[LUKE 2:1-20 KJV]
Jospeh Free’s remarks at this point are appropriate:
“In the past generation it was believed that Luke had made almost as many mistakes as
could possibly be made in these few lines, for it was thought that he was in error with regard
to (1) the existence of such an imperial census; (2) Cyrenius being governor at that time
(Luke 2:2); (3) everyone having to go to his ancestral home. The archaeological discoveries
of recent years have remarkably confirmed and illuminated all of these statements of Luke,
attesting his reliability in the very items noted above: (1) the discovery of a number of
papyrus documents relating to census taking shows that a census was made every fourteen
years and point back to one made about 9-6 B.C.; (2) though earlier references seemed to
show that Cyrenius was governor of Syria in 6 A.D., which would be too late for the time of
Christ’s birth, an inscription was found at Rome in 1828 indicating that Cyrenius had been
governor twice; and shortly before World War I, Ramsay found a monument in Asia Minor
likewise implying two governorships for Cyrenius. Thus he could have been governor at the
time of Christ’s birth, as well as at a later period, in 6 A.D. (3) an edict made in 104 A.D. by the
governor of Egypt (which was under Roman rule, just as Palestine was) showed that at the
time of the census people were to return to their ancestral homes. In summary, it is evident
that archaeological discoveries testify to the validity of Luke’s statements. [ARCHAEOLOGY
AND THE BIBLE HISTORY; “LIFE AND MINISTRY OF CHRIST”; SCRIPTURE PRESS
PUBLICATIONS, INC., WHEATON IL; COPYRIGHT 1969; PP. 285, 286]
It was at this time that Joseph and Mary each needed to travel to Bethlehem, since they were
both of the lineage of David. Mary was nearing the time of delivery. The inn was full (probably
because of the census), and they therefore found themselves in the stable when Mary went
into labor, and gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
[The fact that Jesus is called her firstborn, indicates that Mary went on to have other children.
See Matthew 12:48, 49]
She wrapped him in “swaddling clothes.” [See EZEKIEL 16:4 for the negative of the Jewish
practice with newborns.] Newborns had the umbilical cord cut, were washed, rubbed with
salt, and wrapped in strips of cloth to keep them warm.
Then Mary placed Jesus in the manger.
Many of the stables in Israel were caves. Joseph Free speaks of houses in Bethlehem as late
as the 1950’s which were built over caves used for stables. [ibid., p. 287, 288] The Emperor
Constantine ordered that work begin on The Church of the Nativity to enshrine a cave which
as early as 325 A.D., was pointed out as the birthplace of Jesus by Marcarius, the Bishop of
Jerusalem. The cave is approximately 40x12 feet. The truthfulness of this sight is accepted
The date of Jesus’ birth is not given. The Eastern Catholic Church celebrated an Epiphay
Feast on January 6, assuming that if Adam was created on the sixth day, the second Adam
would be born on the sixth day of the year. Pope Julius I officially made December 25th the
day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, since that was the day the feast of Natalis, or Nativity,
was celebrated by the Western Catholic Church. The position of the shepherds in the field
places the more correct time in the Spring of the year. The Bible is silent about what day it
was, and is also silent about the observation of a day of celebration for His birth. Which day it
was, however, is of little importance. What is important is that He was born of a virgin.
Shepherds were staying with their flocks in the field during this night. An angel stood by them
(upon the earth evidently, not hovering). The shepherds were scared at the sight of the angels
and the brightness which was around them. But, the angel told them not to be afraid; he was
not there in judgment. He had come to tell them joyous news that would bring joy to all people.
(There is here a brief glimpse of the universality of the work of Jesus. He was not to bring joy
to some, or to a select group or nation, but to all people. ) This same night, a Savior was born
in Bethlehem, the city of David. He is the Christ (Greek for “anointed,” the same as the
Hebrew term Messiah), the Lord. The angel thus announces that the birth which occurred
was the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. The Messiah, whom all of Israel
awaited, was born.
They would know the child, because he lay in a manger in swaddling clothes. Rather than
coming in splendor and luxury, the Messiah had been born in a stable. In contrast to the
ostentation of the Romans, especially of the emperor who claimed to be God, Jesus was poor
and lowly, a most humble beginning. The emperor claimed to be God, but Jesus was God.
[SEE JOHN 1:1]
Immediately after the announcement was made to the shepherds, the army of God breaks
forth “praising God,” singing what has been known as Gloria in excelsis (Latin for glory in the
highest). Peace and good will are the wishes of God upon all men, and are thus expressed in
[Translations other than from the Textus Receptus have changed the reading here to “toward
men of good will” or “in whom he is well pleased”. This change is based upon the reading of a
handful of manuscripts which have the Greek word translated goodwill... in the genitive ...).
The true reading found in the majority of the manuscripts is that of the Textus Receptus
(“goodwill toward man” or ...).]
When the angels were no longer present, the shepherds talked to each other saying they
should go into Bethlehem and see what the angels of the Lord had told them.
Quickly the shepherds sought out Joseph and Mary, and found the baby lying in the manger,
just as they had been told. They then relayed the message that the angels had given them. All
who heard their explanation of events wondered what this could mean. Mary remembered
what the shepherds had to say, and thought seriously about them. Indeed, what mother
hearing such wonderful statements about her newborn baby could forget what was said, and
would not think about these statements again and again.
Many believe that this particular part of Luke was derived from Mary, the mother of Jesus,
herself by Luke.
The shepherds then returned to their fields; but, they did so praising and glorifying God “for
all the things that they had heard and see, even as it was spoken unto them.” Angels had
appeared to them. The angels had described what they would find as they found it. It is no
wonder that a feeling of wonder and praise would arise and linger in the hearts of the
The Birth (II)