Certain scholars have claimed that Luke made a mistake
when he spoke of the purification of "them" (hAI
hHMERAI TOU KAQARISMOU AUTWN) in accordance with the
Law of Moses (Luke 2:22). Should one hastily conclude
that Luke the doctor-cum-historian was mistaken in
speaking of the need for "them" to be purified rather
than "her" (i.e. Mary, the mother of Jesus)?
The KJV says "her purification" rather than alluding to
the purification of "them." The interpretive or textual problem is that
we know of only one Greek MS that reads AUTHS as opposed to AUTWN (a 12th century text). This change was probably made because of the supposed
difficulties with the Lukan account. The evidence from MSS
dating from the fourth century onwards is that the
text should read AUTWN. Yet, the Law of Moses only
prescribed that the mother of a male child should make
purification for herself (Leviticus 12:1-8). How then,
can one account for Luke's wording of this account?
Ralph Earle offers three possible explanations for the
use of the plural AUTWN:
(1) The pronoun could refer to Joseph and Mary; (2) it could reference the Jews (i.e. "Jewish" purification) or (3) Luke may have "run together the cleansing of the mother and the offering of the child" (Word Meanings in the NT,
Rogers and Rogers New Linguistic and Exegetical Key
to the Greek NT suggests that the genitive plural AUTWN possibly refers to Mary and Joseph (indicating family solidarity) "or it may refer to the purification of Mary and to the redemption of the
firstborn" (page 112).
I. Howard Marshall writes (after examining different factors): "It is most likely that Luke has run together the cleansing of the mother and the offering of the child . . ." into one act" (see The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text).