The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

1. Prophecies concerning the coming messiah, 1:5-2:40

v] The vision glorious, 2:1-21

a) The birth of Jesus


Luke now recounts the birth of Jesus, identifying its moment in history (aprox. 6/5BC), its place and humble circumstance.


The gospel's infant narratives herald the dawning of the messianic era, testifying that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah.


i] Context: See 1:5-25. The birth of Jesus is part of the fifth episode covering the dawn of the messianic age, 1:5-2:40. In this section of the gospel, The prophecies concerning the coming messiah, Luke gathers together a group of visions and prophesies.


ii] Structure: This narrative, The birth of Jesus, presents as follows:

Setting, v1-3:

The census ordered by Caesar Augustus.

Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem, v4-5;

The birth of Jesus, v6-7.


iii] Interpretation:

In the birth of Jesus, we find the moment of messianic fulfillment, the moment when God's eternal plan comes to fruition. Although Luke doesn't say that the story fulfills prophecy, it is more than likely that he draws on the imagery of Micah 5:2-5 to shape the story of Jesus' birth. Micah prophesies concerning a mother who gives birth to a prince of Israel in Bethlehem, and how that prince will shepherd scattered Israel, bringing peace, not just to Israel, but to the whole world. Along with this prophetic imagery, Luke underlines some powerful symbolism. For example, even the Roman Empire is employed by God to achieve this moment of messianic fulfilment, and the fact that there is no room in the inn alludes to the coming humiliation of the Son of Man - instead of a throne he will be lifted up on a cross.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.


The birth of Jesus: v1-7: Luke introduces this episode by explaining the presence of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, recounting the story from within the frame of the messianic promise contained in Micah 5:2 which text references the town of Bethlehem.

i] Setting, v1-3: Luke plays the part of the historian and dates the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born during the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus - 27BC to 14AD. Augustus unified the empire, extending the power of government, and this included the implementation of an imperial census. The registration was most likely initiated by Herod the Great around 6BC while Palestine was still a vassal kingdom under Roman authority. Luke distinguishes this registration from the census initiated by Quirinius in 6AD while he was the governor of Syria. The NIV translation implies that the census referred to in v1 took place "while" he was governor, rather than "before". In a Roman census people were not normally forced to return to their place of birth to be registered. Egypt and Palestine seem to have been exceptions. Both Joseph and Mary are from the Bethlehem region and so return together. Jerusalem is normally spoken of as the "city of David", but Bethlehem is the town of David's origin and of messianic fulfilment, Mic.5:2.

de "-" - but, and. Here transitional, indicating the next step in the story; "now", or untranslated as NIV.

en + dat. "in [those days]" - Here introducing a temporal prepositional phrase. The period of time is not identified, but it does face us with time-line problems. The annunciation takes place while Herod is king. Herod dies in 4BC. Caesar reigns from 27BC to 14AD, but Quirinius is governor of Syria from 6-7AD. The date and extent of the census also gives us problems, see below. Has Luke got his facts wrong, or are we to take it that Jesus was born some ten years after the annunciation? The implication is that Jesus was born during the reign of king Herod.

para + gen. "-" - from [Caesar Augustus]. Here expressing source; "from beside." Caesar's full name was Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.

dogma (a atoV) "a decree" - Issued by a person of unquestionable authority.

apografesqai (apografw) pres. pas/mid. inf. "that a census should be taken of" - to register. If middle the sense is "to register oneself." The infinitive is epexegetic explaining the content of dogma, "a decree"; "that ....", as NIV; "for a census of the whole Empire", Weymouth.

thn oikoumenhn (h) "the [entire] Roman wold" - all the world = inhabited earth. The participle serves as a substantive. Obviously not the "inhabited earth", but rather the Roman "Empire", Weymouth. Luke may be alluding to the world wide effect of Christ's birth, but it is more likely that he uses the term for the Roman Empire. There is no extant evidence of a census covering the entire Empire. The purpose of a census usually related to taxation and service in the military.


