Luke has an emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus and his family. Five times in our text we are told that they observed the Law (vv. 22, 23, 24, 27, 39). Not only the names, but also the practices of Jesus’ family demonstrate that they are devout followers of Torah. Earlier he portrayed Jesus’ parents obedient to the Roman edict of the census; now he portrays them obedient to Jewish custom.
The first ceremony was the Circumcision, which took place on the eighth day after birth. This was the time when the baby was named. It was considered such a sacred event that it could even be done on the Sabbath.
The second ceremony was the Redemption of the Firstborn, where the baby was presented to God one month after birth. This ceremony entailed the “buying back” or “redeeming” of the child from God through an offering. This symbolic action was an acknowledgment that the child belonged to God, and the parents were required to pay five shekels. Incidentally, according to Jewish law, this could only be done when the child was free of any physical deformation.
The third religious ceremony following a baby’s birth was for the Purification of the Mother. This ceremony took place forty days after the birth of a son, or eighty days after a daughter. Prior to this event, the mother was considered ceremonially unclean and was not permitted to enter the temple. At the end of the unclean period, the parents were to bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering. If the lamb was too expensive for the parents economic status, they were permitted to bring a second dove or pigeon, and this was most probably the case with Mary and Joseph.
It is a scene repeated over and over in Israelite culture, for the law required a sacrifice of a lamb or two pigeons or two doves after a son’s birth (Leviticus 12:28).
It is for this third ceremony that they were at the temple and encountered Simeon in the temple courts.
At this time the temple was approaching completion, standing as a gleaming white jewel wedged into the northeastern corner of the city, and to all pious Jews this temple was the very center of the world. The sprawling enclave was rimmed with a labyrinth of colonnaded porticoes and gates.
It was here, as Mary and Joseph with their baby stood in the Court of the Women, that an old man named Simeon, among the most pious of all, came up to them. After taking the baby in his arms, he sings a song that is like Hebrew poetry, filled with scriptural language that closely paralleled the words found in the book of Isaiah.
Luke uses story elements to position his characters at locales:
– To get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, Luke introduces the census – with historical problems.
– To get the family from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Luke introduces the purification and presentation – again with historical problems.
Problems with Luke’s account: Luke seems to think that:
-both parents must be purified (2:22).
-child had to be brought to Jerusalem for the presentation (2:22b-23).
-The offering of two young pigeons was related to presentation of the child.
Luke was a Gentile convert and likely had only book knowledge of Jewish customs.
Luke seems confused by two different Jewish customs:
Purification of the mother at the sanctuary (Temple) after the birth of a child – Mother offered two young pigeons or doves. (Lev 12:1-8).
Presentation of the first male child to the Lord – Parents would pay 5 shekels at the sanctuary to “buy him back.”