Monday, December 19, 2016

Registering "Jesus," Cowboys and Ninjas: What a Story

Below is a rough translation of Luke 2:1-20, the birth narrative and the sequence of the shepherds in Luke’s gospel. If you want your birth narrative to be informed by the pageant and not ruined by paying close attention, then keep moving, there’s nothing to see here. If, however, you want to let the story speak for itself, then let’s go there and your comments are always welcomed.

If you are looking for the Matthew 2:13-23 text, keep scrolling down and click the "older text" button at the bottom. Blessings.

1  Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην. 
Yet it happened that in those days a dogma went out from Caesar Augustus (that) all the world should be registered.
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of 
ἀπογράφεσθαι: PMInf, ἀπογράφω, 2) to enter in a register or records
1. The word that is usually translated “decree” is δόγμα, which is transliterated as dogma. While we tend to associate the word “dogma” with a specifically religious use, the Greek term δόγμα has these possible meanings: 1) doctrine, decree, ordinance  1a) of public decrees  1b) of the Roman Senate  1c) of rulers  2) the rules and requirements of the law of Moses; carrying a  suggestion of severity and of threatened judgment  3) of certain decrees of the apostles relative to right living 
2. For the translation that “all the world” should be taxed, the term is
οἰκουμένην, ecumene, which is the root of the word “ecumenical.” It was a reference to the “known world,” but often used – as in this case – to refer to the conquered lands of the Empire.
3. ἀπογράφεσθαι:  This term, used in vv, 1,2,3, and 5, is sometimes translated “registered” and sometimes “taxed.” It refers to entering into a public record the names of men, their property, lineage, and income. Some argue that it was partly used to track connections in order to prevent rebellion. I’ve read elsewhere that Caesar Augustus often used imperial scribes and accountants in order ensure the right locations of troops to maintain order and then collecting taxes to support those troops.
4. The issue of taking a registration or a census puts the finger on a sore spot for the Old Testament. In II Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21, there is a story of David taking a census (different term in the LXX: ἀριθμῆσαι) which brought about the Lord’s anger and hideous judgment. BUT … notice the critical difference in the first verse of those stories!
5. I’ve read often that Jews were opposed to any kind of census. That seems a little curious given what seems to be a high value on genealogies in the writings. 

2 αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου. 
This first registration happened Quirinius commanding in Syria.
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἡγεμονεύοντος: PAPart gsm, ἡγεμονεύω, 1) to be leader, to lead the way  2) to rule, command
1. The word ἡγεμονεύω, “command,” transliterates to hegemony.
2. Quirinius is the one whom Caesar Augustus charged with overseeing the registration in this part of the empire.

3 καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν. 
And all went to be registered, each into his own city.
ἐπορεύοντο: IMI 3p, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
ἀπογράφεσθαι: PMInf, ἀπογράφω, 1) to write off, copy (from some pattern)  2) to enter in a register or records

4  Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου 
καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ, 
Yet also Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea in a city of David, which has been called Bethlehem, because he being out of a house and patriarchy of David,
Ἀνέβη: AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  
καλεῖται: PPI 3s καλέω, 1) to call 
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί, to be
1. The NT often uses the phrase “went up” to refer to a journey that would look as if it were going “down” on a map. It is often because of topology rather than cartography, because one area would be more elevated than the other.
2. There is a great story-link implied in the name of Beth-lehem, which means “House of Bread.” The only other NT mention of Bethlehem outside of the Christmas stories is in John 7:41-42. At a festival, some of the Jews are proclaiming that Jesus must be the Coming One, but others are arguing that he cannot be, because Jesus is a Galilean and the prophet Micah says that the Coming One will be from Bethlehem, which is in the region of Judea. John does not pursue the argument to its conclusion, but that issue is what is behind Luke’s and Matthew’s emphasis on the location of Jesus’ birth. Matthew is explicit in quoting Micah. Luke expects us to know these stirring words from Micah 5:2-5a “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, then the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel. He shall take his place as shepherd by the strength of the LORD, by the majestic name of the LORD, his God; and they shall dwell securely, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth: he shall be the one of peace.”
3. Luke places Joseph and Mary in Nazareth prior to the birth of Jesus. Matthew has them settling in Nazareth only after a time as refugees in Egypt and only because Archelaeus had taken control of Judea following the death of this father Herod (the Great).

