|The Good News According to Luke|
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Go to Bible: Luke 1
“compile an orderly account.” For why there are four Gospels, see commentary on Mark 1:1, “gospel.”(top)
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|Luk 1:3||- (top)|
|Luk 1:4||- (top)|
“In the days of Herod.” Although this gives us a basic time of the birth of John, since Herod reigned from 37 BC to 3 BC (although most historians say 4 BC), it is saying more than just that historical fact. Herod was a cruel and hated king, and the “days of Herod” were dark days for the Judeans. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were a burst of light into this darkness. No wonder the prophet, speaking of the coming of the Messiah, said, “The people who are walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined (Isa. 9:2). Had God wanted to He could have given us the exact year of Herod, and other leaders as well (cp. Luke 3:1).
The record of the events surrounding the birth of Christ occurs in Matthew and Luke, and the two Gospels interweave when it comes to the chronology of the events. To read about the birth of Christ in chronological order, it is: Luke 1:5-80; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-30; Matt. 2:1-22. Then Matt. 2:23 and Luke 2:39-40 are both summary statements about Jesus growing up in Nazareth.
“named Zechariah.” The Hebrew and Aramaic in the Old Testament and time of Christ did not have a vowel following the “Z,” so some versions have Zechariah, while some have “Zachariah.” Although “Zachariah” is traditional and is in the King James Version, the pronunciation of the name as “Zechariah” is more likely and thus is the choice of most of the modern versions. “Zechariah” means “Yahweh remembers,” which would generally refer to Yahweh remembering His covenant, not Yahweh remembering Zechariah. “Elizabeth” means “Elohim is an oath,” that is, “Elohim is faithful.”
“priestly division of Abijah.” 1 Chronicles 24:1-19 recounts how King David organized the priests, the sons of Aaron, into 24 divisions. The eighth division was the division or “course” of Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10). Each division was on duty twice a year for a one-week period, and also served at the three major feasts of the year: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. After the Babylonian Captivity, only four divisions returned (Ezra 2:36-39), but these four were divided into 24 divisions, given the names of the original 24, and then continued on with their duties according to the traditional timing (Hendriksen). The eighth division of Abijah that Zechariah was serving could have been the first of his two services in 4 BC, the last week of May, 4 BC that year, or it could have been the later of the two times of service, which would have been in November, the Bible does not make that clear. We must keep in mind that the Jewish lunar year was 11 days shorter than the modern solar year, so the dates of the division of Abijah could vary by almost a month over a course of three or more years. To serve as a priest of the course of Abijah was a tremendous privilege because May was generally a wonderful month in Israel, not too hot or too cold, while November could be rainy but not too cold. To be born with a priestly course that was August-February meant serving in the hottest hot and almost the coldest cold in Israel’s weather calendar.
“he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron.” To be a priest and to be married to a priest’s daughter was considered a double blessing, and it meant that the fact that John the Baptist was himself a priest, although there is no indication in the text that he ever stepped into that role and participated in any Temple service.(top)
“And they were both righteous before God.” Scripture includes this character reference about Zechariah and Elizabeth to point out that they were godly people because Elizabeth was barren, and often that would indicate sin in her life.
“before God.” This phrase is an idiom where doing something “before the Lord” means to do something in service to him, to act as his servant. This can be seen when Elijah says, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1; cp. 1 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 3:14; 5:16). Elijah is saying he stands in service to God. (For more examples see: Gen. 7:1; 17:1; 24:40; 37:10; Luke 1:6, 8, 15, 75; Acts 4:19; 8:21; 1 Tim. 5:4; Heb. 13:21).(top)
“they both were advanced in their days.” The Levites could only work from 20 to 50, but the priests could work as long as they were able. It is almost certain that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were over 60, and they may have both been over 70. According to the Mishna, 60 was the time a person was considered aged, an elder. Mishna, Pirkei Avot: Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5, paragraph 24: He used to say: At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at 13 for the commandments, at 15 for the Talmud, at 18 for the bridechamber, at 20 for one’s life pursuit, at 30 for authority, at 40 for discernment, at 50 for counsel, at 60 to be an elder, at 70 for gray hairs, at 80 for special strength (Psalm 90:10), at 90 for decrepitude, and at a 100 a man is as one who has already died and has ceased from the affairs of this world. (www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-the-fathers-5/, paragraph 24. Note: the paragraphs of the Mishna differ from website to website). Their advanced age makes it quite certain that they both died before John started his ministry. In fact, it is likely that they both died while John was in his teen years or perhaps early 20s.
Zechariah’s advanced age would not have kept him from working in the Temple as a priest. The times of service differed for the priests and Levites. When the Levites first started their service under Moses, they were counted for their duty from age 30 to 50, a period of 20 years (Numbers 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, and 4:47). However, Numbers 8:24-26, also written during the wilderness wanderings, says the Levites served from age 25 to 50. Although it is possible that the number 20 was very temporary and revised up to 25, it is more likely that the Levites started an apprenticeship before they took over the full responsibility of their duties. King David revised the ages, and the Levites started ministering at age 20 (1 Chron. 23:24-26; cp. 2 Chron. 31:17; Ezra 3:8).
However, priests differed from Levites. When it came to the priests, “There was not any fixed age for entering on the office of the high-priest, any more than on that of an ordinary priest” (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Christ, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, reprinted 1978; p. 94). The High Priest, for example, started when the High Priest before him died, no matter how old he was, and ministered as High Priest until he died. The Law never specified when the priests started their office, but when the Talmud was written, it said age 20.
If Zechariah and Elizabeth were in their mid-60s when John was born (John’s birth was likely 2 or 3 BC), they would have seen a lot of turmoil in their days. They would have been born during the last days of the Hasmonean dynasty before the Roman army led by Pompeii conquered Israel in 63 BC. The Romans allowed the Hasmoneans to continue to rule Israel (the Hasmoneans were in power over parts of Israel from 164 BC to 37 BC), but only under the authority of the Roman governor of Syria. That was resented by the Jews and there were revolts against Rome that were never successful. Added to that was the fact that in 40 BC the Parthians from the east attacked Israel and sacked Jerusalem and were not ousted from Israel and Jerusalem until 38 BC by a combined force of Herod and the Romans. In 37 BC the Romans installed Herod the Great as king over Israel (he had been appointed king in 40 BC but did not control the country). Herod was a cruel ruler and was disliked by the religious Jews. In 20 BC he began the construction of the Temple, which was completed in 46 AD, long after his death (the year of Herod’s death is disputed and is dated by various historians as early as 5 BC and as late as 1 AD). In any case, much of Zechariah’s ministry as a priest would have occurred in troubled times and also in a work zone while the Temple was being built.
“barren.” In a culture in which children were considered the blessing of the Lord, and the death rate was so high that each couple had to have 5 children to keep the population number stable, being barren was considered a curse. In fact, the situation highlights the godly character of Zechariah, who was no doubt under pressure to divorce Elizabeth. There were people who considered it a religious duty to divorce a barren wife (Edersheim, Life and Times, Book II, p. 137). No wonder Elizabeth said she had “disgrace among people” (Luke 1:25).
