Troublesome Topic: THE STRATEGIC USE OF NAMES IN LUKE 2

Luke 2:1

Translation

Now it came to pass in those days that

a decree went out from CAESAR

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AUGUSTUS,

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to register

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everyone in the inhabited world.

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Paraphrase

Now it happened that, during that same time we have been speaking of,

a decree was communicated from THE EMPEROR, THE ONE WHO HAD INCREASED SO AS TO BECOME MAJESTIC AND DIVINE, that everyone in the Roman Empire’s realm must be inscribed in the registry.

Luke 2:2

Translation

This registration was the first one by QUIRINIUS, governor of SYRIA.

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Paraphrase

This was the first registration done by THE WARRIOR, whom you know as the man who later became the governor over THE ROCK.

Luke 2:4

Translation

So JOSEPH

went up from

GALILEE, out of the town of NAZARETH,

to JUDEA, to the city of DAVID, which is called BETHLEHEM,

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since he was of the house and family

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of DAVID,

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Paraphrase

So THE ONE WHO IS INCREASING went from THE HEATHEN CIRCLE, specifically from THE HOLY SPROUT, to the land of THOSE HOT-HEADED, TROUBLESOME JEWS, to the city of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED, which is also THE HOUSE OF BREAD, since he

was of the house and family of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED.

Luke 2:11

Translation

for a savior has been born to you

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in the city of DAVID, he is CHRIST,

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THE LORD.

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Paraphrase

Here is that good news: the savior you have been expecting has arrived in the city of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED, he is THE ONE ENDUED WITH THE POWER OF GOD’S SPIRIT,

in fact he is THE SUPREME RULER Himself.

Luke 2:15

Translation

And it happened, as soon as the angels had departed into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Indeed, let us go to BETHLEHEM to see this word

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that has come to pass, which THE LORD has made known to us.”

Paraphrase

This is what happened as soon

as the angels had departed

into heaven; the shepherds said

to one another,

“What we must do is obvious, let’s go to THE HOUSE OF BREAD to see the proof of how this word has been fulfilled, which THE SUPREME RULER has revealed to us.”

Luke 2:15

Translation

And it happened, as soon as the angels had departed into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Indeed, let us go to BETHLEHEM to see this word

Go to footnote number

that has come to pass, which THE LORD has made known to us.”

Paraphrase

This is what happened as soon

as the angels had departed

into heaven; the shepherds said

to one another,

“What we must do is obvious, let’s go to THE HOUSE OF BREAD to see the proof of how this word has been fulfilled, which THE SUPREME RULER has revealed to us.”

Luke 2:16

Translation

And they departed quickly

and found both MARY and JOSEPH,

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and also the babe, who was lying in a manger.

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Paraphrase

And they left immediately and made their way hurriedly [into town] and found both THE [PREVIOUSLY] REBELLIOUS ONE, and THE ONE WHO IS INCREASING, and also the baby, who was lying in a manger.

Luke 2:25

Translation

And behold,

there was a man in JERUSALEM whose name was SIMEON;

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this man was righteous and devout,

 

waiting for the consolation

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of ISRAEL,

and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Paraphrase

Now then, get ready to be amazed, for there was a man who lived in THE PEACEFUL PLACE whose name was

“I HAVE BEEN HEARD BY GOD;” this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the comfort of THOSE WHO ARE TENACIOUS AND PERSISTENT IN SHOWING GOD HOW SERIOUS THEY ARE ABOUT HOLDING ON TO GOD IN ORDER TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY PROMISED, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Luke 2:26

Translation

And it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit for him to not see death until he should see the LORD’S CHRIST.

Paraphrase

It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not experience death until he saw the coming of the SPIRIT ANOINTED SAVIOR from THE SUPREME RULER.

Luke 2:36

Translation

Then there was ANNA,

daughter of PHANUEL

of the tribe of ASHER.

