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Luke 2:1-7

Context
The Census and the Birth of Jesus

2:1 Now 1  in those days a decree 2  went out from Caesar 3  Augustus 4  to register 5  all the empire 6  for taxes. 2:2 This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor 7  of Syria. 2:3 Everyone 8  went to his own town 9  to be registered. 2:4 So 10  Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth 11  in Galilee to Judea, to the city 12  of David called Bethlehem, 13  because he was of the house 14  and family line 15  of David. 2:5 He went 16  to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, 17  and who was expecting a child. 2:6 While 18  they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 19  2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth 20  and laid him in a manger, 21  because there was no place for them in the inn. 22 

1 tn Grk “Now it happened that.” The introductory phrase ἐγένετο (egeneto, “it happened that”), common in Luke (69 times) and Acts (54 times), is redundant in contemporary English and has not been translated.

2 sn This decree was a formal decree from the Roman Senate.

3 tn Or “from the emperor” (“Caesar” is a title for the Roman emperor).

4 sn Caesar Augustus refers to Octavian, who was Caesar from 27 b.c. to a.d. 14. He was known for his administrative prowess.

5 tn Grk “that all the empire should be registered for taxes.” The passive infinitive ἀπογράφεσθαι (apografesqai) has been rendered as an active in the translation to improve the English style. The verb is regarded as a technical term for official registration in tax lists (BDAG 108 s.v. ἀπογράφω a).

sn This census (a decree…to register all the empire) is one of the more disputed historical remarks in Luke. Josephus (Ant. 18.1.1 [18.1-2]) only mentions a census in a.d. 6, too late for this setting. Such a census would have been a massive undertaking; it could have started under one ruler and emerged under another, to whose name it became attached. This is one possibility to explain the data. Another is that Quirinius, who became governor in Syria for the later census, may have been merely an administrator for this census. See also Luke 2:2.

6 tn Grk “the whole (inhabited) world,” but this was a way to refer to the Roman empire (L&N 1.83).

7 tn Or “was a minister of Syria.” This term could simply refer to an administrative role Quirinius held as opposed to being governor (Josephus, Ant. 18.4.2 [18.88]). See also Luke 2:1.

8 tn Grk “And everyone.” Here καί (kai) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and English style.

9 tn Or “hometown” (so CEV).

10 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the consequential nature of the action.

11 sn On Nazareth see Luke 1:26.

map For location see Map1 D3; Map2 C2; Map3 D5; Map4 C1; Map5 G3.

12 tn Or “town.” The translation “city” is used here because of its collocation with “of David,” suggesting its importance, though not its size.

13 sn The journey from Nazareth to the city of David called Bethlehem was a journey of about 90 mi (150 km). Bethlehem was a small village located about 7 miles south-southwest of Jerusalem.

map For location see Map5 B1; Map7 E2; Map8 E2; Map10 B4.

14 sn Luke’s use of the term “house” probably alludes to the original promise made to David outlined in the Nathan oracle of 2 Sam 7:12-16, especially in light of earlier connections between Jesus and David made in Luke 1:32. Further, the mention of Bethlehem reminds one of the promise of Mic 5:2, namely, that a great king would emerge from Bethlehem to rule over God’s people.

15 tn Or “family,” “lineage.”

16 tn The words “He went” are not in the Greek text, but have been supplied to begin a new sentence in the translation. The Greek sentence is longer and more complex than normal contemporary English usage.

17 tn Traditionally, “Mary, his betrothed.” Although often rendered in contemporary English as “Mary, who was engaged to him,” this may give the modern reader a wrong impression, since Jewish marriages in this period were typically arranged marriages. The term ἐμνηστευμένῃ (emnhsteumenh) may suggest that the marriage is not yet consummated, not necessarily that they are not currently married. Some mss read “the betrothed to him wife”; others, simply “his wife.” These readings, though probably not original, may give the right sense.

18 tn Grk “And it happened that while.” The introductory phrase ἐγένετο (egeneto, “it happened that”), common in Luke (69 times) and Acts (54 times), is redundant in contemporary English and has not been translated. Here καί (kai) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and English style.

19 tn The words “her child” are not in the Greek text, but have been supplied to clarify what was being delivered. The wording here is like Luke 1:57. Grk “the days for her to give birth were fulfilled.”

20 sn The strips of cloth (traditionally, “swaddling cloths”) were strips of linen that would be wrapped around the arms and legs of an infant to keep the limbs protected.

21 tn Or “a feeding trough.”

22 tn The Greek word κατάλυμα is flexible, and usage in the LXX and NT refers to a variety of places for lodging (see BDAG 521 s.v.). Most likely Joseph and Mary sought lodging in the public accommodations in the city of Bethlehem (see J. Nolland, Luke [WBC], 1:105), which would have been crude shelters for people and animals. However, it has been suggested by various scholars that Joseph and Mary were staying with relatives in Bethlehem (e.g., C. S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 194; B. Witherington, “Birth of Jesus,” DJG, 69-70); if that were so the term would refer to the guest room in the relatives’ house, which would have been filled beyond capacity with all the other relatives who had to journey to Bethlehem for the census.

sn There was no place for them in the inn. There is no drama in how this is told. There is no search for a variety of places to stay or a heartless innkeeper. (Such items are later, nonbiblical embellishments.) Bethlehem was not large and there was simply no other place to stay. The humble surroundings of the birth are ironic in view of the birth’s significance.



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