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Verse 1. In those days. About the time of the birth of John and of Christ.

A decree. A law commanding a thing to be done.

Caesar Augustus. This was the Roman emperor. His first name was Octavianus. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar, and obtained the empire after his death. He took the name Augustus — i.e. august, or honourable— as a compliment to his own greatness; and from him the month August, which was before called Sextilis, received its name.

That all the world. There has been much difficulty respecting this passage, from the fact that no such taxing of all the world is mentioned by ancient writers. It should have been rendered the whole land—that is, the whole land of Palestine. The whole land is mentioned to show that it was not Judea only, but that it included also Galilee, the place where Joseph and Mary dwelt. That the passage refers only to the land of Palestine, and not to the whole world, or to all the Roman empire, is clear from the following considerations:

1st. The fact that no such taxing is mentioned as pertaining to any other country.

2nd. The account of Luke demands only that it should be understood of Palestine, or the country where the Saviour was born.

3rd. The words world and whole world are not unfrequently used in this limited sense as confined to a single country. See Mt 4:8, where Satan is said to have shown to Christ all the kingdoms of the world, that is, of the land of Judea. See also Jos 2:3; Lu 4:25 (Lu 4:25 Greek) Lu 21:26; Ac 11:28.

Should be taxed. Our word tax means to levy and raise money for the use of the government. This is not the meaning of the original word here. It means rather to enroll, or take a list of the citizens, with their employments, the amount of their property, &c., equivalent to what was meant by census. Judea was at that time tributary to Rome. It paid taxes to the Roman emperor; and, though Herod was king, yet he held his appointment under the Roman emperor, and was subject in most matters to him. Farther, as this enrolment was merely to ascertain the numbers and property of the Jews, it is probable that they were very willing to be enrolled in this manner; and hence we hear that they went willingly, without tumult— contrary to the common way when they were to be taxed.

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