For a wife to be barren was considered a curse. The reason for that was that in the Law of Moses one of the blessings for obedience was children (Exod. 23:26; Deut. 7:13-14; 28:4, 11), and one of the curses of the Law was a barren womb (Deut. 28:18). So if a woman did not have children, even if those who were close to her knew she was godly, the overall feeling about her among the people was that she was a sinner and was cursed. Also, culturally, the men were never suspected of contributing to a woman’s being barren; if she was, then the people thought there was something wrong with her.
Being barren was also economically challenging. Any older person knows how helpful it is to have youthful strength and energy in the home, and beyond that, in a time when there were no social services to help the aged, being older without family support was more than difficult, it could be a death sentence.(top)
“in his division’s turn.” See commentary on Luke 1:5; “priestly division of Abijah.”
“before God.” See commentary on Luke 1:6.(top)
“he went into the sanctuary of the Lord.” In this case, the context lets us know that the “sanctuary” was the holy place, the first room of the Temple, which in Herod’s Temple had ten menorahs, ten tables with bread of the presence, and the altar of incense. As the verse says, he went in to burn the incense on the golden altar of incense.
“lot.” The priest who got the privilege of burning incense on the golden altar in the Temple was chosen by the casting of lots. The honor was so great that a person was only allowed to do it one time in his life, and after that he was called “rich” (A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book II, p. 134). At the time of Christ there were many thousands of priests and Levites, many more than was necessary to do the required work of the Temple except perhaps during the feasts, so often jobs were assigned by casting lots. “There were many more priests and Levites than necessary (perhaps eighteen thousand) for any given function in the Temple” (Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, 2nd edition, p.179).
“to burn the incense offering.” The inside of Herod’s Temple would have followed the pattern of Solomon’s Temple, not Moses’ Tabernacle. So it would have had ten menorahs, not one, five on each side, and ten tables of the Bread of the Presence, not just one (2 Chron. 4:7-8). But, just as in Solomon’s Temple, there would have only been one golden altar of incense, but the entrance to the Holy of Holies would have been through doors, as in Solomon’s Temple, not curtains as in the Tabernacle (1 Kings 6:31).(top)
“of the People.” No Gentiles were allowed just outside the sanctuary, in what was called the court of men and women. The use of the Greek word laos for “people” here in Luke 1:10 refers specifically to the Jews. See commentary on Luke 2:10; “the people.”
“at the hour of incense.” The incense was to be burned on the altar of incense that was in front of the doors leading to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. According to Jewish custom, the incense was burned before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice (cp. Exod. 30:7-8) The evening sacrifice was killed about 3 p.m. (cp. Acts 3:1) and the incense burned after that. Although the Bible does not say whether Zechariah was chosen to burn the morning incense or the evening incense, it seems that the evening incense is more logical due to the multitude of people present when he came out of the sanctuary.(top)
“an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing.” The angel did not walk in, but materialized right where he stood, going from invisible to visible on the right side of the altar.
“on the right side of the altar of incense.” The right side (or right hand) was the side of blessing, something that shows up a number of times in Scripture (cp. Matt. 25:33; Prov. 3:16). In this case, the Temple faced east, so the right side of the altar of incense was the south side. In the Temple, God was the priority and He faced east, so the “side” that something was on was determined by Him, not by the worshipper looking west at Him. To God looking east, the angel was on the right side of the altar of incense, while to Zechariah looking west, the angel was on its left side. That looking east is the priority also shows up in descriptions of the Temple in books such as Psalms and Ezekiel (cp. Ps. 110:1; Ezek. 40-48).(top)
“was startled when he saw him.” Zechariah was startled and frightened when he saw him because he would have been alone in the holy place in the Temple—no one else would have been there at that time, yet this “man” appeared, which frightened Zechariah.
“fear fell on him.” This is an idiom meaning that he became afraid.(top)
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah.” This is a consistent message from God to people, and often when angels appear people are frightened and the angel then says not to be afraid (cp. Judg. 6:23; Luke 1:30). Fear is self-centered and keeps people from being all they can be for the Lord.
“your prayer.” What the angel said borders on the ironic. “Prayer” is singular in the Greek, but certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed many prayers for Elizabeth to have a child, in fact it is quite certain that prayer to have a baby would have been a high priority for them in the years past. But the angel lumps all those prayers together and refers to them as a “prayer,” focusing on the singularity of their desire and request.
The irony is that by this time, because of their old age, it is quite certain that Elizabeth and Zechariah had stopped praying for a child. In fact, it was due to their old age that Zechariah asked the angel for a sign that they would even have a child (Luke 1:7, 18). Zechariah would not have asked for such a sign if Elizabeth was of childbearing age. Thus, as Sarah at age 90 continued the genealogy to Christ by the miracle birth of Isaac, now Elizabeth would bear the forerunner of the Messiah by a miracle birth.
This record in Luke shows us that there are righteous prayers that remain alive in the mind of God and have an effect years after they are spoken. So it was that years after Elizabeth and Zechariah fervently prayed for a child, those prayers were answered. This record about Zechariah and Elizabeth is one of many miracles associated with the birth of the Messiah, and one of the many records that speak of the importance and effectiveness of prayer.
“John.” The name means, “Yahweh is gracious” or “Yahweh has shown favor.”(top)
|Luk 1:14||- (top)|
“in the sight of the Lord.” Biblical custom. The literal is “before the Lord” (ESV). The “Lord” in this verse is God, as per the Old Testament usage. This is an idiom where “before me” means “in my sight.” Just like “thou shalt have no other gods before me,” meaning I do not want to see any other gods in your life (Deut. 5:7, literally, “before my face”). For a sampling of OT examples of this custom see: Genesis 19:27; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16; 25:2; 1 Samuel 2:17; 3:1; Psalm 21:6; 42:2; Lamentations 1:22. For other New Testament examples see: Luke 1:75; Ephesians 1:4.
There is so much in this little phrase: “great in the sight of the Lord.” John’s life is mostly unknown, and his ministry was quite short. He died in prison as a result of having made enemies because he dared to speak the truth. So many people take pride in being great in the eyes of the world, but in the end that greatness will mean nothing. John’s light is still burning, although his life ended 2,000 years ago. Every Christian should strive to be great in the sight of the Lord.
“he must not ever drink wine or beer.” The prohibition not to drink alcoholic drinks was part of the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6:1-21. It therefore seems that John the Baptist was a Nazarite from birth, although the Scripture never explicitly says so, or says anything about his hair never being cut. But the angel’s warning about not drinking wine or beer is stringent enough to be good evidence that John was a Nazarite. An angel gave the same warning to Samson’s parents (Judg. 13:3, 14) and Samson was a Nazarite (Judg. 13:7).
The Greek word translated “beer” is sikera (#4608 σίκερα). It was not a distilled beverage, like our whisky, rum, vodka, etc., today. Distilled liquor was unknown in the ancient world. It was a fermented drink, hence our translation as “beer.” The Akkadian word was sikaru, barley beer, from whence the Hebrew word shekhar almost certainly came, and the Greek word is obviously related.