5 ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ. 
To be registered with Mary the one who had been engaged to him, who was pregnant.
ἀπογράφεσθαι: PMInf, ἀπογράφω, 1) to write off, copy (from some pattern)  2) to enter in a register or records
ἐμνηστευμένῃ : PPPart dsf, espoused (be) to ask in marriage, to woo. In NT only in passive to be asked in marriage, hence, to be betrothed, affianced.
1. I visited a remote community in Nicaragua recently, where there was a clinic in the middle of the village. Inside were several newsprint posters on the wall. The first was a map identifying each home. The rest were lists of infants, pregnancies, children under 12, elderly, ill, and (my favorite) “fertile women.” I imagine the “registration” was something akin to those posters. They had great utility for some purposes, but also could be used for nefarious purposes in the wrong hands.
2. Isn’t it sobering to think that, within this story, one of the first expressions of “you shall call him Jesus” might have been when his name was registered in Caesar’s census?

6 ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν 
Yet it happened in the being there the days were fulfilled of her to give birth.
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
εἶναι: PAInf, εἰμί, to be
ἐπλήσθησαν: API 3p, πίμπλημι, to fill, fill up. Passive to become full of, be satisfied, have enough of;
τεκεῖν: AAInf τίκτω 1) to bring forth, bear, produce (fruit from seed)  1a) of a woman giving birth 
1. “The days were fulfilled” could be a way of saying that the pregnancy had come full term, but it could also be a double entendre, that Micah’s promise was here because God’s days were fulfilled.

7καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον: καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ 
ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι. 
And she bore her firstborn son; and swaddled him and laid him in a manger, because there was not a place in the inn for them.
ἔτεκεν: AAI 3s, τίκτω 1) to bring forth, bear, produce (fruit from seed)  1a) of a woman giving birth 
ἐσπαργάνωσεν: AAI 3s, σπαργανόω, 1) to wrap in swaddling clothes  1a) of an infant just born
ἀνέκλινεν: AAI 3s, ἀνακλίνω, 1) to lean against, lean upon  1a) to lay down  1b) to make or bid to recline
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, to be

8 Καὶ ποιμένες ἦσαν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῇ αὐτῇ ἀγραυλοῦντες καὶ φυλάσσοντες 
φυλακὰς τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ποίμνην αὐτῶν.
And there were shepherds in that region who were hunting and guarding in the night guard over their flocks.
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, to be
ἀγραυλοῦντες: PAPart npm, ἀγρεύω, 1) to hunt, to take by hunting, catch  2) metaph. to hunt after, pursue eagerly
φυλάσσοντες: PAPart npm, φυλάσσω, 1) to guard   1a) to watch, keep watch   1b) to guard or watch, have an eye upon: lest he escape
1. I know the familiar telling of this story has the shepherds “abiding” and “keeping watch” over their flocks by night. But, these are action verbs, which show shepherds to be huntsmen, aggressively on the prowl for predators, and not just ruddy-faced harpists, snuggling up with the lambs and only occasionally having to ward off a wolf or two.

9 καὶ ἄγγελος κυρίου ἐπέστη αὐτοῖς καὶ δόξα κυρίου περιέλαμψεν αὐτούς, 
καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν. 
And an angel/messenger of lord stood by them and glory of lord shone around them, and they were afeared with great fear.
ἐπέστη: ἐφίστημι, 1) to place at, place upon, place over  1a) to stand by, be present
περιέλαμψεν: AAI 3s, περιλάμπω, 1) to shine around 
ἐφοβήθησαν: API 3p, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright.
1. If the shepherds were a tough lot – more like cowboys than choir boys – imagine what this angel/messenger must be like, suddenly appearing in the middle of the watch, to scare the snot out of them. Honestly, my kingdom for a pageant with cowboys/cowgirls and ninjas!

10 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς  ἄγγελος, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε, ἰδοὺ γὰρ εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν 
χαρὰν μεγάλην ἥτις ἔσται παντὶ τῷ λαῷ, 
And the angel said to them, “Do not be afeared, for see I am announcing great joy to you which will be to all the people, 
εὐαγγελίζομαι: PMI 1s, εὐαγγελίζω, 1) to bring good news, to announce glad tidings  1a) used in the OT of any kind of good news
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The angel/messenger’s language is excessive in a good way.  The verb εὐαγγελίζω (evangelize) already implies an object of ‘good news’ within it (the εὐ means ‘good’). Then there is an object of ‘great joy’ in the accusative case. It could be either “I am good newsing great joy” or “I am announcing good news of great joy” with the accusative being treated as a genitive.

