Friday, December 26, 2014

Two Turtledoves (Luke 2:24)

What did Mary and Joseph offer as a sacrifice at the time of purification? A pair of turtledoves and two young pigeons (Luke 2:24)

The Gospel of Luke diligently documents the obedience of the infant Jesus’ parents (Luke 2:21-24). On the eighth day, Jesus is circumcised and formally given the name that is above all names (Luke 2:21). The third gospel also records that the baby is presented at the temple (Luke 2:21-38).

While there, Jesus’ earthly parents provide the requisite offerings as dictated by the Old Testament’s statutes (Luke 2:22-24).

And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24 NASB)
Robert H. Stein (b. 1935) asks:
Why did Luke describe the sacrifice [Luke 2:22-24]? Was it purely for historical reasons? Was it to demonstrate that Joseph and Mary obeyed the law? Or was it because he expected his readers to know that according to Leviticus 12:8 the normal sacrifice involved a lamb and a dove or pigeon and thus to understand that Joseph and Mary were of a “humble state” (Luke 1:48), i.e. too poor to be able to afford a lamb? Certainty is impossible, but the latter explanation fits well with the Lukan emphasis in Luke 1:48, 52-53, 2:8. That Mary offered a dove as a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6) for her purification indicates that the mother of God’s Son also needed the forgiveness and redemption that her son brought. (The description of Mary’s offering also suggests that Joseph and Mary were not yet in possession of the rich gifts of the wise men mentioned in Matthew 2:11, i.e., the wise men had not yet come. Cf. also Matthew 2:7, 16.) (Stein, Luke (New American Commentary), 114)
Luke specifies that Jesus’ parents, in accordance with the “law of Moses”, offer a pair of “turtledoves” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV)/“doves” (CEV, MSG, NIV) or “young pigeons” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) (Luke 2:24).

The Greek terms are unambiguous. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) delineates:

λευγος (Luke 14:19) is a ‘pair’, originally a ‘yoke’. νοσσός is the ‘young of a bird’, and περιτέρα (Luke 3:22) ‘pigeon, dove’. (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 18)
A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) relates:
“A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (λευγος τρυγόνων ἢ δύο νοσσοὺς περιστερων) [Luke 2:24]... is the offering of the poor, costing about sixteen cents, while a lamb would cost nearly two dollars. The “young of pigeons” is the literal meaning. (Robertson (revised and updated by Wesley J. Perschbacher [1932-2012]), The Gospel according to Luke (Word Pictures in the New Testament), 43)
While Luke apparently alludes to the Old Testament, it is uncertain precisely what the gospel has in mind. S.G. Wilson (b. 1942) acknowledges:
Despite the specific quotations from Exodus 13:2, 12; Leviticus 12:2ff, Luke’s narrative is not wholly clear. (Wilson, Luke and the Law, 21)
It cannot even be certain if Luke attempts to cite the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint though the latter likely influences the gospel’s manuscript. Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) reveals:
Luke derives most of the wording of this prescription [Luke 2:22-24] from the Septuagint of Leviticus 12:8, which speaks of “two turtledoves or two young pigeons.” The turtledove, of which three varieties are known in Palestine, is a small type of pigeon. The two species of birds are often linked in Old Testament stipulations about animal sacrifices. Here the implication is that Mary offered these animals because she (or Joseph) could not afford the one-year old lamb for the whole burnt offering. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible), 426)
David Lyle Jeffrey (b. 1941) presumes:
The citations of the law do not follow the Greek (Septuagint) text, and we may reasonably assume that Luke’s language here reflects the report of his informants, possibly in a condensed form. (Jeffrey, Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 46)
John Nolland (b. 1947) adds:
No close parallel has been offered for the idiom δουναι θυσίαν [Luke 2:23] (literally, “give a sacrifice”; cf. Psalm 51:17). τὸ εἰρημένον, “what is said” [Luke 2:24], is Lukan (Acts 2:16, 13:40) and not Septuagintal. (Nolland, (Luke 1-9:20 (Word Biblical Commentary), 118)
Some interpreters have seen Luke as having a single regulation in mind (Luke 2:22-24). Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) pronounces:
The sacrifice [Luke 2:24] is not for the redemption of the firstborn, but for the purification of the mother. (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible), 426)
I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) concurs:
Luke reverts to the cleansing of the mother [Luke 2:24], which was effected by the sacrifice of a lamb with a young pigeon or turtledove as a burnt offering and a sin offering respectively (Leviticus 12:6); Joseph and Mary, however, being poor, availed themselves of the concession to offer two doves or pigeons (Leviticus 12:8; the wording is closer to Leviticus 5:11 where the similar sacrifice for unwitting sin is described; cf. Leviticus 14:22; Numbers 6:10). (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 117-18)
Others have seen the third gospel as conflating multiple ordinances (Luke 2:22-24). Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) encapsulates:
Luke 2:22-24 telescopes at least two traditional Jewish practices prescribed by the law. Luke 2:22a, 24 reflect the practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth, following the directives of Leviticus 12:6, 8...Luke 2:22b, 23, however, echo Exodus 13:2, 12, 13, 15 where it is said the firstborn belongs to God and must be redeemed (cf. Mishna, Bekhoroth, 8). (Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel, 37)
John T. Carroll (b. 1954) upholds:
In this unit [Luke 2:22-24] Luke fuses two discrete ritual observances. After childbirth the mother (not both parents) would participate in a rite of purification that includes the offering of a lamb and either a pigeon or turtledove—or, if the woman’s poverty requires less, two pigeons or turtledoves—after seven days of ritual impurity and the boy’s circumcision on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:2-8). The narrator seems to connect this sacrificial offering to the presentation of Jesus as firstborn son (cf. Exodus 13:2, 11-16), rather than to the mother’s purification. In an account that reproduces with precision neither the liturgical acts nor their legal basis, the literary arrangement provides a clue to meaning. The two rituals are fused in a chiastic arrangement that places the presentation of Jesus—as firstborn son, “holy to the Lord” [Luke 2:23]—at the center of the unit and the sacrificial offering of two birds at the end [Luke 2:24]. (Carroll, Luke: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 75)
Part of the interpretive difficulty stems from the use of the plural pronoun “their” as opposed to the singular “her” (Luke 2:22). John Reumann (1927-2008) chastises:
In Luke 2:22 he speaks of “their purification,” seemingly thinking that both parents were purified, when the custom referred only to the mother [Leviticus 12:2-8]. Also, he seems to think (incorrectly) that the Law required the presentation of the firstborn at the Temple. In Luke 2:24 Luke describes the doves or pigeons as a gift on the occasion of the presentation, when according to Leviticus 12:6 they were the gift prescribed for the purification. See Heikke Räisänen [b. 1941], Die Mutter Jesu im Neuen Testament, 125-27; Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998], The Birth of the Messiah, 447-51. (Brown [1928-1998], Karl P. Donfried [b. 1940], Joseph A. Fitzmyer [b. 1920] and Reumann, Mary in the New Testament, 111)
Sharon H. Ringe (b. 1946) recognizes:
The only puzzling point in Luke’s version of the purification is the initial reference to “their” purification [Luke 2:22], since only the mother required such a ritual. There really is no way to get around the awkwardness of that pronoun, other than to recognize it in the context of Luke’s description of the pilgrimage as involving the whole family. One might even see the plural pronoun as affirming that upon the completion of this obligation, the whole family would be ready to resume its life after the dramatic intervention of the birth of the baby. (Ringe, Luke (Westminster Bible Companion), 45)