Because “beer” does not occur in most translations of the Bible (although that is changing in some of the more modern versions; cp. HCSB, NET), it is worth saying something about it. Biblical Archaeological Review (Sept./Oct. 2010, Vo. 36, no. 5), has a very informative article by Michael Homan, titled, “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?” Homan writes:
The article goes on to discuss how beer was not made like we do it today with hops or carbonation, and that it was often made from a mixture of things, including mixed grains instead of just one grain, and it could be sweetened with many different things, such as grapes, figs, honey, and fruit, and also spices were sometimes added.
The Greek word refers to a fermented drink that was almost certainly some kind of beer, whether barley beer, date beer, mixed-ingredients beer, etc. In contrast, it does not refer to distilled liquor, which is what the English “strong drink” implies, so we did not use that term in the REV.
“filled with holy spirit.” This holy spirit was the gift of God that He gave to some believers before Pentecost. For example, God put spirit upon elders who served with Moses so they could help him (Num. 11:17, 25-30). [For more information on the holy spirit and uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit,” and also Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].(top)
“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.” The Bible does not say how long John was ministering and baptizing before he baptized Jesus and Jesus started his ministry, but it seems it would have been at least a number of months to perhaps even a few years, because the task of traveling around Israel and turning the people back to God was momentous (see commentary on Luke 3:3).(top)
“to turn the hearts of fathers to their children.” When the angel appeared to Zechariah and said that the boy would be “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15), that was wonderful but not overly revealing as to who the child would really be. But all that changed in Luke 1:16-17. The angel started describing John’s calling and ministry in Old Testament terms that Zechariah, a well-educated and knowledgeable priest, would have known. The angel started using vocabulary and phrases from the Old Testament that revealed that John would be the forerunner to the Messiah.
The prophecies of the coming Messiah had been given for 4,000 years, starting with Genesis 3:15. Much later in the Old Testament, Scripture foretold there would be a messenger before the Messiah who would prepare the way for him (cp. Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1). In order to appreciate how important this forerunner was, we must remember that at that time no one knew there would be two “comings” of the Messiah: one when he died and one when he conquered. Everyone thought that when the Messiah came he would conquer the earth and set up his kingdom. This was why when Jesus told the Apostles that he would die that Peter said that would not happen to him (Matt. 16:22), and why the people said the Christ would live forever (John 12:34). Thus, for the angel to indicate that John would be the forerunner to the Messiah meant to Zechariah that the Messiah, and the wonderful kingdom he would set up on earth, were coming very soon.
The angel’s reference to the “spirit and power of Elijah” was a reference to Malachi 4:5, and thus was more evidence that John would come right before the Messiah. The Jews knew that Elijah was to come before the Messiah (Matt. 17:10), so they asked John if he were Elijah, to which he answered “No” (John 1:21). While that seems surprising at first, the reason that John said “no” was not because he was not the Elijah of Malachi 4:5, but because the people of the time so badly misunderstood Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah that John did not fulfill their incorrect expectations.
The rabbis believed there would be “a return of Elijah in person to prepare the Messianic kingdom” and they thought that perhaps in John “this rabbinic expectation was fulfilled and that the Baptist actually was Elijah returned to life. In this sense the Baptist utters his denial…‘I am not’” (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John). So the Jews were looking for the real Elijah to be raised from the dead, and John was not that Elijah; he was not Elijah raised from the dead. However, John was the person meant in Malachi 4:5 and represented as “Elijah” by the figure of speech antonomasia (“name change,” see commentary on John 1:21). Furthermore, Jesus understood that John was “Elijah” (Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13), and Zechariah would have understood that too at some level, and understood, and no doubt was astounded to learn, that his son would be the “Elijah” of Malachi and the forerunner to the Messiah.
It is likely that this powerful and unexpected revelation, that John would be the promised forerunner to the Messiah, was at least in part why Zechariah asked the angel for a sign that these things would happen (Luke 1:18).
“their children.” Cp. NIV. In the text there is no word for “their,” however, the possessive is implied.
“good sense.” The Greek is phronesis (#5428 φρόνησις). This is not the Greek, sophia, wisdom, but rather “a word for practical intelligence” (Robertson, Word Studies).
“to make ready for the Lord a people who are entirely prepared.” The translation “entirely prepared” is due to the prefix kata on kataskeuazō (#2680 κατασκευάζω), which in this context seems to intensify it from just “prepared” to “entirely prepared” or “really prepared.” John did a good job of preparing those who listened to him for the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Day of Judgment.(top)
“sign.” Literally, Zechariah says, “according to what will I know it?” This is to be understood as asking for a sign. As Lenski writes, “it asks for a norm or sign in accord with which the promise will be fulfilled.” This is the same phrasing that Abraham uses in Genesis 15:8. Interestingly, scripture says that “Jews ask for signs” (1 Cor. 1:22), as was the case with Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah when they were promised things from the Lord. The difference with Zechariah was that he asked out of some measure of unbelief—as verse 20 makes clear—while these others asked from a desire to strengthen the faith they had (See Hendriksen). However, Zechariah’s unbelief can certainly be understood to some extent. The angel told him in terms that were clear to him that the Messiah that believers had been awaiting for some 4,000 years was about to come and his son would be the messenger and forerunner of the Messiah who had been prophesied about in the Old Testament. That could be hard to believe, even if the message did come from an angel. After all, the Bible had said the Messiah was coming soon in other places but it had been hundreds of years (cp. Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Isa. 13:6; 29:17-18; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Ezek. 30:3). Zechariah would no doubt have known those prophecies and realized that just because the Bible said the Day of Yahweh was near did not mean “near” in the sense of going to happen right away. Add to that, Zechariah knew it would take a miracle for his wife to give birth, and that would have contributed to his doubt in this situation. So he asked for a sign.(top)
“Gabriel.” Means, “God is my strength.” The first occurrence is Daniel 8:16.
“who stands in the presence of God.” To get to be in the presence of God, indicating close by God, showed that Gabriel was an important and powerful angel among the spirit beings. Not every spirit got to be that close to God.(top)
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“proper time.”Kairos (#2540 καιρός) can mean time in the sense of “proper, right, or appropriate time” (BDAG). Much like a parent might say to a fifteen year old, “you’ll be ready to date when it is time,” or “when it’s time, we’ll know.” In these cases “time” means, the right time, the appropriate time. The Greek word for “time” was also used in this sense.