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She was greatly advanced in years, having lived seven years from her marriage,

Paraphrase

Then there was also THE ONE WHO WAS FULL OF THE GRACE OF GOD’S FAVOR. She came from THE FACE OF GOD WHICH REVEALS ALL HIS INNER QUALITIES, and therefore she was HAPPY AND BLESSED. She was very old,

in fact, she had been married for seven years,

Footnotes

1: The name Caesar

At first this was only the name of a person, Julius Caesar. However, he was so powerful that emperors after him took that name for themselves in order to show that they too were powerful. In that way it became a title rather than a name. It is ironic that we don’t know the meaning of the name; it is just a name that became a title. Amid cultures in which all the names had meaning and most of those meanings were known to everyone, the meaning of this name seems to have been lost. Once again God downplayed the importance of the powerful in order to lift up the importance of the weak and lowly.

2: The name Augustus

Here we find another powerful and beautiful irony that only an understanding of biblical names can reveal. “Augustus” meant “increased, majestic, divine,” or “one who has increased so as to become majestic and divine.” However, the major emphasis of the name is the idea of “one who has increased.” Do you recall someone else with a name that means “increases or increasing?” It was Joseph. So we now have a story that includes two people with similar names (although they sound very different because they come from different languages). I’m sure the people of that day who understood the meanings of names saw God’s story-telling prowess in the “match-up” of these two men. It was undeniable that one of them had increased or grown powerful beyond the wildest dreams of most human beings. He was so great he thought of himself as the essence of “majesty” and a member of the circle of the gods. You could not get any higher, or increase any more, than Caesar Augustus had. However, in God’s matchless story-telling ability, He presents another person who is increasing. This fellow doesn’t look like much right now, in fact he is a debt-riddled laborer who is engaged to a young lady who finds herself pregnant in what is assumed by others to be a shameful, disgraceful way. So this man, rather than increasing right away, will first be demoted and will endure shame, ridicule, loss of reputation and therefore loss of opportunities. From a human perspective there is no comparison at all between Joseph and Augustus.

But Joseph’s step-son will prove to be the very Son of God, the Savior of the world, bringing to mankind what no human can bring, even powerful rulers like Caesar Augustus.

This is a comparison of two ways you can choose from if you want to “increase.” You can grow powerful in the ways of this world, stepping on others, ruling ruthlessly, and caring only about yourself, or you can follow God no matter how painful that may be and allow God to make you “increase.” You can choose to increase in ways that will only matter for a short time, or you can choose to increase in the ways that will matter for eternity.

In yet another of God’s beautiful, subtle forms of communication, this comparison is not highlighted or made a big deal of. It is there for us to find, and once we do, it speaks for itself. The conclusion of the matter, which method of increasing is best, is not stated, and does not need to be. The comparison is there and that is enough; the story tells everything we need to know.

One more thing. How many people do you know of who have been given the name Joseph? How many people do you know of that were given the name Augustus? The comparison is now complete.

3: “register"

The Greek word used here comes from two words, the preposition “off, from, away,” and the verb “to write.” The preposition centers around the idea of separation; here they would separate people by writing them down according to categories of some kind. It can properly be described as a census, or a registration, and it was obviously for the purpose of taxation.

4: “inhabited world”

This Greek word comes from the word “house, or dwelling.” That is why it means “that which is inhabited, or habitable.” When tied with the word “all” it means “the entire inhabited world.” Through Roman eyes that meant something similar to what we call “the civilized world.” This means there were some who were not included in that word “all.” Since it came from the word “house,” the person using the word could define the extent and reach of his “house.” The Romans used it to mean, “the entire Roman Empire,” because those outside it did not count in their minds, for they were not part of their “house.”

This is very different from the word “world” (“cosmos”) used in Jn 3:16. God loved the entire world, meaning the entire created cosmos, i.e. all living beings and their environs. God’s “all” includes everyone; the Roman Emperor’s “all” only included those of his “house.”