11 ὅτι ἐτέχθη ὑμῖν σήμερον σωτὴρ ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς κύριος ἐν πόλει Δαυίδ:
For a savior is born to you today who is Christ lord in a city of David.
ἐτέχθη: API 3s, τίκτω 1) to bring forth, bear, produce (fruit from seed)  1a) of a woman giving birth 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, to be

12καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν τὸ σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ 
κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ. 
And this to you the sign, you will find a baby who is swaddled and lying in a manger.
εὑρήσετε: FAI 2p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with 1a) after searching, to find a thing sought
ἐσπαργανωμένον: PPPart asm, σπαργανόω, 1) to wrap in swaddling clothes 1a) of an infant just born
κείμενον: PMPart asn, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie 1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried  1c) of things that quietly cover some spot 

13καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἐγένετο σὺν τῷ ἀγγέλῳ πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου 
αἰνούντων τὸν θεὸν καὶ λεγόντων,
And suddenly there was with the angel a plethora of heavenly troops who were praising the God and saying,
ἐξαίφνης: [Neither or had a definition for this word. Suddenly?]
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
αἰνούντων: PAPart gpm, αἰνέω, 1) to praise, extol, to sing praises in honor to God  2) to allow, recommend  3) to promise or vow
λεγόντων: PAPart gpm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
1. I think it is time to drop the phrase “heavenly host” because that phrase has become a “Christmas story” phrase, usually evoking the image of an angel choir. It is a military phrase, or at least a phrase that describes the kind of ordered masses that one would see most often in military regiments. The primary meaning of στρατιᾶς is “troop” and when it is paired with οὐρανίου, “heavenly,” it could refer to (1) a heavenly troop or (2) the orderliness of the heavenly bodies, such as stars planets, etc. Because of v.15 (the plural use of angels), we know that it means the former, not the latter.
2. Honestly, this story is a lot more like “Star Wars” than “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
3. My favorite trivia quiz question for the Christmas story is “What did the angels sing?” Of the options I list, “nothing” is correct, since Luke has them “saying.”

14 Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. 
“Glory in highest to God and on earth peace to people of good will.”
1. It seems to me that Luke has this heavenly troop saying what the Empire of Rome should have been saying.

15Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἀπῆλθον ἀπ'αὐτῶν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν οἱ ἄγγελοι, οἱ ποιμένες ἐλάλουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Διέλθωμεν δὴ ἕως Βηθλέεμκαὶ ἴδωμεν τὸ ῥῆμα 
τοῦτο τὸ γεγονὸς   κύριος ἐγνώρισεν ἡμῖν. 
And it happened when the angels went away from them into the heavens, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us go now to Bethlehem let us see this word which has happened which the lord made known to us.”
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἀπῆλθον: AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
ἐλάλουν: IAI 3p, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
Διέλθωμεν: AAS 1p (hortatory subj) διέρχομαι, 1) to go through, pass through  1a) to go, walk, journey, pass through a place
ἴδωμεν: AAS 1p (hortatory subj) ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
γεγονὸς: PerfAPart asn, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐγνώρισεν: AAI 3s, γνωρίζω, 1) to make known 
1. “LET US SEE THIS WORD”:  ῥῆμα: A spoken message. It is in the angel’s message to Mary, where the angel says, “For every word from God will not fail” (1:37) and Mary responds, “May your word to me be fulfilled” (1:38). Later, the shepherds “spread the word concerning what they had been told about this child” (2:17), and Mary “kept all these words pondering in her heart.” Words, words, words – in our nominalist arrogance we tend to think of words as simple sounds that signify something. But, in the Scriptures words are more than simple sound-signs. They are more like things, they can be spoken, written, believed, rejected, eaten!, seen, and shared. The shepherds go to Bethlehem to “see this word.” If it is real – and every word of God is real – it is something that one can encounter. In v. 20, the shepherds tell everyone what they had “heard and seen.” Whenever we hear of the “Christmas message,” we are taking about something that is real, that can be encountered in our own lives.

