Luke 2:1-20 and Waldenström's Commentary

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Verse 1 — Bus it happened in those days1 a decree was issued from Caesar Augustus2 that the whole inhabited world3 should be taxed.

  • About the time that the events spoken about in the previous chapter occurred. The events in this chapter are told only by Luke.
  • Augustus was the Caesar in Rome. He died in 14 AD.
  • That is to say, the whole Roman Empire, which included almost the whole known world at the time. The Roman Caesars had the title: "The Inhabited World's Lords."
  • Verse 2 — This tax was the first1 and it occurred while Quirinius was chief over Syria2.

  • According to the church father Tertullian's statement, it was not Q but a certain Saturnius who was proconsul over Syria at the time of Jesus' birth. The Jewish historian Josefus states that Q became proconsul a few years later. Meanwhile, the Roman historian Tacitus suggests that Q had been proconsul over Syria just before Saturnius. In regard to all this, Luke's story about the decree to be taxed is simply that it began when Q was proconsul of Syria the first time but it could not be completed until his successor was in office. Q's second proconsulship was between the year 6 and 11 AD.
  • This was not really a call to be taxed, but, rather, a registration for census purposes in which it was a question of trying to ascertain the population, the size of the tribe, the country's assets, etc. A few years later Q calls for a real taxation which is talked about in Acts 5:37. Luke names both events the same and talks about the one in this text as the first.
  • Verse 3 — And all1 traveled each and everyone to their city2 to be taxed.

  • 1. Not all Romans, and only the Jews who did not live in the city of the tribe to which they belonged.
  • Even this circumstance indicates that this was not a call to be taxed, but a census. A census in Palestine, according to the old holy-to-them Jewish tribal division, was quite natural. A taxation in the Roman sense had nothing to do with tribal divisions.
  • Verse 4 — But even Josef traveled up from Galillee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to David's city1 which is called Bethlehem, because he was of David's house and family,2 (I Sam. 16:4; Mic 5:2; Matt. 1:1; John 7:42)

  • The city where David was born. (I Sam. 17:12)
  • The descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob were called tribes, the particular branches of these tribes were called family, and the particular families within these groups were called house. Josef belonged to the same branch and trunk as David and was a descendant of David's family.
  • Verse 5 — to be taxed, also Mary,1 his betrothed,2 who was pregnant.

  • Wives and children also had to be registered, but they did not have to be present. It was enough that their names were given by the man. Mary, therefore, followed Josef voluntarily. There is no indication in the text that Mary had an inheritance (Numbers 27:8) and owned property in Bethlehem. To the contrary, the text shows the only reason she traveled with Josef was because she was betrothed to him. The difficulty for them to find room in Bethlehem also substantiates that Mary did not own even a small place in Bethlehem.
  • Luke does not call her wife, only betrothed. When Matthew, however, tells the story, Josef took her as his wife right after he discovered that she was pregnant on the occasion of his particular revelation (Matt. 1:24). It appears that Josef discovers that she is pregnant when they are in Bethlehem. When they departed Nazareth, she was still only his betrothed. Some Bible scholars say that Luke calls her betrothed, because Josef, according to Matt. 1:25 had not yet had intercourse with her, although she was his wife. This is an argument in semantics.
  • Verse 6 — But it happened, while they were there, the days were complete1 that she should give birth.2

  • See comments to 1: 23: Verbatim: FULFILLLED (satisfied). A period of service was looked upon as a measure that had to be filled.
  • Very likely Mary had hoped to be home in Nazareth before she was due to deliver. Otherwise she probably would not have gone with Josef to Bethlehem since it was not required that she be there. However, the visit to Bethlehem took longer than originally thought. So God leads events so that the prophecy, without man's calculating or action, yes even without their conception, is accomplished. Because it was written that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem. (Mic. 5:2)
  • Verse 7 — And she gave birth1 to her firstborn2 son and wrapped him and laid him in a crib3 for there was no room for them in the lodge.4 (Math 1:25)

