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Luke 2 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Luke 2 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

"When Cyrenius was governor of Syria"
When was Jesus born?
The author of the SAB suggest that Luke is wrong about the date of Jesus birth, because Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria until 6 A.D. But Luke wrote that he had carefully researched these things, chapter 1:3. So it is quite unlikely that Luke just keeps on mentioning names and places and well-known facts in order to trip himself up.
The first thing that should be mentioned is that Luke very carefully wrote that this was the first census. So there was another one, probably one well-known and Luke wants to distinguish this taxing from that one everyone knew about. And there was indeed a second taxing, a very well-known one, mentioned by Josephus in the Antiquities and the Jewish Wars (Book 2, Chapter 8 and 17). This census was taken in 6 AD by Quirinius, a figure well attested in historical records. Quirinius and Cyrenius are the same person (Cyrenius is a badly chosen translation from Greek, which is just the Greek spelling for the Roman name). The census of 6 AD almost led to open revolt and was the impetus for founding the party of the Zealots. The founder of the party, Judas the Galilean, and this second taxing is mentioned by Luke in Acts 5:37.
Luke is being accused of contradicting Matthew (Matthew 2:1) and even himself... (Luke 1:5). The latter is of course already indication that such accusations are pretty silly. The arguments for reading 6 AD in this verse are as follows:
  1. The first taxing (census) of Judea happened in 6 AD, and there were none before, so the taxing mentioned by Luke must logically refer to 6 AD.
  2. Quirinius wasn't governor of Syria at that time, but was in 6 AD, so again this verse must refer to 6 AD.
Census taking was a common feature of life under the Romans and according to history introduced by Servius Tullius (578-535 BC), the sixth king of ancient Rome. The Res Gestae, the Deeds of the Divine Augustus, records three such world-wide censuses taken by Augustus (deed 8). One of them was in 8BC. If this might have taken some time to implement and execute all across the empire, this might have reached Judea around 5BC, and be the one Luke mentions. Josephus records (Antiquities, book 14, chapter 11) that Judea was already taxed by the Romans in 44 BC:

Cassius came from Rome into Syria, in order to receive the [army that lay in the] camp at Apamia; and having raised the siege, he brought over both Bassus and Marcus to his party. He then went over the cities, and got together weapons and soldiers, and laid great taxes upon those cities; and he chiefly oppressed Judea, and exacted of it seven hundred talents:

So the taxing mentioned by Luke was clearly not the first taxing of Judea by the Romans. That brings us to the second point.
Let's first look at the translation. Many commentators mention that this verse can be translated as: “this was the first taxing before Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” Which would remove the difficulty. However, no translation I have examined does actually translate this verse that way.
So I take the meaning of this verse that this was the first taxing by Quirinius, and that Quirinius also did a second one, the one of 6 AD. In the Aemilius Secundus inscription we find Quirinius called Caesar's legate in Syria as well as ordering a census. There is no date on this inscription, but it is not unlikely that it refers to a period before 6 AD.
The last remark is that Luke calls Quirinius hegemon, according to Wikipedia:

used in ancient Greek to refer to varying forms of "governing", and could apply to other contexts of wielding authority besides the specific office of provincial governor, contexts fitting for Quirinius throughout his notable career.

The word for governor would have been legatus. The governors in Syria were Sentius Saturninus from 9 to 6 BC, and after that Publius Quintilius Varus until at least April 4 BC. Between 4 and 1 BC it is not known who governed Syria. So Quirinius could have been governor de jure in the transition from Saturnius to Varus or perhaps after.
See also “Where does Cyrenius fit into your harmonization of Matthew & Luke.” So although the matter cannot be settled fully, any claims that Luke was mistaken are entirely premature to say the least.

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

(2:1-7) "And Joseph also went up from Galilee."
Where did Joseph and Mary live before the birth of Jesus?

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

"On earth peace, good will toward men."
Is Jesus peaceful?

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

That relic businesses deserves indeed every ridicule.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

"And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished...."
Even Mary had to be "purified" after giving birth to Jesus. Was she defiled by giving birth to the Son of God?
Jesus did not come to abolish the law, see Matthew 5:17. This was according to the law of Moses, see Lev. 12:1-8. This purification had nothing to do with being “defiled,” a word never used to describe the reason of this process. The word used is unclean, a technical term to describe a state under the laws of Moses. It is a ceremonial uncleanness.

23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

"Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord."
Males are holy to God, not females
The author of the SAB completely misunderstands the word holy here. Holy means separated, set apart, or as dictionaries have it: declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated. It does not mean a state of being clean or better than others. As John Gill writes:

that is, devoted and consecrated to him, and so to be redeemed. The reason of this law was this, when God smote all the firstborn of Egypt, he saved the firstborn of Israel; and therefore claimed a right to them, and obliged their parents, excepting the Levites, to redeem them at the price of five shekels, which were about twelve shillings and six pence of our money, and which was given to the Levites

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

(2:25-26) "Simeon ... was just ... and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost"
Simeon was not only a just man, but he was also filled with the Holy Ghost.
Has there ever been a just person?
When was the Holy Ghost given?
On just: he was just as he appeared before men. It's different to be just before God.
On the Holy Ghost see Mark 12:36.

26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

"Joseph and his mother"
Many manuscripts say "his father and his mother," but scribes later changed this to "Joseph and his mother" to avoid calling Joseph Jesus's father.1
As Jesus' virgin birth was under attack from the early church, wouldn't it also be likely that this text was changed by heretics as it clearly affects the virgin birth? So which text is right? I could not confirm the assertion on “many manuscripts.” Just the opposite. Most manuscripts have “Joseph and his mother.” Only the usual suspects have father.

34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

"They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth."
Luke says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth after Jesus' birth; Matthew disagrees (Mt.2:14), saying they went not to Nazareth, but to Egypt.
Did Jesus, Mary, and Joseph go to Egypt or Nazareth?
The events Luke has described in the previous verses took place forty days after Jesus' birth. Luke subsequently skips a great deal of history and takes up the narration when Jesus was twelve.
Matthew describes the period between the purification of Mary and the return of Joseph and Mary to Nazareth in more detail and from him we learn that they returned to Bethlehem after the purification of Mary and stayed there until they had to flee to Egypt. After Herod's dead they went back to Nazareth, completing the journey they started seven years earlier.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

(2:43-49) "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?"
When Jesus' parents begin the long trip back to Nazareth, the twelve year old Jesus stays behind, without asking their permission. Mary and Joseph search for him for three days and when they finally find him, Jesus doesn't apologize. Rather, he blames them for not knowing that he was doing his father's business.
And rightly he blames them. Note that Jesus makes a clear distinction between Joseph, his adopted father, and his actual heavenly Father.

50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

"Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God."
How could an omniscient being "increase in wisdom?" And how could God increase "in favour with God?"
Firstly, this text is similar to the description given of Samuel, who also grew up to be a leader of Israel, see 1 Sam. 2:26.
But secondly, Jesus was not only God, but also human. And indeed, his divine nature could not grow, but his human nature could. The phrase “favor with God” should be understood as:

he appeared by the grace that was in him, and the gifts bestowed on him, to be high in the love and favor of God