Barbara E. Reid (b. 1953) discusses:
These verses [Luke 2:22-24] are confusing in the use of “their” and “they” without antecedents. Presumably, “their purification” [Luke 2:22] refers to Mary and Joseph, but in Jewish law purification was specified only for the woman (Leviticus 12:2-8). Some commentators have understood “their” as referring to Mary and Jesus, but there was no requirement of purification for a newborn. Since the main verb anēgagon [Luke 2:22], “they took him up,” refers to Mary and Joseph, it is best to take “their purification” as referring to Mary and Joseph as well. The inaccuracy about who was required to undergo purification is usually explained as Luke’s mistake, due to his being a non-Palestinian Gentile Christian, unfamiliar with the intricacies of Jewish law. When today we are concerned for gender equality, we might smile at Luke’s unwitting inclusivity of Joseph in a ritual intended for women. (Reid, Choosing the Better Part?: Women in the Gospel of Luke, 86-87)
E.J. Tinsley (1919-1992) laments:
It is a pity that the use of the word purification [Luke 2:22] has suggested the notion that sexual processes are necessarily unseemly. Significantly in this passage the majority of manuscripts have ‘their’ purification so as to reduce the direct reference to the mother of Jesus needing purification made in those manuscripts which read ‘her’ purification. (Tinsley, The Gospel according to Luke (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the New Testament), 41)
Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) rationalizes:
The text refers to “their” sacrifice [Luke 2:22], which seems odd at first glance in that a purification offering would normally be Mary’s alone. However, seeing that Joseph undoubtedly helped in Mary’s delivery at the distant town, he was also rendered unclean and needed to make a sacrifice for himself (Mishnah Niddah 5.1, 2.5, 1.3-5). Another possibility is that Luke is alluding in Luke 2:22 to all the sacrifices involved in the three ceremonies and that those offerings, some hers and others theirs, are combined. All these sacrifices indicate how seriously Judaism took approaching God in worship and how prepared a heart and soul one should have as they address God. (Bock, Luke (NIV Application Commentary))
While the precise regulation the gospel intends to indicate is unclear, it is undeniable that Luke holds the Old Testament tradition in the highest regard. J. Bradley Chance (b. 1954) reviews:
A survey of the Lukan materials indicates that Luke did not transfer cultic language from the temple to the church, as though he wished to imply that the church was now the proper locus of the cult...Neither does Luke spiritualize the idea of offering (προσψορά, δωρον) or sacrifice (θυσία), nor does he use such language to describe the Christian life. The language of sacrifice is employed literally, and is often employed in the context of the temple cult. When it is found in this context, it is presented in a positive light (Luke 2:24, 5:14, 21:1-4; Acts 21:26, 24:17). Explicitly negative attitudes revolve around the cultic items only in the context of the Stephen speech (Acts 7:41-42), where Stephen is describing the idolatrous incident of the golden calf (Acts 7:41) and the lack of a sacrificial cult during Israel’s period of desert wanderings (Acts 7:42). The latter reference can hardly be understood as Luke’s rejection of all sacrifice and offering, given Acts 21:26 and Acts 24:17 where Paul’s participation in the Jewish cult is viewed as an act of true piety. (Chance, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the New Age in Luke-Acts, 36)
There are problematic theological ramifications if Luke alludes to the redeeming of the firstborn (Exodus 13:13-16; Luke 2:22-24). Justo L. González (b. 1937) observes:
Curiously, Luke tells us that the Redeemer has to be redeemed, has to be bought back [Luke 2:22-24]. This is not because he has sinned, but simply because he is a firstborn, and all the firstborn in Israel belong to God [Exodus 13:13-16]. The theme of the Passover as a type of Jesus...appears repeatedly throughout the New Testament, with several layers of meaning. The paschal lamb that was sacrificed [Exodus 12:1-13] is a type of Jesus. Jesus himself is the new Passover, for in him God shows mercy to us. According to Luke and the other Synoptic Gospels [Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16; Luke 22:1, 7,8, 11, 13, 15], the last meal of Jesus with his disciples before the crucifixion is a paschal meal. It is there that he instituted the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. Here, at the presentation in the temple, another Passover theme appears: Jesus the firstborn is to be redeemed by the sacrifice of two turtledoves [Luke 2:24], and he will then redeem all humankind by his own sacrifice. (González, Luke (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible), 42)
Eduard Schweizer (1913-2006) counters:
The narrative [Luke 2:23-24] associates the purification of the mother after seven days with the offering prescribed for the firstborn, normally carried out through payment to a local priest...Nothing is said here of such a “redemption” of Jesus; instead he is received into the service of God (in which he will redeem others: Mark 10:45, not used by Luke). Perhaps there is also an echo of I Samuel 1:11, 22-28. There, however, the mother dedicates her child to God, whereas here God sets the child apart for service through the agency of a prophet. Thus a prescribed ritual takes on new meaning as a kind of “presentation” of the newborn child. (Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, 55)
The theological implications of the offering effect the parents as well as the child. Based upon its presumed necessity, it could be inferred that Mary and Joseph are sinners. As such, the only sinless man (Hebrews 4:15) is raised by sinners.