  • One cannot be sure about the year Jesus was born. According to the customary calendar we use he should have been born in the year 754 after the founding of Rome. But that chronology can not be correct. It is wrong by at least 4 years. Herod the great was still alive when Jesus was born and possibly for a few years after. Josef and Mary's flight to Egypt and visit there took place while Herod still lived. Herod died in the year 750 after Rome's founding. Jesus' birth could not have happened later than that year — that is to say 4 years before the beginning of our current calendar [reckoning].
  • That Luke calls Jesus Mary's firstborn son, shows that Mary had other children. One can, however, object to calling a woman's only child her firstborn, but it is always in mind that in the future she will give birth to other children. When one, however, talks about a woman giving birth to her firstborn whose marriage happened a long time ago, there can be no other meaning except that she gave birth to more children.
  • A very old and trustworthy saying is that the stall in which Josef and Mar y stayed during their visit to Bethlehem, was a cave close to the city. The saying is derived from Justinius Martyr, who was born in Sikem about the year 100, at the time when the evangelist John still lived. Justinius' story is confirmed by Origines (+254) who tells the story as it is familiar in Judea and acknowledged even by the unbelieving. A church was later built over the supposed place by the empress Helena in the beginning of the year 400 AD. The church still remains.
  • But lodge can mean either a public inn or a guest house. The former is most probable. The original word means only a place where one can find shelter.
  • Verse 8 — And some shepherds were in the same area, out in the fields1 and kept watch2 during the night over their flock.3

  • Under the open sky. The sheep were driven together at night into an enclosure that was surrounded by stone walls.
  • The original word is plural which indicates specific watch places.
  • There were several shepherds for the same flock. The story about the shepherds makes it unlikely that Jesus was born in December. According to the information available from the old rabbis, the flocks were driven out in March and taken back in again in November, when the rainy season started. Jesus was born sometime between March and November. The tradition of celebrating Jesus' birth in December started in the 5th century. Before that it was celebrated January 6th.
  • Verse 9 — And the Lord's angel stood beside1 them, and the Lord's glory2 beamed around them,3 and they were afraid with much fear.4

  • The expression in the original text denotes that the angel suddenly stood there, without anybody seeing him come.
  • That is to say the light of glory that surrounds God. (Acts 7:55; I Tim. 6:16; Psalms 104:2)
  • God's glorious light surrounded the angel as proof that he was an angel from God. And, when he came into the midst of the shepherds they were also surrounded by the same light.
  • Compare the expression in Matt. 2:10.
  • Verse 10 — And the angel said to them: Fear not; because, I proclaim to you a gospel about great joy, which shall be for the whole people;1

  • That is to say Israel's people. The angel does not talk about the salvation of the world through Christ. Not e the faithfulness of the evangelist's description when he does not put words in the angel's mouth which would otherwise have been beyond their comprehension. The Near Testament revelation comes down first to the Jewish viewpoint and later it gradually moves on. In God's revelations there are no abrupt stops. It is as Israel's savior that Jesus is first announced. Later the circle of viewers is widened more and more until Jesus, in the Gospel's full light, is presented as the Samaritan's (John 4; Acts 8:5-17) and, finally, even the heathens' savior. (Acts 10, 11:1-18; 15:1-29)
  • Verse 11 — because to you1 is born this day in David's city a savior, who is Christ the Lord.2

  • This word means the shepherds, since they belonged to the people.
  • Or a Lord. Compare Isaiah 9:7.
  • Verse 12 — And this shall be for you the sign:1 You shall find a wrapped child3 in a crib.3

  • Whereby you shall really understand that which I tell you. The shepherds did not ask for any signs as Zakarias had done. (1:18, compare II Kings 20:8ff) but the angel voluntarily enlightened them. (Compare Isaiah 7:10-14)
  • The original text signifies first a fetus in the womb (1:44) then a new born (Acts 7:19) suckling (I Peter 2:2). See the same word in 18:15 about the young children who are brought to Jesus.
  • A child, wrapped and lying in a manger.
  • Verse 13 — And suddenly there was1 with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host2 who glorified God and said:

  • That is to say joined together with him, or appeared revealed with him. (Compare John 1:6, 17; Mark 1:4)
  • The angel multitudes surround God's throne (I Kings 22:19; I I Chronicles 18:18; Psalms 103:21) God is therefore called Lord Zebaot — the heavenly multitude's Lord.
  • Verse 14 — Glory to God1 in the highest,2 and on earth peace3 among mankind4 of (God's) pleasure!5 Luke 1 9:38; Isaiah 57:19; Ephesians 2:17, 1:5

  • These words are not to be understood as a wish but as a triumphant outcry (Compare I Peter 4:11) whereby the angels proclaim that God is glorified in the heavens (namely by the multitude of angels) for that grace he has shown through the Messiah's birth. Even the angels are interested in Christ's work. See Colossians 1:19,20.
  • That is to say the highest heaven where God's throne is.
  • That is welfare, salvation.
  • Even these words are not to be understood as a wish, but a cry of victory. Now there is peace on earth among humankind. Christ was God's salvation and he lived already among people. God's salvation had come to earth.
  • That is to say humankind which is the object of God's pleasure. Thereby is meant the believers and, next to them, the believers of the old Israel who with steadfast hearts kept God's promise, waited for the promised savior, and walked in the Lord's commandments and laws. To such were the objects of God's pleasure. (Proverbs 3:12, 8:35, 11:20) and it was to them that salvation undeniably belonged. (I Timothy 4:10; Romans 1:16) Of such there were perhaps quite a few at the time of Jesus' birth. For example, Zakarias and Elizabeth (1:5-6), Josef and Mar y ( 1:2728), the shepherds mentioned here, Simeon (2:25) Hanna 2:36), and all those that she talked to about salvation in Jesus. The expression: people of Go d' s pleasure, or: God's cherished people is Hebrew. Similar expressions are common in the Bible . In Isaiah 41:10 it says God's righteous right hand, (= God's right hand, which is full of righteousness. Psalms 48:11); in Colossians 1:12 Christ is called God's loved son, which means that he is the object of God's love — God's beloved. In Luke 18:6 the unrighteous judge is called the judge of unrighteousness. By such expressions the strength of the creator is emphasized.
  • Verse 15 — And it happened, when the angels had departed from them to heaven. the shepherds1 said to each other: Let us now go to BethleAem and see this that has been told to us2 that has happened, which the Lord has announced to us

  • People, shepherds. The expression: people shows the opposite of the angels.
  • Verbatim: and see this talk.
  • Verse 16 — And they hurried and came and found Mary and Josef and the child1 lying in the crib.

  • Here is the same word as in verse 12.
  • Verse 17 — But when they hod seen this, they told1 of the word which had been told to them about this child.

  • Namely for Mary and Josef and others that were present.
  • Verse 18 — And all1 that heard it wondered about what had been told to them by the shepherds.

  • Those others who were present.
  • Verse 19 — But Mary kept accurately1 all these words and meditated2 on them in her heart.

  • The word in the original text means to actually keep together, and the expression emphasizes that she continually keeps it. With the others it stopped with wonder.
  • Verbatim: put together, collect. She collected the shepherds' words with each other in her heart, that is to say, reflected, pondered, so as to understand it correctly.
  • Verse 20 — And the shepherds turned around1 praising and glorifying God for all that they had heard and seen,2 as it had been told to them.3

  • To their fields.
  • In Bethlehem
  • Through the angel. That which they had heard and seen in Bethlehem was in agreement with what the angel had proclaimed to them.
  • Paul Peter Waldenström was a Swedish revival preacher, and served as editor of Pietisten from 1868-1917.

    See all articles by Paul Peter Waldenström

    Tommy Carlson remodels homes and is an editor of Pietisten.

    See all articles by Tommy Carlson