jews בֵּן הַתּוֹרָה, ‘son of the law,’ and first incurred legal obligation. At that time, then, commences the second step (see note on ver. 52) of the life of the Lord, the time when the τὰ πρέποντα for Him began; his course of blameless legal obedience (see note on ver. 21) in his own person and by his own will. Now first (ver. 49) appear those higher consciousnesses to have found expression, which unfolded within Him, till the full time of his public ministry arrived. It cannot be inferred from this narrative, that it was the first time the holy Child had accompanied them to the Passover.

43.] τὰς ἡμ., seven days, Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:17.

44.] συνοδ., the company forming the caravan, or band of travellers;—all who came from the same district travelling together for security and company.

ἦλθ.… ἀνεζ.] The interpretation that ‘they went a day’s journey, seeking him,’ is simply absurd: for they would have turned back sooner: a few minutes might have sufficed for the search. It was not till they laid up for the night that they missed him, as at that time (φέρεις μητέρι παῖδα) they would naturally expect his return to their own tent. Olshausen remarks, that being accustomed to his thoughtfulness and obedience, they were free from anxiety, till they discovered He really was not in the company.

45.] ἀναζητοῦντες αὐτόν—as they went back, all the way.

46.] Some (Grot., Kuin.) interpret the three days, of their one day’s journey out, one back, and one in Jerusalem: but they were more likely three days spent in search in Jerusalem (De Wette); or, at all events, reckoned from their discovery of His not being with them (Meyer).

ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ] In one of the rooms attached to the temple, where the Rabbis taught their schools. A tradition mentioned by Lightfoot, that till the death of Gamaliel the scholars stood in these schools, appears to be false, as Kuinoel has shewn.

No stress must be laid on ἐν μέσῳ; it is only among Nor must it be supposed from ἐπερωτ. that our Lord was acting the part of a master. It was the custom in the Jewish schools for the scholars to ask questions of their teachers; and a great part of the Rabbinical books consists of the answers of the Rabbis to such questions.

48-50.] The salient point of this narrative appears to lie in ὁ πατήρ σου contrasted with τοῦ πατρός μου. This was the first time that those wonderful words of self-consciousness had been heard from the holy Child—when He began to be “a son of the law,” He first calls Him His Father, Who gave Him the work to do on earth, of perfectly keeping that Law.

Every word of these verses is of the first importance to modern combatants for sound doctrine. Let the adversaries answer us,—why should his mother here have spoken and not Joseph, unless there were some more than usual reason for her being put forward rather than his reputed father? Again, let the mythical school of Strauss give us a reason, why an incident altogether (in their view) so derogatory to the character of the subject of it, should have been inserted, if the myths arose out of an exaggerated estimate of the dignity of that character?

ὁ πατ. σου] Then up to this time Joseph had been so called by the holy Child Himself: but from this time, never. Such words are not chance; had Mary said ἡμεῖς, the strong contrast with what follows could not have been brought out.

τί ὅτι ἐζ.;] τί, ὅτι … what (reason) is there, that …: see reff.

This is no reproachful question. It is asked in all the simplicity and boldness of holy childhood … ‘did ye not know?’ … it appeared as if that conviction, the expression of which now first breaks forth from Him, must have been a matter known to them before.

δεῖ] This is that δεῖ so often used by our Lord of His appointed and undertaken course. Analogous to this first utterance of His conviction, is the dawn, amongst ourselves, of the principle of duty in the youthful and well-trained spirit about this same age,—this ‘earing time’ of human progress: see below on ver. 52.

ἐν τοῖς τοῦ π.] Primarily, in the house of my Father (so in Sir. 42:10, ἐν τοῖς πατρικοῖς αὐτῆς: Theocr. ii. 76, τὰ Λύκωνος: Demosth. p. 1071, τὰ τοῦ ἀποθανόντος: see Lobeck on Phryn. p. 100); but we must not exclude the wider sense, which embraces all places and employments of my Father’s (cf. ἐν τούτοις ἴσθι, 1Timothy 4:15). The best rendering would perhaps be,—among my Father’s matters. The employment in which he was found, learning the word of God, would naturally be one of these.

αὐτ. οὐ συν.] Both Joseph and His mother knew in some sense, Who He was: but were not prepared to hear so direct an appeal to God as His Father: understood not the deeper sense of these wonderful words. Still (ver. 51) they appear to have awakened in the mind of His mother a remembrance of κληθήσεται υἱὸς θεοῦ, ch. 1:35. And probably, as Stier remarks (1:5), the unfolding of His childhood had been so gradual and natural, that even they had not been forcibly reminded by any strong individual notes, of that which He was, and which now shewed itself.

It is a remarkable instance of the blindness of the rationalistic Commentators to the richness and depth of Scripture narrative, that Meyer holds this οὐ συνῆκαν to be altogether inconceivable as coming after the angelic announcement to Mary. Can he suppose that she συνῆκεν that announcement itself? De Wette has given the right interpretation, fie verftanden nicht den tiefern Sinn, and refers to chap. 18:34: so also Olsh., Ebrard.

51.] The high consciousness which had manifested itself in ver. 49 did not interfere with His self-humiliation, nor render Him independent of his parents. This voluntary subjection probably shewed itself in working at his reputed father’s trade: see Mark 6:2 and note.

From this time we have no more mention of Joseph (ch. 4:22 is not to the point): the next we hear is of His mother and brethren (John 2:12): whence it is inferred that, between this time and the commencement of our Lord’s public life, Joseph died.

καὶ ἡ μήτ.] These words tend to confirm the common belief that these opening chapters, or at least this narrative, may have been derived from the testimony of the mother of the Lord herself. She kept them, as in wonderful coincidence with the remarkable circumstances of His birth, and its announcement, and His presentation in the temple, and the offerings of the Magi; but in what way, or by what one great revelation all these things were to be gathered in one, did not yet appear, but was doubtless manifested to her afterwards: see Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1.

52.] ἡλικ., probably not only ‘stature’ (as in ch. 19:3), but age (ref. Matt.), which comprehends the other: so that σοφ. κ. ἡλ. would be wisdom, as well as age.

During these eighteen mysterious years we may, by the light of what is here revealed, view the holy Child advancing onward to that fulness of wisdom and divine approval which was indicated at His Baptism, by ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα. We are apt to forget, that it was during this time that much of the great work of the second Adam was done. The growing up through infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, from grace to grace, holiness to holiness, in subjection, self-denial, and love, without one polluting touch of sin,—this it was which, consummated by the three years of active ministry, by the Passion, and by the Cross, constituted “the obedience of one man,” by which many were made righteous. We must fully appreciate the words of this verse, in order to think rightly of Christ. He had emptied Himself of His glory: His infancy and childhood were no mere pretence, but the Divine personality was in Him carried through these states of weakness and inexperience, and gathered round itself the ordinary accessions and experiences of the sons of men. All the time, the consciousness of his mission on earth was ripening; ‘the things heard of the Father’ (John 15:15) were continually imparted to Him; the Spirit, which was not given by measure to Him, was abiding more and more upon Him; till the day when He was fully ripe for his official manifestation,—that He might be offered to his own, to receive or reject Him,—and then the Spirit led Him up to commence his conflict with the enemy. As yet, He was in favour with man also: the world had not yet begun to hate Him; but we cannot tell how soon this feeling towards Him was changed, for He alleges (John 7:7), “Me the world hateth, because I testify of it that its deeds are evil;” and we can hardly conceive such testimony, in the years of gathering vigour and zeal, long withheld. The incident of ch. 4:28, 29 can scarcely have arisen only from the anger of the moment.

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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