This issue has been debated for centuries. Linda S. Schearing (b. 1947) presents:

It wasn’t the Holy Family’s finances...that drew the most attention from readers [Luke 2:22-24], but the fact that Mary offered what was understood as a “sin” offering. Such an action raised a host of questions about Mary’s nature. Was the mother of the Christ a “normal” woman? Did she menstruate? Did she bleed when giving birth to Jesus? In either of these cases, Leviticus 12:1-8 and 15:1-33 would have labeled Mary ceremonially “unclean.” In the early centuries following Jesus’ death, however, Christian communities claimed that Mary was “more than” other women. As this happened, such “normal” aspects of female physicality such as menstruation and parturition became the objects of controversy. For example, while some thought that Mary’s piety exempted her from the “normal” pain of childbirth, others insisted that even Mary’s hymen was left intact after Jesus’ birth! (Rolf Rendtorff [1925-2014] and Robert A. Kugler, “Double Time...Double Trouble? Gender, Sin, and Leviticus 12”, The Book of Leviticus: Composition & Reception, 440)
This topic is of special concern within Catholicism. John F. MacArthur (b. 1939) criticizes:
That Mary offered a sin offering is consistent with the reality that she was a sinner in need of a Savior (cf. Luke 1:47). The Catholic dogma that Mary was immaculately conceived and lived a sinless life finds no support in Scripture. (MacArthur, Luke 1-5 (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary), 171)
Linda S. Schearing (b. 1947) analyzes:
A...serious issue arose concerning the sin offering Mary offered in Luke 2:24. The dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception insisted that Mary was without sin. If this was the case then why would she need to be purified? How could the birth of the Savior render his mother unclean? As Mary’s visit to Jerusalem for her purification became immortalized in the church’s festival of Candlemas, focus on her purity was kept cultically alive each calendar year...Perhaps one of the most well-conceived medieval treatments of Mary’s presentation to Leviticus 12:1-8 is found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274]. In his Summa Theologica, he addressed Luke 2:21-24, Leviticus 12:1-8, and Mary’s sinlessness and perpetual virginity...“As Gregory of Nyssa [335-394] says (De Occursu Domini): It seems that this precept of Law was fulfilled in God incarnate alone in a special manner exclusively proper to Him. For He alone, whose conception was ineffable, and whose birth was incomprehensible, opened the virginal womb which had been closed to sexual unison, in such a way that after birth the seal of chastity remained inviolate. Consequently the words opening the womb imply that nothing hitherto had entered or gone forth therefrom. Again, for special reason it is written “a male,” because He contracted nothing of the woman’s sin: and in a singular way is He called ‘holy’ because He felt no contagion of earthly corruption, whose birth was wondrously immaculate (Ambrose [337-397], on Luke 2:23).”...In both cases—her perpetual virginity and her sinlessness—Aquinas felt it necessary to defend Mary’s actions in Luke 2:21-24 in light Leviticus 12:1-8’s association with impurity. Nor was such concern solely the purview of theologians like Aquinas. A similar point of view can be found in the liturgy of a mid-eleventh century Bavarian Candlemas ceremony...For historians like Joanne M. Pierce [b. 1955], this rite, with its imperative to let Mary “be a model for us” exemplifies how the Feast of Candlemas connected the themes of Mary and purification while at the same time exhorting women to follow Mary’s example. (Rolf Rendtorff [1925-2014] and Robert A. Kugler, “Double Time...Double Trouble? Gender, Sin, and Leviticus 12”, The Book of Leviticus: Composition & Reception, 440-43)
Given the problematic nature of including these offerings, the passage’s historicity is bolstered (Luke 2:22-24). Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) affirms:
The record of the offerings [Luke 2:21-24] is considerable guarantee for the truth of the history. A legend would very probably have emphasized the miraculous birth by saying that the virgin mother was divinely instructed not to bring the customary offerings, which in her case would not be required. (Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (International Critical Commentary), 65)
For Luke, these theological issues are likely not at the forefront: The intent is not to discredit Jesus’ parents but rather to present them as pious Jews. Luke depicts them faithfully following three prescribed rituals: circumcision (Luke 2:22), purification (Luke 2:2) and dedication (Luke 2:23-24).

