[Luk 2:21-24 NASB] (21) And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (22) 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 (23) (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), (24) and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

It seems that if she had NOT bought him back the result would be that his life would be consecrated to serving God, which I thought was a good thing. How does this reflect on Jesus' relationship to his God and Father?

Here's the background:

[Exo 13:11-16 NLT] (11) "This is what you must do when the LORD fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors. When he gives you the land where the Canaanites now live, (12) you must present all firstborn sons and firstborn male animals to the LORD, for they belong to him. (13) A firstborn donkey may be bought back from the LORD by presenting a lamb or young goat in its place. But if you do not buy it back, you must break its neck. However, you must buy back every firstborn son. (14) "And in the future, your children will ask you, 'What does all this mean?' Then you will tell them, 'With the power of his mighty hand, the LORD brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery. (15) Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, so the LORD killed all the firstborn males throughout the land of Egypt, both people and animals. That is why I now sacrifice all the firstborn males to the LORD--except that the firstborn sons are always bought back.' (16) This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the LORD's mighty hand brought us out of Egypt."

  • Was Mary just obeying the law at the time?
    – Dottard
    Jun 26, 2020 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


I posted the question and in it I mistakenly associated the Lukan passage with the redemption of the firstborn male found in Exodus. The actual background of Mary's offering is found in Leviticus, most specifically verses 2 and 6-8:

[Lev 12:1-8 NLT] (1) The LORD said to Moses, (2) "Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. If a woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her menstrual period. (3) On the eighth day the boy's foreskin must be circumcised. (4) After waiting thirty-three days, she will be purified from the bleeding of childbirth. During this time of purification, she must not touch anything that is set apart as holy. And she must not enter the sanctuary until her time of purification is over. (5) If a woman gives birth to a daughter, she will be ceremonially unclean for two weeks, just as she is unclean during her menstrual period. After waiting sixty-six days, she will be purified from the bleeding of childbirth. (6) "When the time of purification is completed for either a son or a daughter, the woman must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a purification offering. She must bring her offerings to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle. (7) The priest will then present them to the LORD to purify her. Then she will be ceremonially clean again after her bleeding at childbirth. These are the instructions for a woman after the birth of a son or a daughter. (8) "If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. One will be for the burnt offering and the other for the purification offering. The priest will sacrifice them to purify her, and she will be ceremonially clean."

In other words, this is about the cleansing of the mother from the ritual impurity due to contact with blood.

What she is commanded to bring to be killed by the priest and offered to the LORD is a yearling lamb and a single pigeon/turtledove. The offerings express her appeal for cleansing and a pleasing sacrifice of obedience to God. As prophecy, it indicates that the boy she has birthed, in the prime of his life will become a well pleasing sacrifice for sin, thereby providing cleansing for his people:

[2Co 5:21 NET] (21) God made the one who did not know sin to be sin [or, "a sin offering"] for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

[Eph 5:2 NKJV] (2) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

[Phl 4:18 NKJV] (18) Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

It also illustrates that with God, nothing shall be impossible, because God brought a clean thing from an unclean woman and in so doing fulfills the prophetic import of Job 14:

[Job 14:1-9 NET] (1) "Man, born of woman, lives but a few days, and they are full of trouble. (2) He grows up like a flower and then withers away; he flees like a shadow, and does not remain. (3) Do you fix your eye on such a one? And do you bring me before you for judgment? (4) Who can make a clean thing come from an unclean? No one! (5) Since man's days are determined, the number of his months is under your control; you have set his limit and he cannot pass it. (6) Look away from him and let him desist, until he fulfills his time like a hired man. (7) "But there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. (8) Although its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump begins to die in the soil, (9) at the scent of water it will flourish and put forth shoots like a new plant.

[Job 14:1 KJV] (1) Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.

[Job 15:14 KJV] (14) What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

[Job 25:4 KJV] (4) How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?

I'm not sure of the relationship between Paul's words in Galatians and those of Job 14:

[Gal 4:4 KJV] (4) But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

But all of this dispenses with the need and repudiates the invention of the Catholic dogma of "The Immaculate Conception" and instead fulfills the Psalm of David, which in turn casts doubt on the popular use of this as evidence of the Catholic dogma of Original Sin:

[Psa 51:5 KJV] (5) Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

However, Mary did not offer a yearling lamb but rather the alternative offering provided by the poor. This indicates that Joseph and Mary were poor and either they had not received the gifts of the Magicians yet or they did not consider it appropriate to use the gifts to provide her offering. So Jesus was born very rich:

[2Co 8:9 KJV] (9) For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. In his adulthood Jesus gave all his wealth to the poor.