“you will be silent and not able to speak.” Although at first blush this may seem harsh, it was really a blessing in disguise. Although no doubt inconvenient at times, that Zechariah could not speak was not painful and was enough of a blemish that he would not have been allowed to minister as a priest, but, as per the Law of Moses, he could still live off the priestly income (Lev. 21:21-24). Zechariah and Elizabeth would have had an immense amount of adjusting to do to prepare for a baby, and this “blemish” allowed Zechariah the time to dedicate himself to the changes that would have to be made to properly prepare not just for the birth of a baby, but prepare for the birth of the forerunner of the Messiah.(top)
|Luk 1:21||- (top)|
|Luk 1:22||- (top)|
|Luk 1:23||- (top)|
“she kept herself in seclusion for five months.” The Bible does not say why she did this, nor is the reason entirely clear. The word “seclusion” includes the idea that she kept herself totally secluded.(top)
“my disgrace among people.” See commentary on “barren” in Luke 1:7.(top)
“Now in the sixth month.” That is, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
“a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” The reason Luke says “a city named” Nazareth, is because the town was such that few people would have heard of it. No other extra-biblical work such as the Talmud or the writings of Josephus mention Nazareth. When Luke mentions well-known cities he just says the name, for example, “Damascus” (Acts 9:19), or “Iconium” (Acts 14:1). Here he much more fully describes Nazareth so people will understand more about it, and he calls it “a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” Modern excavations continue in Nazareth, but at this time the evidence seems to show that it was a very small village indeed, “scarcely more than 100 or 150 inhabitants” (Bargel Pixner, Paths of the Messiah, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2010, p. 28). The small size of the village would contribute to Mary’s being “troubled” when the angel greeted her. She would have almost certainly known every person in the village, and so the greeting of this stranger caught her off guard and troubled her.
“who was betrothed.” The perfect participle in the Greek text (more literally, “having been betrothed”) tells us that this betrothal had taken place in the past, but how far in the past is unstated and thus unknown. In the Jewish world at this time a betrothal was as binding as a marriage and had to be dissolved by divorce. Once a woman was betrothed to a man, he only had to come and take her to himself and consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse, and this explains why a betrothed woman could be called a “wife” (Matt. 1:20).
“of the house of David.” Although the placement of this prepositional phrase seems to describe Joseph, prepositional phrases often are placed where they are for other reasons, such as the Author wanted something else emphasized first. Given that, it is possible that this phrase describes Mary, not Joseph. For example, R. C. H. Lenski, trying to defend his position that “of the house of David” refers to Mary and not Joseph, states, “It is rather superficial to think that the main person to be introduced is Joseph, and that we must know about his Davidic descent. The main person is this maiden [Mary], and Joseph is introduced only as the man to whom she is betrothed, and it is about her descent that we must know” (The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel). In any case, we learn from the genealogies in Matthew and Luke that both Joseph and Mary are descendants of David.(top)
“And going into where she was.” The angel went into the house where Mary was; so when we ask where Mary was when the angel Gabriel spoke with her, it was almost certainly in a house. The Greek text has the verb eiserchomai (#1525 εἰσέρχομαι), which means “to move into a space, enter” (BDAG); “literally, in a local sense go or come into, enter” (Friberg’s Lexicon). It is often translated “enter.”
The Greek is more literally, “and going in to her” or “and entering in to her,” but that translation, though literal and clear to a native Greek reader, is confusing in English. The older English of the KJV is less confusing, “the angel came in unto her.” Part of the problem caused by a literal translation is the fact that often when a man “went into” a woman it meant he had sex with her (cp. Gen. 29:23; Judg. 16:1; 2 Sam. 12:24; etc.), but that is not the meaning here in Luke. The NASB tries to get around the problem by moving the phrase “to her” and saying, “And coming in, he said to her.” While that translation gets around the problem of the angel “coming into her” it is not the accurate translation of the Greek; the pronoun “her” goes with “going in” not “said.” Many other versions get around the problem by just saying something like “he came to her” (ESV), and while that is true, it is not the fullness of the Greek text; the angel entered the place where Mary was. The REV expands the translation for clarity, saying that the angel went into where Mary was.
The logical place where Mary was would have been in the house where she lived. This would have been a perfect spot for a conversation. Towns in the ancient Near East were very compact and built close together for support and safety, and a meeting outside between Mary and an angel would have surely been seen. In the house, the angel and Mary could have had a private conversation. The Bible does not say where the other women of the house were at the time because that is not important to the story.
“Greetings.” The Greek is chairō (#5463 χαίρω) and in this context was a standard greeting of the Greeks just as we today say “Hi!” “Hail” persists in some versions, but is outdated, not being used as a greeting today, so “Greetings” as we have makes the meaning clear.
“The Lord is with you.” This means much more than just that God was with Mary as He is with all of us, helping and blessing us behind the scenes. It means that God will be with Mary, supporting and defending her. An angel had said the same thing to Gideon before he began to stand against idolatry in Israel and to fight the Midianite invaders (Judg. 6:12). No doubt in the months to come Mary would draw strength from this statement because although Yahweh would be supporting Mary, she still had to stand in the tension of the event and walk out her calling before God.
The KJV adds to this verse, “blessed art thou among women.” However, this phrase was not in the original text (Metzger, Textual Commentary).(top)
“But she was greatly perplexed at the saying.” We can tell from the conversation between Mary and the angel that Mary knew right away she was speaking to an angel. One way we can tell is that Mary listened to the angel and spoke to him in a way that she would not have spoken to a normal man. In fact, if a man entered her home suddenly and without being invited, especially considering the fact that she was betrothed, she would have reacted very strongly and likely would have screamed and/or ran for help. Also, she did not question the angel when he said she would be the mother of the Messiah, but that statement would have been hardly believable coming from a man. Nazareth was a small town, and if there was a prophet in the town, which is unlikely, she would have known the person. But a strange prophet walking into her house when she was alone would have simply been a stranger—and a danger—to her. When the angel told her she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, that was possible to her and she believed the angel. But she did question how that could be since she was not having sex with a man, and the angel answered her question.
“began to deliberate.” The Greek is dialogizomai (#1260 διαλογίζομαι), a compound word from the Greek preposition dia, “through” and the root word logos, in this context, “reason.” It means to bring together different reasons, to count the reasons, “to think or reason carefully, esp. about the implications of something, consider, ponder, reason” (BDAG); “to bring together different reasons, to reckon up the reasons, to reason, revolve in one's mind, deliberate” (Thayer). That Mary “began” to deliberate comes from the context and the verb being imperfect (cp. NET; Rotherham; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, p. 63).
Mary had a quick mind, and as soon as the angel greeted her the way he did, she began to deliberate within herself what he meant. There was a lot to ponder in the greeting “favored one” and that God would be with her. Although some English translations use the word “wonder,” Mary’s thoughts were almost certainly more concrete than just “wondering.” She knew from what she had been taught that an angel appearing to her meant something very significant, and she began to deliberate about it, to “cast in her mind” (KJV) what he could possibly be saying. This also speaks to Mary’s humility. She no doubt knew she was a descendant of David, but was not arrogant or prideful to the end that she thought she was somehow important enough that an angel would bring a message from God to her.(top)
“Do not be afraid.” The angel’s command indicates that Mary had some fear, which would be normal and understandable. Lenski (The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel) translates the command, “Stop being afraid,” which is likely what the text is saying. It is not like Mary was not afraid when she saw the angel but then became afraid when he began to talk; she would have had some fear from when the angel first walked into where she was.(top)
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“conceive in your womb.” The translation is correct, even though the Greek phrase sullēmpsē en gastri (συλλήμψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ) can also be understood as an idiom and translated “become pregnant in your womb.” Genuine conception did occur in Mary. We know from many verses of Scripture that Mary had to contribute the egg and God fertilized the egg. There is no indication in Scripture that when Jesus was said to be of the line of David, that it just meant he was adopted into that line. To fulfill the prophecies Jesus had to be born as a true descendant of David. Mary was not a surrogate mother, she was a real mother who made a real genetic contribution to Jesus Christ.