16καὶ ἦλθαν σπεύσαντες καὶ ἀνεῦραν τήν τε Μαριὰμ καὶ τὸν Ἰωσὴφ καὶ τὸ 
βρέφος κείμενον ἐν τῇ φάτνῃ: 
And they went and having hastened they found the child lying in the manger as well Mary and Joseph.
ἦλθαν: ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
σπεύσαντες: AAPart npm, σπεύδω, 1) to haste, make haste  2) to desire earnestly
ἀνεῦραν: AAI 3p, ἀνευρίσκω, 1) to find out by search
κείμενον: PMPart asn, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant 
1. The use of the τε … καὶ construction seems to mean something, but I’m not sure what. Because the Shepherds’ sign was a baby lying in a manger, and because the modifier “lying in a manger” obviously refers to the baby and not all three family members, I have reordered the words in my translation.
2. I did once surmise that it must have been weird for the shepherds to find Mary, Joseph, and the baby all lying in a manger, but the blank stares I received in return were enough to send me in another direction very quickly.

17 ἰδόντες δὲ ἐγνώρισαν περὶ τοῦ ῥήματος τοῦ λαληθέντος αὐτοῖς περὶ τοῦ 
παιδίου τούτου. 
Yet having seen they made know concerning the word which had been spoken to them concerning this child.
ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἐγνώρισαν: AAI 3p, γνωρίζω, 1) to make known 
λαληθέντος: APPart gsm, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak.
1. I like his this verse interplays with the phrase, “Let us see the word” in v.15.

18 καὶ πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν περὶ τῶν λαληθέντων ὑπὸ τῶν 
ποιμένων πρὸς αὐτούς:
And all who heard were amazed concerning that which had been told by the shepherds to them;
ἀκούσαντες: AAPart nmp, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf 
ἐθαύμασαν: AAI 3p, θαυμάζω, 1) to wonder, wonder at, marvel  
λαληθέντων: APPart gmp, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak

 19  δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ 
καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς. 
Yet Mary was preserving up all these words synthesizing in her heart.
συνετήρει: IAI 3s συντηρέω, 1) to preserve (a thing from perishing or being lost)
συμβάλλουσα: PAPart nsf, συμβάλλω, 1) to throw together, to bring together 1a) to converse  1b) to bring together in one's mind, confer with one's self 
1. “All these words” could reach back into the last chapter to the angel’s visit to Mary also, since ῥήμα is used there as well.
2. “Preserving” συντηρέω: It is used to describe storing something for safekeeping. Often used in the gospels to describe bottles or sealed jugs that preserve the food, oil, or liquid inside. In Mark, it is used to describe how Herod “kept” John the Baptizer in prison, because Herod was afraid to harm John but he couldn’t let John continue his criticism of Herod’s perverse marriage.
3. “Pondering” συμβάλλω: Literally, “throwing together.” I use “synthesizing,” a philosophical term that connects the dots between a and b. Mary is functioning here as a theologian, synthesizing her own bodily experience, with the promise of old, proclaimed anew in the angelic message and the story of the shepherds. Mary puts it all together. Not a philosophy school in Athens or a war council in Rome, but a young woman in the backwater town of Bethlehem is putting it all together.

20καὶ ὑπέστρεψαν οἱ ποιμένες δοξάζοντες καὶ αἰνοῦντες τὸν θεὸν ἐπὶ πᾶσιν 
οἷς ἤκουσαν καὶ εἶδον καθὼς ἐλαλήθη πρὸς αὐτούς.
And having departed the shepherds were glorifying and worshiping God for all the things they had heard and seen just as it was told to them.
ὑπέστρεψαν: AAI 3p, ὑποστρέφω, 1) to turn back  1a) to turn about  2) to return 
δοξάζοντες: PAPart npm, δοξάζω 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion  2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate  

αἰνοῦντες: PAPart npm, αἰνέω, 1) to praise, extol, to sing praises in honor to God   


  1. It's really a challenge to come up with something new to say about this passage! I turned to you, figuring that you'd be able to do it, and you were. I like your re-characterizations of the angels and shepherds, and I think your noting of the uses of "word" is very helpful. Thank you for this wonderful resource!

    1. Thanks, Caryn. It's always encouraging to hear from you. Blessed Christmas to you.


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