Unlocking The Gospels With Tanach: Luke (3)

We continue our journey through the first chapters of Luke – my favorite Gospel. So far, we’ve seen some interesting details in the first chapter; today we are going to speak about second chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

WHEN WAS JESUS BORN?

In Luke 2, an angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields and said to them, “I bring you good news … great joy for all the people.” When did this happen? The Gospel writers either did not know the time of Jesus’ birth or didn’t consider it important, so we can only speculate. Of course, the traditional date of celebrating Jesus’ birth is December 25, but the Bible nowhere points to Him being born in winter. So, when was Jesus born?

As many of you probably know, some Messianic believers celebrate Jesus’ birth during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Is there any historical or Scriptural evidence for that? The first and most obvious argument has to do with the weather: shepherds would not be in the fields during December due to the cold and wet conditions in Judea during that time of year. On the other hand, early Fall – the time of Sukkot – does perfectly fit Luke’s account.

Second, John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, “belonged to the priestly division of Abijah”. The twenty-four courses of the temple priesthood are found in 1 Chronicles 24. Calculations have been made showing that the Abijah division served in June. If Elisabeth conceived shortly after, her sixth month would have been December or January. This was time of Gabriel’s announcement to Miriam, and therefore Jesus would have been born nine months later, around September.

However, the most crucial arguments  are theological. Here are some of the thoughts:

First of all, Sukkot is called zman simchateynu, “the season of our joy”. Would it not be a proper time to declare “great joy for all people”?

Second, when John says that the “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us,” we could see this as an allusion to Jesus coming into this world during the Feast of Tabernacles.

We find a third possible reason in the prophecy of Zechariah, where we read that, at the end of days all the nations will come to celebrate the festival of Sukkot: “And it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations who came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to observe the festival of Sukkot.” It was God’s original design that the festival of Sukkot would bring the nations of the world to the true God. Thus, bringing the nations of the world to recognition and worship of the God of Israel is undoubtedly a theme common to both Sukkot and to the mission and ministry of Jesus.

 

PIDYON HABEN (REDEMPTION OF THE FIRST-BORN)

One of the most well-known proclamations in Christianity is Simeon’s prophetic hymn, when, in the Temple, the aged Simeon took baby Jesus up in his arms and praised God. (Lk. 2:29-32). Why was Jesus brought to the Temple? Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord; (as it is written … “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”)[1]  Luke refers here to the ceremony Pidyon Haben. Let’s have a glimpse of this ceremony.

According to the Torah, every first-born son (whose parents are not from the tribe of Levi) has to undergo the Pidyon Haben ceremony – the Redemption Ceremony of the Firstborn Son.[2]  The ceremony consists of the formal presentation of the child to kohen, accompanied by benedictions, after which the redemption price of five shekels is paid.

Since Jesus was the firstborn son of Miriam (of the line of Judah, not Levi), so he had to be redeemed. The presentation and redemption could be made to any priest, not just in Jerusalem, but since Bethlehem was only about six miles from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph came to the Temple for two ceremonies: Mary’s purification and Pidyon Ha-Ben. It was probably after the ceremony, when Simeon and Anna – who were led there by the Spirit – prophesied and blessed the baby.

 

WHAT ABOUT CIRCUMCISION?

Abram was 99 years old when God appeared to him to renew and reaffirm the covenant He had formerly made. In token of this established covenant, God gave Abram and his descendants the rite of circumcision: an outward sign in the flesh as a sign and seal of an inward reality.[3] However, in the New Testament we read of a different circumcision—circumcision of heart. According to Paul, a believer in Jesus undergoes spiritual “circumcision of Christ” – circumcision ‘made without hands’: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands… by the circumcision of Christ.”[4]  Was this a new concept, and did it mean that under the New Covenant, “physical” circumcision was no longer necessary?

First of all, it’s important to understand that the concept of “spiritual circumcision” – “circumcision of the heart” – is already present in the book of Deuteronomy:  “Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart;[5]And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants.”[6] Thus, the whole theme of the inner or spiritual circumcision—circumcision of the heart—came from the Torah and was by no means a new concept at the time of Jesus. Undoubtedly, the theme was developed in the New Testament, but by no means it was a new concept!

However, before we even encounter the “circumcision of the heart” in the NT, we hear of “the circumcision in the flesh”!  From the Gospel of Luke, we know that both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself were circumcised (and named) on the eighth day (Luke 1:59, 2:21). Thus, the rite of circumcision given to Abraham and his offspring as a sign that they had accepted God’s covenant and belonged to God – the rite that has always been observed by the Jewish people – is clearly observed in the New Testament as well!

Luke, whether or not he was Jewish, does not record the usual things surrounding Jesus’ birth and babyhood. He tells us only about outstanding, prophetic events, like the angelic message to the shepherds and the blessing of Simeon and Anna; he doesn’t record those details of Jesus’ life that were self-evident for his contemporaries. Unfortunately, they are not as evident to us today, and precisely because of that, it is vitally important for us to understand the historical and cultural context of the New Testament: to see these texts as Second Temple Jewish texts and be able to read them through Second Temple Jewish eyes.

