The messianic era dawned with a proclamation of God’s favor toward all humankind.
Modern readers tend to overlook the significance of the date of Quirinius’ census in the Infancy Narrative of Luke’s Gospel. Preachers and interpreters frequently point to Luke’s mention of the census as proof that God maneuvered even the pagan Roman authorities to bring about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Few note the significance of the date within the history of the Jewish people living in the land of Israel. It’s my feeling that the events surrounding the census of Quirinius drew Luke to mention it within his narrative and connect Jesus’ birth to this event.
The first of January, celebrated around the world as New Year’s Day, is also the eighth day of Christmas and, as such, the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. Of course, no one knows on what day of the year Jesus was actually born, but since it has become traditional to celebrate Jesus’ birth on the 25th of December, it follows that the first of January is the day on which Christians celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus.
Christmas approaches with its usual frenzy of decorations, shoppers, carols, cookies, and lights—all wrapped in joy, peace, and goodwill that is often, sadly, as thin as colored tissue paper. But this year, it’s even harder to “get into the spirit.” Hearts are heavy with grief and fear, especially following the deadly and deliberate attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Yet, another reality coexists with this present evil, just as it did on the first Christmas, when human misery also abounded—the reality of goodness.
Centuries of Christian readers have pondered the meaning of the Greek term Ναζωραῖος (Nazōraios), usually rendered Nazarene, and which Old Testament passages Matthew had in mind when he interpreted the relocation to Nazareth as a fulfillment of Scripture (Matt. 2:23). Where in the Hebrew Scriptures is it expected that the Redeemer will be called a Nazarene or come from Nazareth?
The oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament were written in Greek, but by comparing Matt. 1:21 in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek with the knowledge of the naming formula so common in the Hebrew Bible, we see that this verse only makes sense in Hebrew. Since the naming formula depends on a wordplay that does not work in Greek or Aramaic, Matt. 1:21, or the oral tradition behind it, had to be in Hebrew.
According to Leviticus 12, the presenting of the two turtledoves constituted the purification for childbirth. And in fact, the same thing seems to be implied concerning a woman’s menstrual period (Lev. 15:19ff.). Anyone who touches her or anything she has touched has to purify himself by washing, but nothing seems to be said about the woman washing herself at any time, either after childbirth or after her monthly period.
In the infancy narrative found in chapters one and two of Luke’s gospel, Luke has provided excellent character references for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Jesus’ mother and father show piety far beyond the usual, and the young Jesus is eager to be in the temple studying Torah with the teachers of Israel.
One of the titles given to Jesus was “Nazarene.” Where did the title come from, and did it have any special significance? Ray Pritz traces the title’s origins.
We continually need to refine our understanding of Gospel passages by viewing them together with what is known of their original cultural setting. In some cases a more informed understanding can be communicated easily in a translation, and a good translation will reflect that fuller, culturally appropriate understanding. We will look at two examples of this: a simple one in Luke 2:28-32, and a more difficult one in Luke 2:34-35.
Christmas brings many carols and cards containing the words from Luke 2:14, “Goodwill to men” and “Peace to men of goodwill.” The angels praised God with words that in English may sound like a politician wishing us to “Have a nice day.” Most of us sense that these words reflect something deeper, but why did the angels use such seemingly innocuous words?
- Page 1 of 2