There is a mistake in your quoting of the NLT passage.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/exo/13/1/s_63001 NLT Ex 13:13

A firstborn donkey may be bought back from the LORD by presenting a lamb or young goat in its place. But if you do not buy it back, you must break its neck. However, you must buy back every firstborn son.

The same sentence is also in NLT Exo 34:20

A firstborn donkey may be bought back from the LORD by presenting a lamb or young goat in its place. But if you do not buy it back, you must break its neck. However, you must buy back every firstborn son. “No one may appear before me without an offering.

  • Thank you Tony. I actually posted an answer to my own question in which I show that I was making a mistake about the association with Exodus at all.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 2, 2020 at 13:23

I'm attempting to answer your question. But with the corrected second posting, I'm somewhat confused as to what the question is. If I'm understanding you correctly, your question is not about the redeeming of the firstborn (as in the Exodus text). Instead your question is about the Lukan text and how it interacts with the Leviticus prescriptions. As a result, I'm going to walk through the Leviticus context first, and then tackle the Lukan context.

Leviticus 12

Kleinig offer this commentary for the Leviticus 12:1-8 section:

The period of religious quarantine was concluded by an act of sacrifice. The woman who had given birth to a child offered a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering (12:6). If she was too poor to afford a lamb, she brought a bird instead (12:8). She entered the sacred precincts and brought the offerings to the priest on duty at the entrance. These two sacrifices performed two specific functions. Through the rite of atonement with the blood from both sacrifices, the woman was cleansed from any impurity that she had incurred from her flow of blood (12:7). Through the burning up of the lamb on the altar she was accepted by God and reinstated as a member of the congregation. She was once again ritually clean. She therefore had access to God's holiness and his blessing. That meant too that she was once again open to the gift of another child from him.

The observance of this rite of passage had a profound impact on the life of every mother. It connected her life as a mother with her participation in the divine service and her reception of blessing from God. Negatively, it ensured that she did not become involved as a woman in pagan practices that affirmed her status as a child-producer and sought to empower her by giving her access to cosmic life-power. Positively, it affirmed her status as a full member of the holy congregation and recognized her role as a bearer of blessing from God.

The reference in 12:2 to the mother as the seed-bearer, the offspring-producer, hints at this (see "Fulfillment by Christ" below). Her vocation as a mother then was connected with her call to holiness. What's more, the continuity and survival of her family-and, more broadly, of Israel-depended on her and her access to the blessing gained from the presence of God in the sacred domain. See figure 16.

By this legislation the menstrual and reproductive cycle of a mother was coordinated and incorporated into the liturgical calendar with its ordered enactment of the sacrificial ritual. Her time was synchronized with God's time.

While this chapter deals mainly with the state of a mother after childbirth, it also mentions, in passing in 12:3, the requirement for her to attend to the circumcision of any son that she produced. His circumcision occurred after her initial week of social seclusion. It marked her social reengagement on the eighth day after his birth. In the rite of circumcision, the foreskin was removed.

Whereas in many tribal societies circumcision had traditionally been, and still often is, a rite of passage that was performed at the onset of puberty to turn a boy into a man fit for marriage and adult life (cf. Gen 17:25), God had made it the mark or sign of his covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:9–14). By his Word he established it as a rite in which an infant male became a member of his clan, a beneficiary of his covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:10–11) and a member of the liturgical community (Ex 12:48). This involved two powerful ritual reversals to the traditional pattern. The rite was not performed by the future fatherin-law of the boy, but by his own father, the head of his family (Gen 17:23). It was not done to an adolescent boy in early puberty to make a man of him, but to an eight-day old infant (Gen 17:12; Lev 12:3) to make him part of God's kinsfolk, a male called on to pass on the seed and the blessing of Abraham to his descendants. (pp. 268-269)


While all of Kleinig’s comments are worthy of consideration, his concluding comments are especially worthy of our attention. He reminds us that these OT regulations were written with the ‘backdrop’ of contrasting with pagan religions. Circumcision connected the boy with the covenant of Abraham and with the liturgical community.

