Luke 2-3

Chapter 2

Now we get to the familiar birth story. The first 4 verses of chapter 2 have been extensively debunked by scholars because the timeline doesn’t fit. Quirinius didn’t become governor until 6 CE, and Herod the Great, who supposedly ordered all those baby boys killed, died a decade earlier. As well, there was no requirement to travel to ancestral towns for a census – Luke threw that claim in because he wanted to establish that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill prophesy (Micah 5), which is more hokum. V 8-20 make a warm, fuzzy story for kids and inspire some nice music, but they don’t appear in any other gospels – the product of Luke’s imagination to make Jesus appear more holy, perhaps?

Handel’s Messiah lyrics are from Luke 2: 8-11 and 13-14

And here’s Luke’s birth story in pop culture

The next section was never read in my church, and I never see it anywhere else, either. I guess a discussion of the circumcision and Mary’s need for purification rituals are not suitable for general audiences.

At v 25 we have the Nunc Dimittus, or Song of Simeon, another piece I have sung or recited many times and never understood. It’s used in the Evensong service in the Book of Common Prayer, where the first line is rendered “lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”, giving the impression that depart means ‘leave’ or ‘go home’. In context, it’s about death. The NLT has correctly updated the translation to “now let your servant die in peace”. Another contradiction – in v 33, some manuscripts refer to Jesus’ “father and mother”, but scribes apparently changed that later, to avoid implying that Joseph was his father. Go figure.

Simeon's Song of Praise, Aert de Gelder, c 1700

Simeon’s Song of Praise, Aert de Gelder, c 1700

Here it is in Anglican chant form. Note the text in the description below the video depicts chant form – the vertical lines indicate how to fit the words into the bars of music, which is the same for every verse.

There’s so much more to this chapter than we normally hear about – the story of Anna (v 36) is not familiar to me at all, and I’m not sure why it’s there or what it’s supposed to contribute. She just sounds like a nutty old woman to me. Likewise I’m not sure what the purpose of the story in v 41-52 is – maybe just to let the reader know that Jesus was special even as a child? After all, if he was born ‘holy’, then why wasn’t there anything written about him for the first 30 years of his life?

Chapter 3

We start out with a history lesson about the rulers of the time; I didn’t bother to check if it’s accurate. Then we get the John the Baptist preparing the world for the arrival of Jesus, complete with the quote from Isaiah 40 (hokum). V 7-21 are pretty similar to the same story in Mark and Matthew, with the addition of v 10-14. Their purpose? Probably to make John look good.

Lastly, beginning with v 23, there’s another genealogy of Jesus. I’m not even going to get into them, but there are numerous contradictions between this one and the one in Matthew. Wikipedia has a whole discussion complete with charts, if you want the details. And really, who cares? Joseph wasn’t his real father, anyway, right?

Fun quiz time – You should be able to ace this now! (No fair peeking at the answers ahead of time.)

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