5: “Governor of Syria”

According to Edersheim, such a census or registration would have been most repugnant to all Jews. David got himself and the whole country in trouble with God for ordering a census that God had not ordered. Here it was a wicked, foreign ruler who was ordering this census so he could tax them more heavily. If the Gospel accounts were invented and not real, the inclusion of such an event would make no sense. However, Luke includes it in order to highlight the situation into which Jesus came, one of a people stirred up, riled up, angered and not happy to comply. While most of the Roman Empire was now peaceful, Judea remained a hot spot. In other areas, even if the people were not happy about Roman rule, they were unwilling to fight back. A significant percentage of Jews remained defiant and combative. Any ruler assigned to Judea knew he had trouble on his hands.

However, there is a problem with this census. Quirinius’s rule as governor of Syria did not start till 10 or 12 years later. This has caused some scholars to suggest that Luke made a mistake. We should never be quick to make such an accusation for Luke was much closer to the situation than we are. The Greek phrase in question uses a participle that can be translated in two primary ways, “by Quirinius, the governor of Syria,” or “when the one governing Syria was Quirinius.” Said participle is being used to place the emphasis on the person’s identity, i.e. governor; does it also intend to establish the timing of the census? Of several resolutions presented, Dr. Lardner’s seems to be the best; he says that Luke was calling Quirinius by the title he was later known by, so as to not confuse him with other men by that name. This means that the Emperor sent Quirinius to be in charge of the census in that troublesome spot called Judea, and because he did a good job (i.e. he was ruthless) he was promoted and later became governor of the Roman province called Syria. Because he had shown that he knew how to handle the Jews, Judea was then made a holding of Syria. When Luke wrote his account of the life of Jesus and sent it to Theophilus, the latter knew Quirinius as the man who was or had been the governor of Syria, but may not have known him as the one who took that census. We conclude then that Luke got the identity of the man correct; he did not choose to go into details about the timing issues because they were irrelevant to this story.

6: Bethlehem

Though the meanings of the names used in this verse may seem like a jumbled mess, a pattern can be seen here; Nazareth and Bethlehem were both places with God-centered names set in areas dominated by ungodly influences and characterized by the strife that such influences bring. This is a perfect picture of what Jesus came to do. He was pure and godly, but he came to a place full of ungodly influences and strife. He did not come to hang out with the good people, but to love, accept, and save the bad people. He was here for one reason, to provide salvation from sin, and He knew that to provide for sinners He needed to get close to them, to be where they were, to connect with them and even be considered by some to be one of them.

Because God has reached out to us in the midst of our strife, surrounded by evil influences, we can remain spiritually healthy and even be a positive influence in that setting. We do not need to become contaminated by the world, we can stay spiritually strong because He has reached into our situation to bring us what we could not provide for ourselves.

Bethlehem had always stood as a reminder of God’s provision for our physical needs. Now God was using this place to provide life-giving sustenance of another kind. God would indeed prove to be our provider through this little child, born into great turmoil amid many evil influences.

7: “the house and family”

This phrase tells us something about how the census was carried out. It seems to have been somewhat of a compromise in which the Romans allowed the Jews to partially follow their ancient system of census-taking, which was along the lines of Tribe, Clan, then Family, and as such was different from the Roman style of census-taking which was based either on location of birth or residence. Such a compromise was intended to keep those hot-headed, troublesome Jews calm, but the fact that it was a census performed by a heathen, sinful ruler would have received push-back from the Jews anyway, and required a heavy-handed approach by the Romans in order to pull it off.

8: “of David”

Belonging to the realm of authority in which they all knew they were “loved by God” clearly placed Joseph and Mary on the Godly side of the equation, not a part of the sinful influences of the times, and not fomenters of strife. We also know it made Joseph and Mary eligible as earthly parents of the Messiah, who must come from the lineage of David in order to fulfill the Scriptures.

9: “born to you”

This is an interesting choice of words, for usually that manner of speaking about a baby that has been born is reserved for the parents. At the center of the phrase “is born to you” is the idea of expectancy. The parents are always the ones that are the most desirous for the child to “arrive.” Thus it fits to say to parents “this child was born to you.” The reason it fit the shepherds as well is that they were waiting expectantly for the Messiah figure to come. Others were awaiting the Messiah for political reasons (to get rid of Rome), but these guys just wanted to feel human again and know they were accepted.