Leviticus 15

While the issue of clean vs. unclean is brought up in Leviticus 12, in chapter 15, Moses goes into more detail. In this context, Kleinig writes:

Theological Significance

This speech, which comes at the end of the manual of impurities, provides us with a theological grammar of bodily impurity. As such, it is typical for the theological understanding of impurity in Leviticus, for the sense of impurity


has to do with threats to the integrity and health of the human body. It is exemplified, most characteristically and universally, by the attitude of women and men to their genitals and their use in sexual activity. Human beings oscillate between a sense of spiritual awe at their sexuality and a sense of physical disgust with their sexual organs, between a belief in the possible supernatural power of sexuality and the fear of actual contamination from it.

The rulings in this chapter work on the rather indiscriminate, raw sense of sexual impurity that is often associated with sexual intercourse, menstruation, seminal ejaculations, and genital infection. They use five different cases to reinterpret impurity theologically and so reshape the attitude of the Israelites to their genitals and their sexual use. They do not try to explain away the common human sense of bodily impurity and sexual defilement as primitive and irrational, but they treat it positively by discriminating between various degrees of impurity and prescribing appropriate pastoral rites of purification.

The most significant feature of this legislation is that it does not locate the source of genital impurity in either of the sexes or in their sexual organs. People do not generate impurity; it is something extrinsic to them and their sexual organs, an invasive and infective power. It is identified quite practically with the genital discharges found outside the human body. It belongs to the unclean domain that is associated with the underworld and its powers, the realm of death and of anti-god. So, even though impurity is experienced most tangibly as something physical, it is in itself as much a spiritual as a physical state of being, a power that impinges on the sexuality of men and women. The Israelites lived together as a community in the common domain that was caught between two realms, the holy realm of God and the counter-realm of impurity-the fallen, sinful world. Consequently, they were all more or less unclean from their involvement in various kinds of impurity, just as they were all more or less clean from their involvement with God and his holiness. None of them were inherently clean and so capable of making others clean. Only God could do that. The laws in this chapter distinguish major long-term impurity from minor short-term impurity, just as they distinguish minor rites of purification from major rites of purification.

This theological grammar of bodily purity explores three different dimensions of impurity. The first had to do with the physical vitality and integrity of the body with its reproductive organs in the order of creation. God created the genitals for the purpose of reproduction. They could fail to fulfill their potential for procreation by pathological malfunction (15:2b–12, 25–27) or operational dysfunction (15:16–24). If the sexual organs had an abnormal discharge, they had lost their power to achieve reproduction; if they had an external discharge of semen or blood apart from sexual intercourse, they thereby failed to achieve reproduction. Thus God's creative purpose for them was frustrated. The flow of life from God did not pass through them to another person.

The second dimension had to do with the use of male and female organs in sexual intercourse. The classification of abnormal and normal genital dis


charges as unclean and the cause of impurity served to regulate sexual activity in Israelite marriages and families. It stopped those who had abnormal discharges from having sexual intercourse with their partners, so spreading their infection. While it prevented a man from having sex with a woman during her period, relieving her of his sexual demands, it also encouraged sex during the other three weeks of the month.

Most importantly, the classification of clean and unclean gave a structure for handling the vague sense of sexual impurity and limited the scope for the spread of impurity by people with normal sexual discharges, in sexual intercourse or apart from it. This is most evident in the careful formulation of the rules for a menstruating woman. She did not by herself pollute anybody; only her discharge did that. As she went about her household work, she could safely touch anyone and anything in her home, without contaminating them. The members of her household did not need to fear her and shun her with disgust as a danger to them. These rules therefore freed people with some form of sexual impurity to engage in their normal business with each other in their families.

The third and most significant dimension of these rulings had to do with the ritual status of men and women before God. It involved the Israelites as members of the liturgical community. These rulings defined impurity ritually and theologically. Thus, if people were unclean from any genital discharge, they were not allowed to come before God at the sanctuary and touch anything that is holy (cf. 12:4). If they brought their impurity with them into the sacred realm, they defiled the sanctuary (15:31). This form of defilement was the worst kind of sacrilege; it resulted in death from God. Those who defiled God's holiness died in their impurity.