The prophecies were that Jesus was going to be a true lineal descendant of David. He was known as the “Son of David,” a title he recognized of himself, because he was a true descendant of David. Also, Psalm 132:11 says, “Yahweh swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke: “One of the fruit of your body I will place on your throne.” To fulfill that prophecy Jesus Christ had to be a genuine descendant of David, and he was not David’s descendant if he was God. Jesus Christ is the Son of his father, God, and his mother, Mary. Romans 1:3 is one of the many New Testament verses that speaks of Jesus being of the line of David. Most commentators ignore this clear truth in the Bible in order to maintain the tradition of the Trinity.
[For more on Jesus not being God, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on the Holy Spirit, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit”].
“and give birth to a son.” Mary was likely 14-15 years old when she was impregnated by God. It was very typical for girls to be married at 13-15 years old, with 15 or 16 being on the older side, and 12-13 being considered on the younger side. Although there were cultural reasons that girls were married that young, one reason that certainly factored in was the number of women who died in childbirth or died young of other causes. Historians estimate that at the time of Christ the average lifespan of a woman was in the early 30s, some scholars would say 32, whereas the average life expectance of a woman today is 82. That meant that it was important for the strength of the family, the clan, and the society, that girls started having babies quite early so they could have lots of them. A girl who was married at 25 might only have a few years to give birth and start a family. Also, without birth control, girls regularly gave birth to large families (Mary herself had at least seven children; cp. Matt. 13:55). However, the downside to having lots of babies was the increased risk of dying in childbirth or from complications after childbirth, including infections because there was no effective way to treat infections in the biblical period. So for the strength of the family and clan, women generally married very early by our modern standards.
“and will call his name Jesus.” For more on the name “Jesus,” see commentary on Matt. 1:21.(top)
“He will be great.” Mary’s baby, the promised Messiah, “will be great.” This is an unqualified statement: Jesus will be great, period. In contrast, John the Baptist was foretold to be “great in the sight of the Lord [God]” (Luke 1:15). The Messiah would be great in every sense of the word, and would eventually rule the earth as king. [For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
“will be called the Son of the Most High.” In the Bible, the Messiah was called the Son of God (although he was not the only one; cp. Ps. 2:7).(top)
“he will reign over the house of Jacob forever,” This verse is a good example that just because something in scripture is said to last forever, doesn’t mean it starts immediately. Likewise, even though we have eternal life (John 3:15-16, 36), it does not mean it comes into effect immediately; because if the Lord tarries we will still die and need to be resurrected into that eternal life: “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40, NIV).
Saying, “the house of Jacob” points back to Jacob and all 12 of his sons, so the Messiah was not just a king over the Judeans, but over all Israel, and then by extension over the whole world.(top)
“How will this be.” Mary’s question is legitimate. In fact, it seems as if the angel intentionally did not include the part about the virgin birth in what he first told Mary about giving birth to the Messiah so that his message could be in two parts. For Mary to take in that she would be the mother of the Messiah would have been plenty to ponder, but then to come to realize that she would be pregnant as a virgin…how would she explain that to anyone?
It shows the quick mind of Mary, and her self-confidence, that she would ask the angel how she would get pregnant. Many people would freeze up in the presence of an angel and not be able to think of anything to say, but Mary grasped the situation and what the angel was telling her, and asked how she could give birth without being married.
“I am not knowing a man.” Mary believed from the Old Testament text that the Messiah would be a man who was born of a woman, and now the angel said that woman would be her. Since the virgin birth was not set forth clearly in the Old Testament (see commentary on Isa. 7:14), Mary assumed that she would have to be married and having sex with a man in order to conceive the Messiah, thus her statement, “I am not knowing [sexually] a man.” As it turned out, the angel revealed that God would contribute the sperm (via creation) that impregnated Mary. Although many Christians believe that Jesus Christ was “incarnated” into the flesh, in other words, placed in Mary as a complete baby at some form of development, the Bible never says that and that is not what happened. The Bible makes the case that Mary was the true mother of Jesus Christ, not just a surrogate mother for God. Jesus could not have been a true descendant of David if there were no actual genetic link to the line of David. Furthermore, what would be the point of the genealogy in Matthew? If God simply had Mary “carry” Jesus, then his only genealogy is 100% from God, not at all from David. In fact, that Jesus Christ is an actual descendant of David is one of the pieces of evidence that he is not God. The link between Mary and Jesus in Matthew 1:16 would not be a genetic link at all. God is not a descendant of David, and a descendant of David cannot be God. [For more on Jesus Christ not being God the Son, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son”].(top)
“The Holy Spirit.” “The Holy Spirit” (capital “H,” capital “S”) is a name used for God when His power is in operation. In a very Hebraic way, this verse equates the Holy Spirit with “the power of the Most High.” The angel was speaking to Mary, a young Hebrew woman, in terms she could understand. It was common in the Hebrew language to say something and then repeat it in different words so the meaning would be clear. This occurs throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, and can especially be seen in books such as Proverbs in which something is stated and then restated using different words.
Since Mary told the angel she was not having sexual relations with a man, and knew she would then have to be impregnated by God, she would naturally understand “the Holy Spirit” to be the name of God which emphasized His invisible power in operation. God has many names in the Bible, and “the Holy Spirit” is one of them. It is easy to tell that in this case “the Holy Spirit” is a name of God because Jesus is called “the Son of God” and “the Son of the Father” (2 John 1:3), but he is never called “the Son of the Holy Spirit.” Mary understood that “the Holy Spirit” was another name for God, and thus she told her cousin Elizabeth that she rejoiced in God, and that “the Mighty One” (another name for God) had done great things for her (Luke 1:47-49). [For more information on “the Holy Spirit,” see Appendix 11: “What is the Holy Spirit”].(top)
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.(top)
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Zechariah and Elizabeth are being paralleled with Abraham and Sarah. Here we have a direct allusion to Genesis 18:14, “Is anything impossible for the LORD? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she [Sarah] will have a son” (HCSB). Earlier in the chapter we saw how Zechariah employed the same question as Abraham (see commentary on Luke 1:18; “sign”), and now this phrase originally regarding Sarah is applied to Elizabeth, who is barren and past fertile years. Like Sarah, she too will miraculously have a child. In Genesis the phrase was put as a question (expecting a negative answer), “Is anything impossible with the LORD?” (μὴ ἀδυνατεῖ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ῥῆμα). Here in Luke it is as though the angel replies, answering in the future tense, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα). This allusion would have been a great faith booster for Mary, who was about to have a child without sexual intercourse with a man.
Only the ASV prefers the translation, “For no word from God shall be void of power.” This is grammatically possible, and perhaps implied as a double meaning. Rather than simply “word,” the Greek word rhema (#4487 ῥῆμα) also means “thing, object, matter, event” (BDAG). Luke uses rhema to mean “thing” elsewhere (cp. Luke 1:65; 2:15; 2:19; 2:51; Acts 5:32; 10:36).(top)
“Behold” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20. Although most usually translated “Look!” in the REV, in this context that may make it seem like Mary was rude to the angel, which was certainly not the case.