Fred B. Craddock (b. 1928) praises:

The story falls into three parts: the framing story (Luke 2:22-24, 39-40), into which are inserted the response of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) and the response of Anna (Luke 2:36-38). The framing story itself has one governing focus: Jesus grew up in a family that meticulously observed the law of Moses. No fewer than five times in this text Luke tells the reader that they did everything required in the law. Later in life Jesus would be in tension with some interpreters of his tradition, but his position would not be that of an outsider. On the contrary, Jesus’ own nurture in his tradition prepared him to oppose flawed and hollow practices in the name of the law of Moses. (Luke, Luke (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 38)
David L. Tiede (b. 1940) agrees:
By mentioning the law in each of these three verses [Luke 2:22-24], he also stresses that proper temple observance is obedience to the will of God. The word law here means the text of Scripture, and it may also be understood to refer to God’s theocratic rule. The term is unequivocally positive in this context. (Tiede, Luke (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 74)
Michael Card (b. 1957) supports:
Within the scope of six verses, the observance of the “law” is mentioned four times. This is a picture of Mary and Joseph’s exacting observance of the law. Of the nine times the word law occurs in Luke’s writing, five of them are contained in this passage [Luke 2:22, 23, 24, 27, 39]. (Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (Biblical Imagination), 51)
Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) determines:
Luke is making it clear that Jesus’ parents are not spiritual renegades, but Jews who are sensitive and faithful to the Mosaic law—a point reinforced in Luke 2:40-52, when they will make their customary annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. All the persons surrounding Jesus at his birth have a heritage of devotion to God. The testimony to Jesus stands on the shoulders of a series of highly respectable figures. (Bock, Luke (IVP New Testament Commentary), 58)
God places his child into a devout home which values the precepts set forth in the Old Testament. Significantly, Jesus raised in a religious household.

Why do Mary and Joseph follow these religious observances when their circumstances are so different from the regulations’ intent (Luke 2:22-24)? What does it say of God that Jesus is inserted into a family that attempts to follow Jewish law? How closely do you live out your religious beliefs? Were you reared in a religious home? Do you think God would entrust your household with Jesus? What does their offering say of Mary and Joseph? What do your offerings speak of you?

In addition to their obedience, the text sheds light on Jesus’ parents’ tax bracket: Their offering puts their financial status on display as the majority of interpreters have seen Mary and Joseph invoking a provision that makes allowances in hardship cases (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:22-24).

