The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus

21 When eight days were completed for his circumcision,* he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.g


When we commit to reading (at least) one pericope a day sometimes we’re going to have some light reading.  But that doesn’t mean that our prayer time or insights have to be anemic.

Spiritual – The covenantal significance of circumcision

There are an abundance of footnotes and commentaries that tell us that the significance of circumcision is that it incorporates the child into the people of Israel.  Moreover, according to the covenant with Abraham, circumcision occurs on the eighth day.

But perhaps we should be asking ourselves what that means.  What does it mean to us, what does it mean to mankind, that Jesus is incorporated into the people of Israel?  As God, Isn’t he already greater than the people of Israel?  Shouldn’t they be incorporated into Him instead?

Unfortunately I won’t be able to fully develop an insight here until we come across verses from John Chapter 15, Psalm 80, Isaiah Chapter 5, and a few other choice verses.  When we hit John 15 then I’ll dive all the way into it.

Until then, I can reflect on the following.  In the Person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God has assumed a human nature.  Now, He is incorporated into the people of Israel.  Jesus doesn’t just come to meet us; He doesn’t just come to die for our sins; He doesn’t just conquer death by the resurrection; In Jesus, God becomes intimate with humanity.  This circumcision, where Jesus is incorporated into the people of Israel, is part of how He becomes intimate with mankind.

Spiritual – What’s in a name?

“He was named Jesus”.  The name Jesus means “God saves” and it identifies His mission as well as His identity.  This name can fuel hours of prayer because he doesn’t just save mankind but he saves the entire world.  So, we can pray about the salvation of humans, the salvation of humanity (as a whole), and the salvation of the world.

Culture – And again, what’s in a name?

To the ancient Semitic peoples (the Jews, the Israelites, and the Hebrews before them) the name of something or someone was very, very significant.  Additionally, to give a name to someone showed authority, or power, over whoever, was named.  For example, when Adam, in the Garden of Eden, named all the animals of the Earth it symbolized that humanity was the pinnacle of God’s creation and that God had given man dominion over His creation. This act of naming showed that humans are God’s stewards of the Earth and everything on it.

So if naming someone is so significant, then what would it mean if Mary and Joseph named Jesus?  Would it mean that they had authority over him?  However, the verse above (Lk 2:21) tells us that Jesus “was the name given [to] him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”  Does that mean that the angel named Jesus?  Would that then mean that the angel had power and authority over Jesus?

Let’s check this out.  In Luke Chapter one, we recently read that Gabriel told Mary about having a son.  What did he say about the child’s name?  In Luke 1:31 the angel Gabriel says to Mary about her son “you will name him Jesus”.  Sure seems like Gabriel is giving him the name and Mary and Joseph are just following instructions.

But a more literal translation would be “you will call the name of him Jesus”.  See the problem with translation?  The more literal text doesn’t really give us what would be considered good English.  But in the cultural context of what it means to give a name, we might have to set good English aside in order to see what the real meaning is, and find out who is really giving Jesus his name.

The word “angel” actually means messenger.  The beings that scripture calls “angels” are messengers from God.  In telling Mary “you will call the name of him Jesus”, the angel Gabriel is delivering a message from God.  So it is God Himself that names Jesus.  So anyone from the period, being acquainted with the significance of naming, and with the cultural and linguistic norms of the day, would not think that Mary, or Joseph, or even Gabriel has authority or power over Jesus.

A final note: Who am I to say something like “but a more literal translation would be?”

As I’ve said before.  I don’t speak or read ancient Greek, and I’m not a translator.  So where do I come off proposing an alternate translation.  Well, I don’t propose an alternate translation.  I’m actually calling out that alternate translations exist.  Moreover, I don’t do this lightly; and I always go through a little process before I make a claim like that.  First, I look up the scripture verse in Greek where the literal English translations are word-for-word side-by-side with the Greek text.  Then I look at the Greek word in question and I see how it’s translated in the particular verse and I also look to see how it is used in other places in the Bible.  If I think to myself “hmmm, a more literal translation might be such and such”, then I go and read that same verse in several other English translations (restricting my search to translations I respect … which is a whole different story).  If some of the other respected translations use the alternate word in their text, then I will say “instead of how you read it here, this could have been translated as ….  ”



Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

One Comment

  1. Ed February 14, 2016 Reply

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