“I am the servant of the Lord.” The Greek word “servant” can also be translated “slave,” and in Mary’s mind that is most likely what she was saying. She acknowledged that she was the slave of God, and as His creation and willing servant, she was His to do with as He liked. This is true humble submission to the will of God.(top)
“Mary got up and went.” Mary would not have gone alone, but the Bible never says who escorted her. Nevertheless, a young teenage girl would never go alone on a multi-day journey from Galilee to Judea, and she would not have traveled with only other women. She would have had at least one male escort. This was normal in the biblical world so the Bible does not mention it, nor does the Bible say what the escort did after they arrived at Zechariah’s house; we may be curious about it, but it is not important to the record so it is not mentioned.
“with haste.” The Greek can also mean “went eagerly,” with earnestness and zeal. Mary did not just hurry to Elizabeth’s house, she was eager and excited. She knew how old Elizabeth was and would have known that God had not only done a miracle in her, but in Elizabeth too.
“to a city of Judah.” It is interesting that the Bible does not name the city of Judah, because it certainly could have. Perhaps this is to not shift the focus from Bethlehem where Jesus was born to the city where John was born. After all, the material about John is background and context for the birth of the Messiah. It is very likely, however, that the city was one of the nine cities in the tribal area of Judah assigned as cities of priests by Joshua: Hebron, Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Holon, Debir, Ain, Juttah, and Beth-shemesh (Josh. 21:13-16). However, there is a possibility, given the destructions and deportations that occurred in the Old Testament, such as the Babylonian Captivity, that some priests from Judah settled in another town in Judah from the ones Joshua assigned. In the final analysis, we do not know what city Zechariah lived in and John was born in. However, Christian tradition dating from at least the fourth century AD places the birth of John in the ancient village of Beth-hakerem (“House of the Vineyard) now called Ein Karem (“Spring of the Vineyard), however, that is only tradition.
It is noteworthy that Mary knew the town of her relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth. Family ties were very strong in the biblical world.
The Greek word translated Judah comes from Iouda (#2448 Ἰουδά). A number of versions have “Judah” (NASB; ESV; HCSB; ASV; NET; NAB), and a few versions say “Judea” (NIV; YLT). But Judea is incorrect from the Greek, as Lenski writes, “When Luke refers to the province he writes Ἱουδαία [not Ἰουδα] (10 times in the Gospel, 12 times in the Acts).” “Judea” is the territory ruled over by Herod, while “Judah” refers to the ancient area of the tribe of Judah. Lenski also makes the point there may have been a city we know nothing about called “Judea,” which could be the case but is less likely.(top)
|Luk 1:40||- (top)|
“filled with holy spirit.” Here in Luke 1:41, there is no definite article, so the translation “holy spirit” works in this context. This holy spirit is the gift of God. In this context, “filled with holy spirit” refers to receiving revelation from God, and this becomes clear when we read the complete sentence: “And Elizabeth was filled with holy spirit and cried out with a loud voice and said….” This same meaning occurs in Luke 1:41, 67; Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9.
[For more information on the holy spirit and uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit,” and also see Appendix 6: “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].(top)
|Luk 1:42||- (top)|
“And how is this happening to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This statement may seem somewhat strange to western ears, but it makes perfect sense in the biblical culture. The culture of the ancient world was very class-conscious, with the king at the top, his lords and officials next, wealthy influential people next, and so forth down to the poor and disadvantaged people who were considered the least in the culture. The most powerful man in the kingdom was the king, but the most powerful woman in the kingdom was the mother of the king, not the queen. Many kings had more than one wife, and furthermore, since any slave was the sexual property of the master, it was common for a king to have sex with his slaves as well as his wife or wives. So, while a king would typically have many wives and/or sexual partners, he only had one mother who therefore had special access to him and was the most powerful woman in the empire. In Isaiah 47:5, Babylon is referred to as the “queen mother” because it was the most powerful kingdom in the biblical world at that time. Elizabeth would have believed from her culture that when the Messiah ruled the earth as king that his mother would be the most powerful woman in the world, so when she realized that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah she was understandably awed that this soon-to-be incredibly powerful woman would come to visit her, and especially so since she had been—and still was—considered cursed by God by most people due to her being barren.
We today think of Zechariah and Elizabeth as being very important people because of the part they played in biblical history, but they were not considered important while they were alive. Zechariah would have been thought of as just one of the thousands of priests and Levites, and Elizabeth would have likely even been shunned by the women of her culture. We can be quite sure that the royal family of King Herod never even spoke to Zechariah or Elizabeth, yet now the mother of the future world ruler was there under their roof. The blessings of God, unseen by the unbelieving world, pour down upon the faithful.
Of course, Elizabeth was not barren when Mary visited. When Mary visited, Mary knew both that Elizabeth was pregnant with a baby boy and that she herself was pregnant with the Messiah. But in contrast, Elizabeth would probably not have known that Mary knew she was pregnant because Elizabeth had been in hiding (Luke 1:24), and Mary learned about Elizabeth’s pregnancy from an angel (Luke 1:36). Furthermore, Elizabeth would not have known that Mary herself was pregnant with the Messiah. What Elizabeth said in Luke 1:42-45 was a prophecy and direct result of her being filled with holy spirit (Luke 1:41), not because she had any natural knowledge that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah.
Elizabeth certainly knew that she would give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah, but not much was known from the Old Testament prophecies about him or his work; he was not specifically prophesied to have any special rank in the kingdom of the Messiah. He would obviously have some importance in the preparation of the coming of the Messiah, but nothing is said about what he would do after that. Also, due to their old age and what the Bible says about John living in the wilderness before he started his ministry, it seems quite certain that both Zechariah and Elizabeth would have died quite a while before John started his ministry, likely when John was in his late teens or early 20’s. So Zechariah and Elizabeth never got to see the manner in which John fulfilled his ministry.(top)
“from the Lord.” The phrase “from the Lord” could also be translated “by the Lord.” In either case the preposition para (#3844 παρά) is to be understood in the sense of expressing the source. These were words that originated in and were spoken from the Lord.(top)
“My soul magnifies the Lord.” Similar to Psalm 34:2a. The “soul” here refers to Mary herself including her emotions, feelings, attitudes, and even thoughts. Mary is magnifying the Lord with all that is within her. [See Appendix 7: “Usages of ‘Soul’”.](top)
“my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This is a powerful verse because it shows Mary’s deep trust in God. On the surface she seemed to have many problems at this time, chief among them being that she was pregnant before having sex with her husband in a culture that was scandalized by that. Even Joseph had thought about divorcing her. Only a few people knew of her divine conception, and since no one was expecting a virgin birth she could not have convinced them of it anyway. In spite of her difficult circumstances she rejoiced in God, and thus has set a wonderful example for us and how we should rejoice even in our difficult circumstances.
