Questions From Readers
▪ Even as a baby, Jesus was perfect; so why does Luke 2:22-24 speak of Mary’s taking him to Jerusalem ‘when the days for purifying them according to the law came to the full’?
Jesus did not need to be purified for he was born as a perfect human son of God. (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22) He thus would not be included in the “them” in Luke 2:22-24, which reads: “When the days for purifying them according to the law of Moses came to the full, they brought him [young Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to Jehovah, just as it is written in Jehovah’s law: ‘Every male opening a womb must be called holy to Jehovah,’ and to offer sacrifice according to what is said in the law of Jehovah: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’”
Joseph and Mary rightly wanted to conform to what the law required in connection with the birth of a child. One requirement was that a firstborn son be presented to God at the temple and redeemed by a payment; Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to do this. (Numbers 18:15, 16) Another requirement, which emphasized that mankind was sinful and passed on imperfection through childbirth, called for the purification of a woman after she gave birth. If her child was a male, she was unclean for 40 days, and 80 days in the case of a female child. Cleansing sacrifices were offered at the end of the purification period. (Leviticus 12:1-8) On Mary and Joseph’s trip to Jerusalem, they, too, would comply with this requirement.
However, Luke 2:22 has raised questions because it speaks of “the days for purifying them.” Who are the “them”? Some manuscripts have the Greek word for “her,” as if the text were speaking of a purification for Mary only. Evidently this textual variation was introduced by copyists who were perplexed by the reading “them.” Now, though, “them” is accepted as the correct reading, for it is supported by the best ancient manuscripts. To whom, then, does “them” refer?
As noted, it could not have included Jesus, for he did not need cleansing. However, some scholars hold that Jesus was included on the basis that he was “redeemed” on the same trip to the temple. This claim is weak, however, because the ‘purification’ and the ‘redemption’ were two different requirements of the Law. More likely, Joseph was included in the “them.”
For one thing, the verse goes on to say that “they brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem.” That meant Joseph and Mary. And while the purification rite applied strictly only to the mother, Joseph arranged for the trip and as family head he was responsible to see that the sacrifice was offered. For such reasons Luke may have included Mary’s husband (Jesus’ stepfather) in the “them.” Luke 2:22 could thus be understood to mean: ‘Upon the completion of the purification days Mary and her husband, who was obliged to see that the Law was carried out, brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to Jehovah.’