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The Presentation of Jesus

Upon the eighth day following His birth, the Lord was Luke ii. 21. circumcised, and the name Jesus given Him. Forty days after the birth, Mary presented herself with the child Luke ii. 22-38. at the Temple in accordance with the law, and after the presentation returned again to Bethlehem.

The order of events following Christ's birth to the time He went to reside at Nazareth, is much disputed. The chief point of controversy is respecting the time of the visit of the Magi. If this can be determined, the other events may be easily arranged.

An early and current tradition placed the coming of the Magi on the 6th of January, or on the 13th day after His birth.3 This day was early celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany, or the manifestation of Christ, and originally had reference to His birth, to the visit of the Magi, and to His baptism. It is now observed both in the Greek and Roman Churches with reference to the latter two events, of which the adoration of the Magi is made most prominent. This is also the case in the English and American Episcopal Churches. But the tradition did not command universal assent. Eusebius and Epiphanius, reasoning from Matt, ii. 16, put the coming of the Magi two years after His birth. And others have thought the 6th January selected for convenience, rather than as having any direct chronological connection with the event. The apocryphal gospel of the birth of Mary puts their coming on the forty-second day, or after the presentation, but some copies on the 13th.1

If we now ask the grounds upon which, aside from this tradition, the coming of the wise men is placed so soon after the birth, and before the presentation in the Temple, the more important are these: first, that the words Tov 8c Irjcrov yevvrjOevTos, " Now when Jesus was born," (Matt. ii. 1,) imply that the one event speedily followed the other, the participle being in the aoristandnot in the perfect; second, that directly after the presentation Jesus went with His parents to Nazareth, (Luke ii. 39,) and that therefore the presentation must have been preceded by their visit; third, that at the coming of the Magi Herod first heard of the birth of Jesus, but if the presentation at the Temple had previously taken place, he must have heard of it, as it had been made public by Anna, (Luke ii. 38.) But none of these reasons is decisive. There is nothing, as asserted, in the use of ytvvYjOevTos, " now when Jesus was born," that proves that they came so soon as He was born, or that an interval of two months may not have elapsed.2 The opinion of many of the fathers that they found Him still in the manger, or stall, in spelunca ilia qua natus est, may be true, if the manger was in a cave in the rear of the house. (See Matt. ii. 11.) The statement of Luke, that " when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth," has often been interpreted as affirming that they went directly from the temple to Nazareth without any return to Bethlehem.1 But this interpretation is arbitrary. It is apparent that Luke does not design to give a full history of Christ's infancy. He says nothing of the Magi, of the murder of the children, of the flight into Egypt. Whatever may have been the motive of this omission, which Alford, in common with many German critics, ascribes to ignorance, nothing can be inferred from it to the impugning of Matthew's accuracy. His statement respecting the return to Galilee is general, and does not imply any strict chronological connection. Elsewhere in Luke like instances occur, as in iv. 14, where Jesus is said to have " returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee," whence it would appear that this return followed immediately upon the temptation ; yet we know that an interval of several months must have elapsed. It is the fact that His childhood was.passed at Nazareth, which Luke brings prominently forward, not the precise time when He went thither, which w^as unimportant. It is not inconsistent with his language that Jesus should have returned to Bethlehem from the Temple, an afternoon walk of two hours, and have gone thence to Nazareth by way of Egypt, though had we this gospel alone, we could not infer this. Besides, it is apparent from Matthew's narrative (ii. 22-3) that Joseph did not design upon his return from Egypt to go to Galilee, and went thither only by express divine direction. Plainly he looked upon Bethlehem, not Nazareth, as the proper home of the child who should be the heir of David.2 And finally the fact that Anna " spoke of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem," by no means shows that her words came to the ears of Herod.

Those who thus place the visit of the Magi before the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus, are by no means agreed as to the time of the latter events. If the visit of the Magi was on the thirteenth day after His birth, and the murder of the children and the flight into Egypt took place immediately after, the purification must have been delayed till the return, and so in any event after the legal time on the fortieth day.1 To avoid this, some suppose that, although the suspicions of Herod had been aroused by the inquiries of the Magi, yet he took no active measures for the destruction of the child, till the rumor of what had taken place at the Temple at the time of the presentation (Luke ii. 27-38) reaching his ears, stirred him up to give immediate order for the murder of the children.2 Others still, making the departure to Nazareth to have immediately followed the purification, are compelled to make Nazareth, not Bethlehem, the starting point of the flight into Egypt.3

The obvious difficulties connected with this traditional view of the coming of the wise men on the thirteenth day after the Lord's birth, have led most in modern times to put it after the purification on the fortieth day. Some, who hold that Jesus went immediately after that event to Nazareth, suppose that after a short sojourn there He returned to Bethlehem, and there was found by the wise men.4 But most who put the purification upon the fortieth day, make the visit of the Magi to have shortly followed, and prior to any departure to Nazareth.5 And this order seems best to harmonize the scripture narratives. The language of Lukeii. 22, compared with v. 21, plainly intimates that as the circumcision took place on the eighth, or legal day, so did the presentation on the fortieth. Till this day, the mother was regarded as unclean, and was to abide at home, and it is therefore very improbable that the adoration of the Magi, and especially the flight into Egypt, should have previously taken place. Doubtless, in case of necessity, all the legal requisitions could have been set aside, but this necessity is not proved in this case to have existed. That the purification was after the return from Egypt, is inconsistent with Matthew's statements, (ii. 22), that after Joseph had heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea, he was afraid to go thither. If, then, he dare not even enter the king's territory, how much less would he dare to go to Jerusalem, and enter publicly into the temple. The conjecture of some,1 that Archelaus was then absent at Rome, is wholly without historic proof.

1 Friedlieb, Bucher. a Augustine, Sepp, Alford. 3 Maldonati.

4 Epiphanius, and now Jarvis, and Patritius.
6 Robinson, Teschendorf, Wieseler, Lichtenstein.

That Matthew puts the flight into Egypt in immediate connection with the departure of the Magi, (ii. 13.) is plain.2 No interval could have elapsed after their departure, for it is said, v. 14, that he " took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt." He went so soon as the angel appeared to him, apparently the same night. We cannot then place the history of the purification after their departure, and before the flight into Egypt, as is done by Calvin and many. Nor could Herod, after his jealousy had been aroused by the inquiries of the Magi after the new-born King of the Jews, have waited quietly several weeks till the events at the purification awakened his attention anew. He doubtless acted here with that decision that characterized all his movements, and seeing himself mocked by the wise men, took instant measures for the destruction of the child.

The fact that Mary offered the offering of the poor, (Luke ii. 24,) may be mentioned as incidentally confirming this view; for if she had received previously the gifts of the Magi, particularly the gold, we may suppose that she would have used it to provide a better offering.1

We thus trace a threefold adoration of Christ: 1st, that of the shepherds; 2d, that of Simeon and Anna ; 3d, that of the Magi; or a twofold adoration of the Jews, and then the adoration of the heathen.