G. Johannes Botterweck (1917-1981) reads:

In the sacrifice offered for the purification of a woman who has given birth, a year-old lamb is brought to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting as a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6). indigence clause (Leviticus 12:8; cf. Luke 2:24) commutes the year-old lamb to the burnt offering of two turtledoves or young pigeons (cf. Leviticus 1:14, 5:7, 14:22; [Leviticus15:30]). (Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren [1917-2012], Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volume VI, 39)
Mark L. Strauss (b. 1959) explicates:
The quotation [Luke 2:24] is from Leviticus 12:8, which concerns the sacrifice of purification for the woman, not the redemption of the firstborn. The woman was to offer a lamb and a pigeon or dove (Leviticus 12:6), or two doves or pigeons if she was poor (Leviticus 12:8). We have incidental evidence here that Joseph and Mary belong to the lower economic classes. (Clinton E. Arnold [b. 1958], Matthew, Mark, Luke (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 29)
William Barclay (1907-1978) envisions:
The offering of the two pigeons instead of the lamb [Luke 2:24] and the pigeon was technically called the Offering of the Poor. It was the offering of the poor which Mary brought. Again we see that it was into an ordinary home that Jesus was born, a home where there were no luxuries, a home where the cost of everything had to be considered carefully, a home where the members of the family knew all about the difficulties of making a living and the haunting insecurity of life. When life is worrying for us we must remember that Jesus knew what the difficulties of making ends meet can be. (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (New Daily Study Bible), 30)
Walter Pilgrim (b. 1934) evaluates:
There are...several features in the actual birth story of Jesus which emphasize the lowly social status of his family. The offering they bring for the purification of Mary, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, is that prescribed for the poor (Luke 2:22-24). The rich offered a lamb. This tells us that though Joseph was an artisan [Matthew 13:55] and so belonged to the middle class, his actual economic situation was something less. Perhaps even the lack of room for them in Bethlehem may imply their inability to pay enough [Luke 2:7]. The entire story of the manger birth evokes a sense of God’s activity in the midst of earthly poverty. (Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor: Wealth and Poverty in Luke-Acts, 79-80)
Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) substantiates:
From Luke 2:24 it is clear that Joseph and Mary offered the offering of the poor, an offering that identifies them with the very people whom Christ portrays himself as saving (Luke 1:52, 4:18-19, 6:20; Heinrich Greeven [1906-1990] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 6:69; Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012] 1988:62). However, it should not be concluded from this that Joseph lived in abject poverty, since he had a trade as a carpenter (William Hendriksen [1900-1982] 1978:165; Alfred Plummer [1841-1926] 1896:65; Mark 6:3). The lamb seems to have been offered only by the fairly wealthy. It is quite possible that Jesus’ parents bought their offering in the temple courts (Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998] 1977:437; Luke 19:45-48). (Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 235)
Origen (184-253) approves:
It seems wonderful that the sacrifice of Mary was not the first offering, that is, “a lamb a year old,” but the second, since “she could not afford” the first [Leviticus 12:6-8]. For as it was written about her, Jesus’ parents came “to offer a sacrifice” for him, “according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’” [Luke 2:24] But this also shows the truth of what was written, that Jesus Christ “although he was rich, became a poor man” [II Corinthians 8:9]. Therefore, for this reason, he chose both a poor mother, from whom he was born, and a poor homeland, about which it is said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah [Micah 5:2],” and the rest. Homilies on Leviticus 8.4.3. (Arthur A. Just [b. 1953], Luke (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 47-48)
The public indication is that Mary and Joseph cannot afford the offering of the rich (Luke 2:24). Thus, though Jesus’ family is not destitute, they are hardly wealthy in monetary terms.