egeneto (ginomai) aor. "[this] was" - Textual disruption exists at this point. The NIV takes au{th as the nominative subject and apograqh prowth as the predicate nominative of the verb egeneto. Other translation possibilities exist, see Culy. "This was the first census (and it took place) while Quirinius was governor of Syria."

prwth adj. "the first [census]" - first, prominent, former [registration, enrolement]. Possibly standing for proteron + gen. "this census was / took place / happened before Quirinius was governor", so Nolland, Lagrange... This interpretation deals with the time-line problem referred to above, although it is not widely accepted. Taken as an adjective, "first" may mean "first of many", or even first in the sense of "the beginning of the census."

hJgemoneuontoV (hJgemoneuw) gen. pres. part. "while [Quirinius] was governor" - is governing. Genitive absolute participle forming a temporal clause, as NIV.

thV SuriaV (a) "of Syria" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination.


panteV adj. "everyone" - all, every = everyone. Luke is only loosely describing the census activity. Evidence from a Roman census taken in Egypt indicates that a census was property based - people had to return to where they held property for a determination of their poll tax duties. If this applied in Palestine then Joseph must have owned property in Bethlehem.

eJautou gen. pro. "own [town]" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

apografesqai (apografw) pres. inf. "to register" - The infinitive forms a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to be registered." "Listed", CEV.


ii] Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem, v4-5: The implication is that Mary and Joseph are now married, although Luke describes them as "betrothed" (some manuscripts say "married"). Luke is probably aligning with the Matthean tradition (Matt.1:24-25) that, although Mary and Joseph lived together, they did not consummate the marriage till after the birth of Jesus. The perpetual virginity of Mary is not found in scripture. The term "first-born" in v7 indicates that other children were born to the family. Luke would have used the word "only born" if Jesus were the only child, cf. 7:12.

de kai "so" - but and. This construction is common in Luke's gospel. It's function is not overly clear, but seems to be transitional, in that it indicates a move to the next point. Sometimes like "and so" works well, but often best left untranslated.

anebh (anabainw) aor. "went up" - In Old Testament usage a person goes up to Judea, up in the sense of "up on high", Isa.7:6, 2Kgs.18:13..... Interestingly, in Australia, people go up when they go North, and go down when they go South, so "up" to Bethlehem carries a particular geographical sense which for an Australian doesn't work, given that Bethlehem is 63 miles South of Nazareth. "Journeyed to the highland town of Bethlehem."

apo ...... ek ... "from [the town of Nazareth] in Galilee" - The intended sense of the prepositions is not immediately clear. apo, "from", usually express source, and ek, in its context, can also express source, such that ek is being used for a district/province, while apo is being used for towns/villages, so Plummer. "So Joseph went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth", Barclay.

Dauid gen. "[the town] of David" - [to city] of David [which is called Bethlehem]. The assumed genitive would be adjectival, possibly possessive, but certainly descriptive, limiting "town/city"; "the city where David reigned", Culy. The definite article for polin, "city", must be assumed as it dropped here following Semitic form; "the city of David". "Long ago Bethlehem had been king David's home town", CEV.

dia to einai "because he belonged" - because he was. This preposition with the accusative of the articular infinitive usually forms a causal clause, as NIV. "Because he was a direct descendent of David", Phillips.

ex (ek) "belonged to [the house and line]" - out of, from [house and family]. Expressing source.