There are Trinitarians who believe that, because this verse calls God “Savior,” and Jesus is also called “Savior,” that Jesus must be God in the flesh. However, that belief is not correct. There are many references to God the Father being called “Savior.” That makes perfect sense because He is the author of the plan of salvation and is also very active in our salvation. For example, God, the Father, is called “Savior” in Isaiah 43:11; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 3:4; Jude 25. In contrast, Jesus Christ is called “Savior” because he is the agent who carried out God’s plan, and without whom it could not have come to pass.
The term “savior” is used of many people in the Bible. This is hard to see in the English versions because, when the word “savior” is used of people, the translators almost always translated it as “deliverer.” This in and of itself shows that modern translators have a Trinitarian bias. The only reason to translate a word as “Savior” when it applies to God or Christ, but as “deliverer” when it applies to men, is to make the term seem unique to God and Jesus when in fact it is not. This is a good example of how the actual meaning of Scripture can be obscured if the translators are not careful when they translate the text.
God’s gracious provision of “saviors” who help God’s people is not recognized when the same word is translated “Savior” for God and Christ but “deliverer” for others. Also lost is the testimony in Scripture that God works through people to bring His power to bear. Of course, the fact that there are other “saviors” does not take away from Jesus Christ, who is the only one who could and did save us from our sins and eternal death.
If all the great men and women who were “saviors” were openly portrayed as such in the English versions, the grace and mercy God demonstrates in saving His people by “saviors” He has raised up would be openly displayed. Furthermore, we believe no reader would confuse the true God with the people He was working through. A good example that shows God raising up “saviors” to rescue Israel through history occurs in Nehemiah in a prayer of confession and thanksgiving to God. The Israelites prayed, “But when they [Israel] were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers [saviors], who rescued them from the hand of their enemies” (Neh. 9:27 NIV84). Some other examples of men designated as “savior” are in 2 Kings 13:5; Isaiah 19:20 and Obadiah 21. It is incorrect to say that because Christ and God are both called “Savior,” they are one and the same, just as it would be incorrect to say that the “saviors” God raised up throughout history were also God in the flesh or even the same individual as Jesus Christ.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?” For more specific information about the designation “savior,” see Andrews Norton, A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians, pp. 304, 305. Also, Don Snedeker, Our Heavenly Father Has No Equals, pp. 378-380.](top)
“because he has looked upon the low estate of his servant.” God does look upon the lowly and humble (Ps. 138:6). In this sentence, “looked upon” is used in an idiomatic or “pregnant” sense, because it means much more than just “look at,” it means to see and do something about it.
The words for “look at” or “see” (a common Hebrew word for “see” is ra’ah (#07200 רָאָה)) are sometimes used in an idiomatic or “pregnant” sense that means “to look with favor upon,” “to accept,” “to notice and do something about.” Example of this idiom occur in both the Old and New Testaments, and include: Genesis 29:32, Exodus 4:31; 1 Samuel 1:11; 9:16; 2 Samuel 16:12; Job 40:12; Psalm 9:14; 10:11; 31:7; Habakkuk 1:13; and Luke 1:48. In contrast, to “not see” something was to ignore it, to not pay attention to it, to not care about it or look at it with any favor. Thus when Joseph ran the prison in Egypt, the jailer did “not see” anything under Joseph’s authority; he paid no attention to it (Gen. 39:23).
Sometimes the idiom of “see” goes a step beyond just “look upon with favor” or “accept,” and means, “to choose for oneself,” “to provide for oneself,” or “to choose” (cp. Gen. 22:8 [God will ‘see’ a lamb for Himself]; Gen. 41:33; Deut. 33:21; 1 Sam. 16:1; 2 Kings 10:3; Esther 2:9 [the girls were “chosen” or “selected” to be with Esther]).
The word “see” is also used the way we use it in English as “to visit” someone, to “go see them” (cp. 2 Sam. 13:5; 2 Kings 8:29; 9:16; Ps. 41:6; 2 Chron. 22:6).
It is also used as “to know” or “to understand,” and can be just a mental knowing or a knowing through experience, if the emphasis is on experience, it might even be translated “experience.” This is similar to the way we use it in English when we say, “I see what you mean,” or “I am going to see for myself,” which often means experience it myself (cp. Ps. 16:10; 27:13; 34:13; 60:5; 71:20; 89:48 (Heb. 11:5); Ps. 90:15; Jer. 5:12; 20:12; Lam. 3:1). [For more information on the idiomatic uses of “see,” see commentary on John 1:18 and Romans 8:29, “foreknew”].
“because the Mighty One has done great things for me…” Almost 1000 years earlier, King David had noted the same thing, that God had done great things (Ps. 71:19), and here Mary rejoices that God has done great things for her (Luke 1:49).
“holy is his name.” The Psalmist says, “holy and awesome is his name” (Ps. 111:9).(top)
“his mercy is on those who fear him.” God refers to his love and mercy extending for generations in Exodus 20:6 and Psalm 103:17.(top)
|Luk 1:51||- (top)|
“mighty.” The word translated “mighty” here in Luke 1:52 is dunastes (#1413 δυνάστης). It denotes “rulers, officials, or potentates” (cp. Acts 8:27; 1 Tim. 6:15).(top)
“the hungry.” Similar to Psalm 107:9.(top)
“He helped his servant Israel.” “The middle voice of antilambano means to take hold of something or somebody and in that way to help, and, like the verbs of touch, it is constructed in the genitive.” (Lenski). Here in Luke 1:54, “Israel” is used as a collective singular, speaking of all the people of Israel as if they were one person.
“remembering his mercy.” Figure of speech, metonymy (cp. Bullinger, Figures of Speech). “Mercy” is put for the act of mercy, being merciful. God “took hold of Israel his servant to help them,” in order to remember to be merciful to Abraham and his seed. In other words, God helped Israel in order to fulfill the promise He made to Abraham and his seed, a promise that they did not deserve, which is the point of saying that God remembered “mercy.”(top)
|Luk 1:55||- (top)|
|Luk 1:56||- (top)|
|Luk 1:57||- (top)|
“neighbors and relatives.” The neighbors are mentioned first because they lived close by and got the news first. The relatives of Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in various places, for example, Mary lived in Nazareth.(top)
“on the eighth day that they came to circumcise the child.” Male babies were circumcised the eighth day (Gen. 17:12) and we now know there are good medical reasons for that. Also, in the Jewish culture, that was when a male baby was officially named.(top)
“He will be called John.” The name he was to be called as per the angel’s command (Luke 1:13). John means, “Yahweh is gracious” or “Yahweh has shown favor.”(top)
“None of your relatives are called by that name.” It was customary to name a child after someone in the child’s ancestry, to honor the family. But in this case God did not want John to be connected to the family. He was separate from the family and did not carry on with the priestly traditions of the family, joining the fraternity of priests in Jerusalem and serving in the course of Abijah and at the annual feasts. His elderly parents apparently died when he was a young man and as he grew he lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80).(top)
“And they nodded to his father.” The Greek word translated “nodded” is enneuō (#1770 ἐννεύω), and it primarily means to nod to, to signal by a nod of the head, or to signal by a movement of the body like a hand motion. In this context it would refer to a more subtle nod of the head. Zechariah was unable to speak but he was not deaf. He had heard the conversation between his wife and the relatives and knew the sides of the discussion. When Elizabeth stood firm that the baby was to be called John, a person or persons in the room looked at Zechariah and nodded at him in a way that asked, “What do you say.” At that point Zechariah made it known he wanted a writing tablet and wrote that the baby was to be named John, and immediately upon writing that he could speak again and began to praise God.