 

The insights you read here are typical of what eTeacher professors convey to our students through DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible), JBNT (Jewish Background of the New Testament), and WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insights, or learning more about the Jewish background of Jesus’ teaching, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

 

Excerpts from my  future book are included in this article , so if you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/      

 

[1] Lk. 2:22,23

[2] Num. 3:46-47; 8:16-18; 18:16.

[3] Gen. 17

[4] Col. 2:11.12

[5] Deut. 10:16

[6] Deut. 30:6

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (17 comments)

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  1. Michael

    I firmly agree he was not born in December. This date was set up a few hundred years later by Constantine. They worship of false gods was in place, and on December 25th was the celebration of the “sun god” brithday. An easy transition once Christianity became endorsed from sun god to Son of God’s birthday. Jesus was/IS the Lamb of God. Lambs are born in spring time and thus, see it only fitting, He was born in April or May. Only my opinion, but what I believe was showed to me through my studies.

  2. Noah

    It is not clear to me from the above, but are you implying that gentiles need to be physically circumcised as part of the new covenant?

    1. Julia Blum

      No Noah, I am not implying that. I am just saying that the rite of circumcision given to Abraham – the rite that has always been observed by the Jewish people – is clearly observed in the New Testament as well!

      1. Noah

        Thank you for the clarification. I agree. In fact, I would strongly suggest that Jews who believe in Jesus should identify completely as religious/observant Jews, keeping both the Torah and the customs of the Jews as the early believers did in Jerusalem (Acts 21)

  3. Henry Samuel Santiago

    Wasn’t the Messiah born during the Lambing Season, where the Shepherds one time a year were on high alert because of the sheep giving birth to lambs? The Angel appeared to them also and makes the announcement of the Master’s birth and this is also found in Luke. Since G-d’s plan and timing is always perfect it would seem to me appropriate that “The Lamb that takes the Sin of the World” would be born during thid period of time.

    1. Julia Blum

      The “lambing season” is definitely not my strongest point – but here is the quotation from some article: “The “lambing season” is directly relevant, like all mammals reproduction, to the time of mating. This only occurs naturally in the sheep world with the declining day light in the autumn which starts for us in September…
      During this mating season, the shepherd’s are out there at night keeping watch on their flock not only to protect them from the wolves or Hayenas, but also to separate the females that have already been mated from the rest of the male lambs. After the mating period the Shepherd’s will slowly make their trek back down into the Jordan Valley to camp out for the winter at the lower elevations” (http://www.discoverthebiblelands.com/the-season-of-jesus-birth-when-was-it/). So as you see, the article still speaks of September -October – the season of Succot.

  4. Alfredo

    Some more thoughts on this:

    There are 6 months between Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). This means that we can also know when John the Baptist was born… Pesach! Well, everyone who has celebrated Pesach in a Jewish traditional matter know that Elijah is invited to join when someone is told to go and open a door for Elijah to come in and sit on the table… we also know that a cup of wine is served for Elijah, and that cup is never touched by anyone and thus, is not drunk… well… the spirit of Elijah was on John the Baptist… and he never drunk wine…

    And nine months, prior to Sukkot… well we happen to find Hanukkah… and so we find the Annunciation and Conception of the Light to shine over the whole world… yes, that little light was lit in Mariam’s (Mary) womb, just as we lit the hanukkiah using the shamash (“servant”)… “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

    1. Julia Blum

      Beautiful thoughts Alfredo! Thanks for sharing them!

  5. Dorothy Healy

    Thanks again Julia for your valuable insights – this makes perfect sense.

  6. Seathrún Mac Éin

    This is the strongest case I have ever seen for believing that the Birth of Jesus was not in midwinter but around three months earlier. Very interesting! I have seen at least some of the arguments before, but here they are brought together in a very fascinating and convincing way.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Seathrun, I am so glad you found it interesting and even convincing!

  7. Allan Dolormente

    I PRAISE GOD FOR YOUR LIFE AND GREAT INSIGHT, JULIA.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much for your kind words Allan!

  8. Nick Edwards

    Thanks Julia for sharing these things. The more I learn Jewish concepts and ideas, the less “new” the New Testament is. The New Testament seems more to redirect the reader back to a proper perspective that had been cloaked.
    Nick

    1. Lazzaro

      Hebrews 8:6  But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

      That’s the key, a better covenant which Jesus the Christ brought to the Judahites and Gentiles.

      1. Julia Blum

        My point here – and I believe, Nick’s point as well – is that we in order to see the newness of the New Testament we have to see the continuity between the covenants: I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

    2. Julia Blum

      Yes, Nick, I agree, I think this is a very good way to put it. You will see it even more clearly in my new post. Blessings!