Dauid gen. "of David" - Genitive is adjectival, relational; "of David's house and linage", Cassirer.


apograyasqai (apografw) aor. inf. "to register" - Again the infinitive is used to form a purpose clause, "in order to register."

sun + dat. "with [Mary]" - Expressing association; "together with." For a Roman citizen it would not be necessary for the wife to register for the poll tax, but for non citizens, all women over the age of 12 had to register. It was obviously required to see who had to pay the poll tax. The "with Mary" may be linked with "he went up", v4, so "with him went Mary", REB, or as with the NIV etc., linked with "to register", "to be registered with his future wife", Phillips.

tn/ emnhsteumenh/ (mnhsteuw) perf. pas. part. "who was pledged to be married" - having been betrothed, engaged. The participle probably forms an adjectival clause, attributive, limiting "Mary", as NIV, but possibly substantival standing in apposition to Mary; "Mary, the one engaged to him." A strong variant reading without the article supports an adjectival translation. There are a number of readings at this point implying that Joseph and Mary are now married, but that is likely to be the meaning anyway since it would be improper for a betrothed couple to travel together, so Plummer. The sense is possibly that although now married the marriage has not been consummated, ie. Mary is a virgin. "To whom he was engaged", NRSV.

autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - Dative of direct object.

ou[sh/ (eimi) dat. pres. part. "was [expecting a child]" - being [pregnant]. The participle is probably adjectival, attributive, further limiting Mary, as NIV.


iii] Luke now sparingly records the scene of Jesus' birth, v6-7. A Palestinian public house would normally supply quarters for the poor, those who were priced out of standard accommodation during the peak season, eg., a census. Such accommodation would likely be adjacent to the stables. For the birth, Mary obviously moved out of the hut into the stable where the new-born Jesus is placed in an animal feeding trough. There is a strong tradition that the stable was a cave, and this is certainly not unknown - caves make excellent stables. Although the scene is depicted in Christian tradition as one of simple beauty, it is actually a scene of humiliation. The humiliation of Jesus begins in a cave and ends on a cross.

egeneto "-" - it came to pass, it came about. Always highlighting a climax in a narrative, although Luke tells the story simply and without any fuss. Note that there are many additions/assumptions in the telling of this story which have developed into an elaborate urban myth, eg. that all the accommodation was taken up in Bethlehem, that Joseph and Mary were short of funds / poor, that the innkeeper forced them into his barn, .... "Now it happened that", NJB.

en tw/ einai "while [they] were [there]" - The articular infinitive of the verb to-be, following the preposition en, usually forms a temporal clause, as NIV. Again the time is undefined, but presumably it coincides with the census, but then ...... "The time for her to have a child arrived while they were there", Cassirer.

eplhsqhsan aiJ hJmerai "the time came" - the days were fulfilled = the fulfilment of the days. "Her days were completed", Berkeley.

tou tekein (tiktw) aor. inf. "[for the baby] to be born" - her [to give birth]. An epexegetic infinitive explaining "the time / days." "The time came for her to deliver her child", Green.


authV gen. pro. "her" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.

ton prwtotokon adj. "firstborn" - Given the article, this adjective seems to be functioning as a substantive in apposition to "son"; "she gave birth to the/a son, her firstborn." This fact is noted to emphasize the privileges of the firstborn child, although possibly to indicate that Mary had other children, so Hendriksen, or even to express Jesus' right to inherit the throne of David, so Danker.

esparganwsen (sparganow) aor. "she wrapped [him in strips of cloth]" - she wrapped in cloths. Wrapping in swaddling cloths was normal practice for a Palestinian mother. A similar practice is performed at death. Luke is possibly linking Jesus' birth and death at this point. "Wrapped him round", Weymouth.

en + dat. "in" -Expressing space/sphere. "Put him to bed", Evans.

fatnh/ (h) "a manger" - a feeding trough, or box for cattle in a stable. "Stall", Moffatt.

dioti "because" - Causal conjunction introducing a causal clause, as NIV.

topoV (oV) "no room" - place, situation, space... Lit. "there was no space for them." There may have been space for Joseph and Mary in the inn / home in which they wanted to stay, but not also for a newborn child, given that the guests may like to have a decent sleep.

autoiV dat. pro. "for them" - [there was not] for them. Dative of interest, advantage.

en + dat. "in" - Expressing space/sphere.

tw/ katalumati (a) "the inn" - a place of lodging, possibly an inn, but also it could be a guest room or any place where a person could stay. "The village guest-house", Barclay.


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