This theological understanding of impurity helps to explain some of the most puzzling features of this chapter. If we operate only with hygienic and social notions of impurity, we will not be able to figure out why semen and menstrual blood are held to be pollutants. They are, after all, normal and natural substances emitted by healthy people. But impurity is a ritual, theological category.

The classification of semen and menstrual blood as pollutants makes good sense in a pagan, animist environment such as ancient Israel faced. They were commonly regarded as supernatural substances with life-giving power if rightly used, but dangerous if used in the wrong way or by the wrong person. They were therefore often used in ritual, magic, and sorcery. Many people in the ancient world also believed that certain families and nations were bearers of "holy seed" and "divine blood" because they traced their origin mythologically to an ancestor who had sexual intercourse with a god or goddess.

God's classification of semen and menstrual blood as impurities desacralized them and prevented the Israelites from engaging in pagan and occult practices. Since the emission of semen made people unclean, no couple could ever have sexual intercourse at the sanctuary as part of any ritual enactment, nor could any man present his "seed" as an offering to the Lord. Thus these laws


located sexual intercourse securely in the common realm. Sex was not, under any circumstance, sacred; it was not at all divine. Yet this teaching still associated reproduction with the will of God and the flow of life that came from him into Israelite homes and families.

This ritual-religious definition of sexual impurity resulted in corresponding ritual-religious definition of sexual purity. If people were clean, they were fit for God and contact with the holy things of God. They could enter the sanctuary without defiling it. They received life and blessing from God; he empowered them to procreate. He too instituted the rites of purification for them, whether it was by laundering their clothes and taking a bath or by presenting sacrifices for their release from impurity and restoration. His Word empowered these rites. Through them he purified his people, so that they could once again stand in his presence and share in his holiness.


Kleinig notes how the human tendency, when it comes to sexuality (esp. in the Canaanite context as a contrasting backdrop) is either to worship sex (and all that goes along with it) or to be disgusted by it. God's word clears away the extreme misuses/misunderstandings and puts it back on firm, practical ground.

So also, Kleinig's exploration of the three dimensions of impurity are well-treated.

NT Fulfillment and Considerations

In connecting the OT to its NT fulfillment, Kleinig offers this commentary:

In keeping with the law in Lev 12:3, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Lk 2:21). He fulfilled this aspect of the law just as he fulfilled the whole of it, for, as Just notes, "in the circumcision of the one who represents all humanity, all people are circumcised once and for all."" He entered into the covenant that God had made with Abraham and received the blessing that had been promised to him.

Christ, in turn, replaced the rite of circumcision with his own circumcision, the circumcision performed by God the Father rather than by human hands (Col 2:11-13). That supernatural act of circumcision is enacted in Baptism. In Baptism the whole "body of flesh" is "put off" by burial with Christ and resurrection with him (Col 2:11-12). All baptized believers, whether male or female, Jew or Greek, are members of the one body of Christ (Col 3:11–15). Those who undergo this circumcision are qualified to participate in the service of God the Father by the Holy Spirit (Phil 3:3).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, involved him in her purification after his birth (Lk 2:22–24). She and Joseph brought him to the temple for the first time to include him in her purification on the fortieth day after his birth, even though the law did not require the son (Jesus) to be present for this. Since he was her firstborn son, he was offered to God at the same time as she was purified by the sacrifice of two birds (cf. Ex 13:2, 12; Neh 10:36). Yet no mention is made of his redemption then or later. Luke thereby indicated that the whole of his life was consecrated to the service of God (cf. Lk 1:35). Luke quite deliberately connected Mary's purification to Christ's consecration, for she was purified by her son-as are all the saints-for access to the heavenly sanctuary. (p. 270)


We note that, in the Lukan context, the holiness of the child that she gives birth to sanctifies Mary.

Likewise Kleinig notes for us that, in the Pauline context, baptism is the corresponding fulfillment of circumcision (and its NT replacement). Paul brings up the context of circumcision and baptism in two places...

