Every male that opens the womb


The Gospel for tomorrow [Feast of the Purification] states:
as it is written in the law of the Lord,

[FONT=Georgia] “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”

Luke 2:23

Does this mean only if the first child is male [opens the womb] or does it mean the first male to be born whether or not there were previous female children?

I think it means the latter, but the phrasing seems to imply the former. [Maybe an awkward translation].


I think it means a firstborn, not just the first male, but a male that is the first child of a woman. At least that’s what I’ve always thought.


that’s what I was taught. If the first child born to a woman is a male that child is holy to the Lord.


I don’t know in what context it is written.

I did see a mistake with gender when our reading on a Sunday was, the prophet told that this time next year you will be blessed with a child and not blessed with a son, which it usually reads. Like it or not, in that time a son was more important than a girl, just how things were. Probably for inheritance, etc.

I heard on Catholic Answers radio Patrick mentioned a book on gender and the bible or something like that. The feminists like to change meanings so everyone is equal but it’s not like that, not in ancient times.


In the Ronald Knox, he translates it:
“It is written in God’s law, that whatever male offspring opens the womb is to be reckoned sacred to the Lord.”

I looked at textus Sainaiticus, to double check your bracketed question; and the earliest Greek texts have (literal):

… γε-γραπ-ται εν νομω κυ* οτι παν αρϲεν διανοιγων μητραν αγιον τω κω*
… written in to-law of-Lord that all strong-male passing-through womb/canal holy to-the Lord.

  • Note for those checking the words: The word for Lord (kuriou) is commonly abbreviated in the Early Greek manuscripts, and I have not fully translated the grammar, but only the words in a very literal manner.

So: The word in Greek that you need to focus on to answer your question is αρϲεν (‘arsen’). It’s a slightly less used word for male, but it emphasizes masculinity and potency – for example it’s used in Genesis 2:27, and Luke 10:6 ; to represent the direct creation of man as male and female, and in Genesis it is them together who are the image of God. The passage in Luke 2:23, however, does not have the word for female – but rather, refers explicitly only to the male and his origin from a female, by juxtaposition of the word for womb/opening.

There’s a few issues to be aware of when reading the passage; The Law being referred to is Leviticus 12:1-8 and talks about issues of blood loss and the woman’s ‘fault’ I suppose, for there being blood loss; but traditionally, Catholics do not believe Jesus “opened” the womb in a bloody manner, so that Mary retained her virginity even in child birth.

Luke, notice, in 2:21, talks about the first time Jesus was cut – and blood loss presumably inflicted – in the circumcision. It is precisely here, when his cutting is first mentioned, that he is given the name Jesus/Yeshua which literally means “God saves”.

Part of Luke’s purpose appears to be to draw the learned reader who understands that Jesus’ blood brings about our salvation – to consider why Mary and Joseph didn’t offer two separate sacrifices – one for the ransoming back of the firstborn Jesus; and a second for Mary’s purification from bloodloss during birth. Again, it’s a pious tradition that there was no bloodloss prior to the circumcision; and the tradition is held especially in the East;

Jesus’ birth is seen as a miracle of God’s choice that exempted her from suffering the pangs the first time he was born and that punishment which was given to Eve; eg: a literal interpretation of Psalm 70/71:6 where God chose to be at his own son’s sinless birth and draw his own (sinless) son forth from the womb directly without reference to the punishment he gave Eve on account of sin. ( But which we, as images of Christ in his mystical body – the church – still suffer. Cf: the woman of revelation crying out in travail.)

There’s a second issue to consider, and that is why did Moses choose to implement this law in the first place?

For the Law of Moses doesn’t refer the circumcision only to Abraham, and the promise given for circumcised children inheriting God’s blessing – but to another event; the Exodus, when all the firstborn males (not women) of the Egyptians were slain because the Egyptians were putting to death the firstborn male children of the Hebrews; So, you need to consider also the political reasons that Pharaoh tried to remove only the men – and leave marriageable women with only Egyptian husbands.

There was no sacrifice required for firstborn children, male or female, and cleansing of the mothers before the Exodus event although the ransoming of the firstborn was foreshadowed with Isaac and Abraham before the Egypt event; eg: sacrifice wasn’t required of all Hebrews until Egypt tried male genocide and God intervened to save them as a people.


D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 23. Every male opening the womb.[2] This translation is more conformable to the doctrine of the Fathers, that Christ was born without opening the womb; which Ven. Bede calls the doctrine of the Catholic Church. (Witham) — See Exodus xiii. 2. and Numbers viii. 16.


The point was that originally when God gave the Law, He called for every eldest son to be “His,” and a Jewish priest.

Later, after the Golden Calf, this was rescinded. Only the descendants of Aaron were to be priests, so the other eldest sons would be “bought back” and not have to keep the priestly rules. But this was a punishment on Israel.

Jesus was not part of Israel’s sin, so He was an eldest son Who would be a priest dedicated to God.


Hmm… yes.
Although, the law we are speaking of was given after the Exodus event had begun and Genocide applied to the Jews by Egypt ; But the practice of eldest son being Priest is something which predates the Exodus event and even goes back to the time of Cain and Abel ; although Cain had a different sort of sacrifice in mind… esp: as sheep are known to eat farmer’s grain fields when not penned in… etc.

Later, after the Golden Calf, this was rescinded. Only the descendants of Aaron were to be priests, so the other eldest sons would be “bought back” and not have to keep the priestly rules. But this was a punishment on Israel.

Jesus was not part of Israel’s sin, so He was an eldest son Who would be a priest dedicated to God.

The general idea is sort of correct… although, Moses’s whole tribe and even his children could be priests too. eg: Levites not just AAronites could be priests.

However, your explanation sort of fails to explain clearly the general principle that any firstborn who is not ransomed back whether or human or animal – was under a ban of death in the law of Moses after the Exodus. God forbade the sacrifice of human children, in the law, so God explicitly states something like “you will ransom your children back”

Therefore: I don’t see that dedication would excuse any firstborn male from the ransom price Moses set in the Law, unless the animal or child was immediately put to death. (eg: animals aren’t priests… so there’s a little more explanation needed than just the priesthood.)

See: Exodus 13:2, 13:12-13

Today, when the Jews no longer have a temple, it’s customary among many of them to give the mother of a firstling animal (while pregnant) to a foreigner/nonjew, in order to be able to “buy it back”. So, there is an awareness among today’s Jews of the relationship of the firstborn/firstlings to the Exodus event where they were ‘owned’ by a foreign nation and not God.

eg: There is a notion in Jewish history of an evil priesthood/foreign power or devil which the ransom symbolizes (or intends to prevent) their power or hold being over Israel.

Similarly, in Christian baptism of infants, we have exorcisms to prevent the Devil having any hold on our children; although, since all Christian children are baptized into Christ (the firstborn) as inheritors of the kingdom – baptism applies to all children male and female, and not just males; so it’s not identical in origin to the ransoming of the firstborn of Israel… but only an example of similarity of logic.


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