The shepherds were quite possibly more aware of their unacceptable status than others were. In their case they were unacceptable for no real fault of their own, only that they could not go to the temple on schedule and perform the expected rituals. They were not more sinful than others, but they lacked opportunity to become “clean.” Their situation was a picture of one of the types of people the true Messiah had come to reach out to. Jesus did not come for the people who thought they were already righteous, or the people who had no spiritual hunger, or those who lacked a desire to change their lives for God. He came for the rejected, the unaccepted, the openly sinful, those who lacked opportunity, and every person that recognized his own sinfulness.

10

“Christ” means Messiah which means Anointed one, which means one who is filled with the power of the Spirit of God. Since I only have two columns to work with, not four, the paraphrase column jumps right to the final meaning.

11: “The Lord”

This was a new concept for the Jews. They believed God would choose a man from among them to become their leader and liberate them from political oppression, and by so doing, grant them more freedom to worship and obey God as they desired. They did not think God would wear skin the way humans do. They did not envision God, the Creator of all things, the all-knowing, all-powerful One, becoming a helpless infant just like we once were, going through the growth process like we do, going through puberty like we do, sweating like we do, experiencing indigestion, diarrhea, fatigue, loneliness, rejection etc. etc. like we do. So for these shepherds it was a shock to hear that the Messiah figure would be God Himself, and that God was to be found in the form of a helpless newborn baby.

12: “to see this word”

Here is that same Greek word meaning “word” which was used earlier. It can refer to a “matter, or an event” but the people of Luke’s day would have always kept in mind that it really meant a “word.” Where we would simply say a “thing” or a “matter” Luke chose a term that highlighted the reality that this was not happening in a vacuum, it was happening because it was predetermined by God to happen, and He had spoken it into reality, much like He spoke the universe into reality as described in Genesis chapter 1. By using this term the reader should know this “thing,” this “event” had to happen, for it was spoken beforehand and the spoken word of God required that it be so. Notice that the words following this word highlight fulfillment – “that has come to pass.” God’s “words” always come to pass, are always fulfilled, always become reality.

This may remind you of Isaiah 55:11, where God states, “So shall my word be which goes forth from my mouth, it does not return to me empty-handed, for it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall succeed in whatever I send it to do.” But this begs the question, “Why is not everyone who hears the word of God saved?” The reason why this causes us consternation is that we have misunderstood the purpose of God’s word. God does not intend His word to save, but to separate or divide. It does so by revealing what is in the heart of a man. The Law served that same purpose. The Law was intended to train the heart in the ways of God, and in so doing it revealed one’s attitude toward God Himself. Today each of us is either following God’s words or rebelling against them. God’s dealings with men has always been, and will always be, about the heart. In the book of Revelation this idea of dividing people by revealing what is in their hearts is featured quite prominently.

Think of the words of Jesus that follow the parable of the sower, “Indeed, whoever has will be given more, and he will be in a state of abundance; moreover, whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12). Why would God treat people like that? Once again it is about the heart. Jesus was saying that those who have spiritual hunger will be given more spiritual hunger, and those who have no hunger for God will continue to go further and further from God unless something shakes them up and wakes them from their spiritual stupor.

Thus, God does fulfill His words. When He speaks He fully intends to fulfill it, and He has the power to do so. We need to be sure we properly understand what God’s intentions are. The people of Jesus’ day thought they understood the reason for the coming of a Messiah, but most of them were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah.

13: “to see this word”

Here is that same Greek word meaning “word” which was used earlier. It can refer to a “matter, or an event” but the people of Luke’s day would have always kept in mind that it really meant a “word.” Where we would simply say a “thing” or a “matter” Luke chose a term that highlighted the reality that this was not happening in a vacuum, it was happening because it was predetermined by God to happen, and He had spoken it into reality, much like He spoke the universe into reality as described in Genesis chapter 1. By using this term the reader should know this “thing,” this “event” had to happen, for it was spoken beforehand and the spoken word of God required that it be so. Notice that the words following this word highlight fulfillment – “that has come to pass.” God’s “words” always come to pass, are always fulfilled, always become reality.

