It was a very busy time in the land of Judea as the timeline for BC (Before Christ) came to a close. Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2), Herod the Great was king over Judea (Matt. 2:1), and Caesar Augustus called for a census of the entire Roman world (Luke 2:1). Quirinius had recently lost his job in Judea and had been reassigned to Syria. As King Herod was above the task ordered by Augustus, it was Quirinius who would see to the chore of counting the people in this region through a census.
Herod was on his throne in Jerusalem waiting to hear from the noble eastern strangers who had inquired a few days earlier about “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2, NIV). It was protocol for royalty from one country to address the royalty of another country upon a visit, so this band of travelers who had been following the star for months stopped for the brief inquiry with this king. Herod must have given this traveling convoy time to find the newborn king, spend some time to worship on the Jewish Sabbath, reload supplies for their long-distance journey back home, and report back to him with a courtesy visit. It is not unlikely that King Herod would have waited at least forty days for all of this to be accomplished before realizing he had been outwitted (Matt. 2:16–18). Knowing that Quirinius needed thirty days or so to complete an accurate census for Augustus, Herod certainly did not want to ruffle the feathers of his superior, Caesar. Bethlehem was the final destination for the “kings from distant shores” (see Ps. 72:10, NIV) and was just a very short distance, about six miles, south of Jerusalem. King Herod requested these kings/magi/wise men report back to him where the child might be found so that he might worship this new king as well (so he said!).
While Herod allows time for this search to be completed, Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem must complete the circumcision of their son on the eighth day after birth as required by Jewish law. No mention is made of where this procedure takes place. It could have been Bethlehem (though Bethlehem was full of shepherds) or, more likely, Jerusalem, where rabbis and doctors would be found at the temple awaiting any opportunity for work. Reported tradition of the time indicates that a rabbi or doctor who performed circumcision was called a “mohel.” The circumciser of Jesus is unnamed in Luke’s account, but he may have been a rabbi or doctor who performed the cutting duty on a daily basis. Joseph would have discovered where to contact the nearest circumciser who was a member of a class of respected and important functionaries in either town. They bore the title mohel, and the sacred rite they performed with a sharp knife was called Brit Milah. Traditionally, the order to circumcise was given to the boy’s father, but it became customary to delegate that responsibility to a trained and practiced circumciser, the mohel.
“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised…. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:12–14, NIV).
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: “A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son…. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised’” (Lev. 12:1–3, NIV).
Regardless of where the event took place or who did the procedure, the newborn infant, Immanuel, was circumcised on the eighth day and was “named Jesus” (Luke 2:21, NIV), the name the angel Gabriel had given him nine months earlier. All of time by definition has been calculated from this event and this day. Over 500 years later, history would be designated as BC (Before Christ) for all events before his official naming and AD (Anno Domini) for all events after his official naming. The first day of the first month of 1 AD (1/1/1 AD) must be the day Jesus was circumcised and named Jesus. The accuracy of this day recorded in Luke 2:21 leads to the accuracy for the widely accepted date when Jesus is crucified in 33 AD. (To place Jesus’s birth between 4 and 8 BC, as some do, just does not fit the BC/AD timeline.)
All of Judea was busy on this day: the mohels were busy with their cutting business; Quirinius was busy with his census so that proper tax could be gathered to make Augustus happy; Herod was confidently waiting for the royal band to report back to him; the regal international convoy was making plans to depart Bethlehem (they were warned in a dream to take another route home, Matt. 2:12); and Joseph was busy finding the right mohel for Jesus.