Luke’s notice of the parents’ offerings complies with the third gospel’s emphasis on the poor. Leon Morris (1914-2006) contextualizes:

Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18), and Luke reports a blessing on the poor (Luke 6:20 by contrast there is a woe for the rich, Luke 6:24), whereas Matthew speaks of ‘the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3). Preaching good news to the poor is characteristic of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 7:22). The shepherds to whom the angels came (Luke 2:8ff) were from a poor class. Indeed the family of Jesus himself seems to have been poor, for the offering made at the birth of the child was that of the poor (Luke 2:24; cf. Leviticus 12:8). In general Luke concerns himself with the interests of the poor (Luke 1:53, 6:30, 14:11-13, 21, 16:19ff.). (Morris, Luke (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 45)

Jesus will maintain this economic status throughout his life. Joel B. Green (b. 1956) follows:

Was Jesus himself economically disadvantaged? Sentimental pictures have been painted of his lowly beginnings in a stable, as though he were homeless, but these are based on misreadings of the Lukan narrative. Luke 2:1-7 portrays a small town swelled by the requirements of the Roman-instigated census. As Bethlehem probably had no public inns, Luke envisages a near-eastern peasant home in which family and animals slept in one enclosed space, with the animals located on a lower level. Mary and Joseph, then, would have been the guests of family or friends, but their home would have been so overcrowded that, upon his birth, the baby was placed in a feeding trough...More to the point is the sacrifice offered by Jesus’s parents in Luke 2:24: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” – according to Leviticus 12:8 the prescribed offering for those unable to afford a yearling lamb. Furthermore, in his Galilean ministry Jesus is said to depend on the support of others (Luke 8:1-3), Later, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus says of himself that he has no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58), presumably an assertion about his lack of a home, but surely also a warning concerning the rejection to be expected of those who follow in his footsteps. (Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, 112-13)
Jesus emanates from a blue collar family; he will be raised in a humble home (Luke 1:48). This serves as a reminder that he comes to save all, not merely the privileged of society.

J. Ellsworth Kalas (b. 1928) and David J. Kalas (b. 1962) understand:

God...communicated in humanly understandable terms when he chose to have his special Son raised in a home like many others. He did not grow up in a wealthy home. We can tell Mary and Joseph were persons of small means by the humble thank-offering they brought to the Temple — i.e.. “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). A well-to-do family might have offered a lamb. We can also tell that Jesus grew up in a good, law-abiding home. His parents showed respect for the sacred laws by bringing their son to the Temple on the proscribed eighth day for the required ritual of dedication called circumcision [Luke 2:21]. (Kalas, Kalas, Frank G. Honeycutt [b. 1957], Stephen M. Crotts [b. 1950] and R. Robert Cueni [b. 1942], “God Communicates In Humanly Understandable Terms”, Sermons on the Gospel Readings: Series 1, Cycle C, 47)

Mary and Joseph amount to Jesus’ godparents in that they are selected to raise God’s son. God could have chosen anyone for this task and yet a humble family from lowly Galilee is the family that is given the responsibility. In Luke’s text, their obedience, not economic status, is emphasized as Mary and Joseph’s observance of the law is made explicit, while their economic standing remains implicit (Luke 2:22-24). This speaks volumes of God’s priorities.

Do you think Mary and Joseph wished that they could pay the offering of the rich (Luke 2:24)? How would you characterize your own economic status? Would you want your financial records and giving patterns publicly available at your church? If this policy was still practiced, how would it effect giving? Should church giving be recommended on a sliding scale rather than a flat rate (such as tithing)? Is Jesus’ concern for the poor in any way self serving as he himself would likely qualify? If forced to leave your children to someone, who would it be; would you choose a rich or poor family? Would economic standing be a primary consideration? Does Luke emphasize Jesus’ parents’ spiritual or monetary status? Which do you spend more time enhancing, your spiritual life or your financial portfolio?

“We may see the small Value God has for Riches, by the People he gives them to.” -Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1727


  1. This has changed my perspective greatly. Thank you so much! Bless you!