Galatians 3-4

Here is a summary of Paul's flow of thought in Galatians 3-4:

  • Scripture reveals to us that the world is held as a prisoner to sin (“ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν” (Γαλάτας 3·22 THGNT-T))
  • Baptism clothes us with Christ (“ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε.” (Γαλάτας 3·27 THGNT-T))
  • Baptism gives us the status of 'sons' in God's kingdom (“εἰ δὲ ὑμεῖς χριστοῦ, ἄρα τοῦ Ἁβραὰμ σπέρμα ἐστέ, κατ’ ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι.” (Γαλάτας 3·29 THGNT-T))

Colossians 2

Again, we note Pauls flow of thought...

  • Circumcision is replaced fulfilled by Baptism (“ἐν ᾧ καὶ περιετμήθητε περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός, ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ χριστοῦ,” (Κολασσαεῖς 2·11 THGNT-T))
  • Baptism is a good work that God performs in and for us in which he delivers to us spiritual life (“συνταφέντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ βαπτίσματι ἐν ᾧ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν.” (Κολασσαεῖς 2·12 THGNT-T))

Theological Considerations

Jesus' circumcision begins his active obedience where Jesus, as our substitute, places himself under the law to obey all the laws we could not obey:

“<4> But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, <5> to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4–5 NIV11-GKE)

God's word (esp. Paul) connects baptism to circumcision as the NT fulfillment of circumcision. In baptism people have the name of the Triune God placed on them, and as a result are brought into God's family as 'sons' (Gal. 4). In baptism they are given resurrection (Galatians 3; Romans 6). In baptism people are given the forgiveness of sins (Gal. 3).

This thought is nothing at all new. Since Paul teaches this so clearly, we find the theologians in the early church repeating this:

ORIGEN: So, when he died, we died with him, and when he rose, we rose with him. Likewise, we were also circumcised along with him. After his circumcision, we were cleansed by a solemn purification. Hence we have no need at all for a circumcision of the flesh. You should know that he was circumcised for our sake. Listen to Paul’s clear proclamation. He says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”1 Therefore his death, his resurrection and his circumcision took place for our sake.

(Arthur A. Just and Thomas C. Oden, eds. Luke. vol. 3 of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. ICCS/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 44.)

Another example:

BEDE: He therefore received in the flesh the circumcision decreed by the law, although he appeared in the flesh absolutely without any blemish of pollution. He who came in the likeness of sinful flesh4—not in sinful flesh—did not turn away from the remedy by which sinful flesh was ordinarily made clean. Similarly, not because of necessity but for the sake of example, he also submitted to the water of baptism, by which he wanted the people of the new law of grace to be washed from the stain of sins….

(Arthur A. Just and Thomas C. Oden, eds. Luke. vol. 3 of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. ICCS/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 44.)

A final example:

CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA: St. Paul says that “neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision.”11 On the eighth day Christ rose from the dead and gave us the spiritual circumcision. He then commanded the holy apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”12 And we affirm that the spiritual circumcision takes place chiefly in holy baptism, when Christ makes us partakers of the Holy Spirit too. Of this Joshua, that Jesus of old, who became the leader of the Israelites after Moses, was also a type. He led the children of Israel across the Jordan, then made them stop and immediately circumcised them with knives of stone. So when we have crossed the Jordan, Christ circumcises us with the power of the Holy Spirit, not by purifying the flesh but rather by cutting off the defilement that is in our souls. On the eighth day, therefore, Christ was circumcised and, as I said, received his name. We were saved by him and through him, because “in him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him.”13 His death, therefore, was for our sake, as were also his resurrection and his circumcision. For he died, so that we who have died together with him in his dying to sin, would no longer live for sin. Thus if we have died together with him, we shall also live together with him.14 He is said to have died to sin, not because he had sinned, for he was without sin, neither was guile found on his lips,15 but because of our sin. Therefore, just as we died together with him when he died, so will we also rise together with him…. After Jesus’ circumcision, the rite was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type. For this reason we are no longer circumcised. It seems to me that circumcision achieved three distinct ends. In the first place, it separated the descendants of Abraham by a sort of sign and seal and distinguished them from all other nations. Second, it prefigured in itself the grace and efficacy of divine baptism. Formerly a male who was circumcised was included among the people of God by virtue of that seal; nowadays, a person who is baptized and has formed in himself Christ the seal, becomes a member of God’s adopted family.

(Arthur A. Just and Thomas C. Oden, eds. Luke. vol. 3 of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. ICCS/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 44-45.)

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