This may remind you of Isaiah 55:11, where God states, “So shall my word be which goes forth from my mouth, it does not return to me empty-handed, for it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall succeed in whatever I send it to do.” But this begs the question, “Why is not everyone who hears the word of God saved?” The reason why this causes us consternation is that we have misunderstood the purpose of God’s word. God does not intend His word to save, but to separate or divide. It does so by revealing what is in the heart of a man. The Law served that same purpose. The Law was intended to train the heart in the ways of God, and in so doing it revealed one’s attitude toward God Himself. Today each of us is either following God’s words or rebelling against them. God’s dealings with men has always been, and will always be, about the heart. In the book of Revelation this idea of dividing people by revealing what is in their hearts is featured quite prominently.

Think of the words of Jesus that follow the parable of the sower, “Indeed, whoever has will be given more, and he will be in a state of abundance; moreover, whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12). Why would God treat people like that? Once again it is about the heart. Jesus was saying that those who have spiritual hunger will be given more spiritual hunger, and those who have no hunger for God will continue to go further and further from God unless something shakes them up and wakes them from their spiritual stupor.

Thus, God does fulfill His words. When He speaks He fully intends to fulfill it, and He has the power to do so. We need to be sure we properly understand what God’s intentions are. The people of Jesus’ day thought they understood the reason for the coming of a Messiah, but most of them were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah.

14: “both Mary and Joseph”

Notice that the text mentions Mary first. That was quite rare in those days, and is used to emphasize yet again that Mary was the mother, but Joseph was not really the father.

15: “lying in a manger”

Here was the confirmation of what the angel had told them.

16: The name Simeon

This name means “heard by God.” Simeon had been praying for the consolation of Israel, and God had promised that he would see the Christ before he died. So he waited. Now God had shown that He had indeed “heard” his request.

17: “consolation"

This word is the same one used of the Holy Spirit in John chapters 14, 15 and 16, and is often translated there as “the comforter, the encourager, the advocate, or the one who comes along side.” This man was waiting for the special action of God to bring comfort and encouragement to Israel, and he saw the beginning of it. We are blessed to know the end of the story too, how Jesus sent the Holy Spirit in His place to comfort, encourage, guide and be our advocate.

18

Asher was one of the tribes that did not survive its exile into captivity. The ten tribes that were taken captive by the Assyrians were not allowed to live grouped together but were scattered among other people the Assyrians had captured. The Assyrians also brought people from elsewhere into the area those ten tribes had previously occupied, creating the hated people which in the New Testament are called the Samaritans. This mixing was done to make it harder for the captives to maintain their bloodlines, their language, their customs, and their cultural identity. It also meant they were less likely to band together and start a revolt. Without very many Jewish girls around, a Jewish young man may opt to marry a Gentile, and that was exactly what the Assyrians wanted. The Assyrians’ plan worked just as they had intended, and that is why very few Jews from those ten tribes could later claim to have a pure Jewish bloodline; instead those tribes melted away and became a mixture of many things. Without a pure bloodline one would have no claim to land in Israel, no claim to positions of authority, and no reason to keep track of his genealogy.

But Anna knew her genealogy and was happy to tell others about it. The insertion of this bit of information into the narrative serves to inform us that 1) her family had somehow managed to stay pure during the time of their captivity in Assyria, and had managed to return, OR 2) they had stayed behind in northern Israel but had not mixed with those around them, OR 3) they had moved to the southern kingdom shortly after the split, had lived in Judah or Benjamin until the exile to Babylon, and had survived the captivity to Babylon, OR 4) they had stayed behind in or near Jerusalem while the others were taken to Babylon, and had kept their bloodline pure. However her family had managed it, her bloodline alone would be reason to admire her. But the text also tells us that she was a devout woman who had dedicated herself to fasting and prayer.