1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
1901 ASV Translation:
1 Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.
There are no textual variations between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in 2:1.
I. In the birth narrative regarding Jesus, there are three major movements: the setting of His birth; the shepherds' experience; and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna at the time of His circumcision.
II. In the first movement, (2:1-7) there are these parts...
A. The decree of Caesar Augustus (takes up all of 2:1-3).
B. The acquiescence of Joseph and Mary to this decree (2:4-5).
C. The birth of Jesus (2:6-7).
I. If one allows the amount of space an author gives to a "subject" to reveal his focus, we cannot but recognize that the Caesar's "enrollment" was a primary focus for Luke because he gives 5 of the first 7 verses of his narrative over to it.
A. It is indisputable that Luke is revealing how it came about that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
B. It could be argued that Luke wanted to focus upon the "birth" (because this could be understood as his "punch line"), but it is indisputable that he wanted Theophilus to know that this "birth" was "determined" to be in Bethlehem by the decree of the Roman King who sat in government in a city a vast distance from where the events took place.
II. The Particulars.
A. "Now it came to pass in those days...".
1. This is a repetition of the introductory formula of 1:5.
a. It carries the same weight as did 1:5 -- the idea that God's plan comes to pass as the days go by.
b. It requires the reader to realize that the Sovereign Lord is always active in the daily events of the world's history as He brings His plan to fruition as He promised.
2. The actual length of time that has gone by in Luke's narrative is approximately 15 months (in round numbers -- no one knows exactly how much time transpired between Gabriel's appearance to Zacharias and the conception of John by his mother, nor does anyone know whether Gabriel's appearance to Mary was at the beginning of Elizabeth's "sixth month" (1:36), in the middle of it, or close to the end of it -- thus putting all speculation regarding the precise time of the births of either son into the "speculation" category, which is not conducive to "faith" and is disallowed by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:4). Jesus' conception could have followed John's by as little as 5 months and a day or two and as much as almost a full 6 months.
a. In 1:5 Luke obviously wanted Theophilus to tie the birth of John to the reign of Herod.
b. In 2:1 Herod is still the "king" in Judaea.
c. Clearly, Luke was disposed to tie the first son's birth to Herod in Judea and the second son's birth to Augustus in Rome (though "Rome" was never mentioned by name, it was such a pervasive issue of "Augustus" that it came along automatically).
B. "...there went out a decree..."
1. The word chosen to identify the "compelling circumstance" that resulted in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is the word from which we get "dogma" and "dogmatic".
a. It is used in the New Testament in five contexts, all of which treat it as a term that has significant "weight" in terms of the "pressure to conform".
b. It invariably carries the concept within it that a person is required to submit to the content of it, or face significant consequences.
1) The implication of significant consequences always pushes "values" to the fore -- what is more/most important?.
2) Significant consequences also signifies the use of "force" to compel submission.
2. The text is clear that "Augustus" intended to force the cooperation of everyone in his empire.
a. This is the standard approach of all of the kingdom of darkness: compel submission, and use force if necessary.
b. There is nothing here of the kingdom of light; yet it is by the works of the kingdom of darkness that its own demise is engineered -- it "forces" the birth of the King of Light to be born in Bethlehem. The ultimate irony is that the forces of rebellion combine to accomplish the will of the King of Light.
C. "...from [the presence of] Caesar Augustus..."
1. The name "Caesar" has several possible origins, but one of the most likely is that it signified the "Elephant" as the most powerful warrior (one of Caesar's ancestors was supposed to have killed one of Hannibal's war elephants single handedly and, afterwards, was called "Elephant/Caesar" by his admiring co-warriors). There is nothing here that is "believable".
2. The subtilty of Luke's record may actually be contrasting the "August Caesar", as the "Ruler of the World", with the baby born, by his "decree" in Bethlehem of Judea -- to be the True Ruler of the World.
D. "...that all the world should be taxed/enrolled..."
1. David got into real difficulty with God over this idea of "doing a census" [see the interesting contrast between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21].
2. The word "taxed/enrolled" has primary overtones of "control" and "dominance".
a. The word is "apographo" (an intensified form of "grapho", which means "to write") and it means something akin to "to make a written record of". It is not used in the sense of "to tax" except in situations where the "written record" is a census that exists for the purpose of taxation. There is no indication from Luke that "tax" is the "point": rather, the "point" is the use of accurate records for the purpose of any kind of domination -- including taxing, but also including any other reason for having those records.
b. It has Luke's point of focus written all over it as Luke refers to the practice in 2:1, 2, 3, and 5. Repetition is a broad hint of emphasis and a desire to pull one's reader's focus to the repeated issue.
c. The global issue involved is that the kingdoms of darkness exist by sucking the blood out of their constituents while the Kingdom of Light is the source of the blood of its constituents...the antithesis to "living by killing" is "living by dying".
3. Clearly, it was a tool of "government" to perpetuate itself: and, the joke is on the government which attempted to self-perpetuate and forced the birth of its Nemesis to occur in the proper place on the planet. The King of Kings was born under the dominance of the self-promoting king of kings and He still rules while he is eaten of worms.