Although the Greek word enneuō can be used for a hand motion, in that tense and delicate moment it would have overbearing for someone in the room to point to Zechariah to get his opinion, that would have been an insult to Elizabeth. A simple glance and nod of the head was all that was needed.(top)
“And he asked.” He asked by making signs like he was writing.
“a writing tablet.” At this time the most common writing tablet was a flat piece of wood covered with wax that was written in with a stylus of some sort. Zechariah no doubt had been using one for months, so there would have been one close by. When the tablet was full, the wax was usually just put in the sun where it softened and the writing went away. Then the wax was allowed to harden again and was again used for writing.
“His name is John.” The name he was to be called as per the angel’s command (Luke 1:13).(top)
“his mouth was opened and his tongue.” The Greek literally reads, “his mouth was opened and his tongue,” but the verb “opened” only fits with “mouth,” making this sentence the figure of speech zeugma, where one verb controls two nouns, one of which fits and one of which does not. In the figure zeugma, the noun that fits gets more emphasis than that noun that does not fit, although the figure itself catches the reader’s attention and brings emphasis to the text. Thus, God emphasized what happened to Zechariah by the zeugma—Zechariah could talk again!(top)
“And fear came on all who lived around them.” In this context, the “fear” was more awe than actual fear. However, some people who had been living disobedient lifestyles may have gotten a jolt of godly fear of God’s judgment when they saw the power of God in action in the life of Zechariah.
“throughout all the hill country of Judea.” This is quite a bit of territory, and shows that when God moves in power it can affect people far away.(top)
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“filled with holy spirit.” The Greek text has no article “the.” This holy spirit was the gift of God that He gave to some believers before Pentecost. [For more information on the holy spirit and uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit,” and also see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].(top)
“Praise the Lord.” This phrase is often translated as “blessed be the Lord.” However, the sense is best captured by “praise the Lord.” It is a verbal adjective; as Lenski writes, “Thus ‘blessed’ means: ‘let all men bless God,’ i.e., speak well of him.” Translating it “praise the Lord” carries this sense of the command: “let all men bless God.” On the other hand, to say “blessed be the Lord,” just states the simple fact that the Lord is well spoken of.
“visited.”Episkeptomai (#1980 ἐπισκέπτομαι) has the sense of “looking favorably upon with an intent to help.” Cp. NET translation, “he has come to help.” The rest of the verse explains the help provided by the Lord, He has “brought about redemption for his people.”
“brought about redemption.” Or, brought about a ransoming. Jesus Christ would ransom the people from death by paying the ransom price by his own death. This utterance is a prophetic aorist, speaking of a future event in the past tense.(top)
“a horn of salvation.” The “horn” alluded to the power of a horned animal like a bull or ram, and thus a horn of salvation was a strong one who could save. For example, God is referred to as a horn of salvation in 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 18:2. This particular “horn of salvation” comes out of the house of David, that is, is a descendent of David. This “horn of salvation” is the Savior, Jesus Christ.(top)
“just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets.” Zechariah understood actual prophecy, that it was God who was giving the words to speak to the prophets and thus God who spoke through the prophets. When a person prophesies through the power and inspiration of God, the prophet still has to cooperate with God. God does not possess and use the prophet as a musician uses an inanimate musical instrument. The prophet must cooperate with God and use his own mouth and voice as God supplies the words to the prophet's mind.
“from ancient times.” For this translation compare NJB and HCSB. The literal reading is “from of ages.” Hence, “from of old” would be a good alternative translation. In this case, from ancient times does not go back any further than David, because the prophets foretold that the Messiah would be from the house of David only during and after David’s lifetime (cp. Isa. 11:1).(top)
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“our fathers.” These are the “fathers” of Israel, namely, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who worked so hard but did not see the promises fulfilled. It is not speaking of the immediate biological fathers, as the next verse makes clear by referring to “Abraham.”(top)
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“in his presence.” Biblical custom. See commentary on Luke 1:15, “in the sight of the Lord.”(top)
“prepare the way for him.” The Greek word that is translated “way” is hodos (#3598 ὁδός) in the plural, and the Greek is etoimazo hodous outou (ἑτοιμάζω ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ), which would be more literally translated as, “prepare his roads.” Hodos refers to a road, a path, or a way something is done. In this context, the phrase “prepare his roads,” refers to a well-known biblical custom. Inside the city of Rome, or other large cities, and on some major thoroughfares such as the “Appian Way” (Appian Road), the road was paved and maintained by slaves, road crews, and the army. However, for most of the Roman Empire, and certainly for most of the ancient Middle East, roads were just dirt roads, and frankly, most often, not even what we would classify as a “dirt road” today—they were actually just dirt paths. These dirt roads and paths did not specifically belong to anyone unless they were main roads and government maintained or unless they belonged to a landowner if the path went through his specific piece of property. No one really was considered to “own” the roads through wilderness and woods except the kingdom in general, and thus no one kept them repaired or travelable. Over time they became filled with ruts and holes (that were often just mud holes), washed out, overgrown by brush and overhung by any nearby trees.
Furthermore, since no one really owned the path, nearby farmers would throw stones from their fields onto them, so a road with lots of stones was not uncommon. After a while, the “roads” of the Middle East became very difficult to travel. When royalty or a powerful dignitary was going to travel to a certain place, the call would go out to “prepare the roads.” The ruler would usually send someone out to make sure that work was being done. This is the custom that is referred to in this verse. John the Baptist was sent to “prepare the roads” that Jesus Christ would travel on spiritually. He preached the Good News, confronted sinners, offered baptism for repentance, and raised everyone’s expectation for the Messiah, the laces of whose sandals he was unworthy to unloose.(top)
“by the forgiveness….” The versions differ, some having “by” (KJV, NASB, RSV, Rotherham, etc.) some “through,” some “in,” and Lenski has “in connection with.” The point is that, in having their sins forgiven, people really have a sense of their salvation, especially before the Church Age. Christ knew this, and often told people their sins were forgiven.(top)
“bowels of mercies.” The bowels are a center of a person’s emotional life, and that is reflected in the biblical text. God has deep feelings for His people, which is expressed by the phrase “bowels of mercies.” [For more on “bowels” see commentary on Phil. 1:8].
“the Rising Sun from on high.” The “rising sun” or “the Rising Sun from on high” is a title of the Lord Jesus Christ. It comes from the word anatole (#395 ἀνατολή), which is used to describe the dawn, “a change in darkness to light” (BDAG). This leads naturally into verse 79, where Christ is said to “give light to those who sit in darkness.” The verb form of anatole occurs in the LXX translation of Malachi 4:2, describing the rise of the Sun of Righteousness. Here, the Rising Sun is said to visit us “from on high,” the same Greek phrase found in 2 Samuel 22:17; Psalm 18:16; 102:19; 144:7 and Luke 24:49. These passages in 1 Samuel and Psalms show that rescue from one’s enemies is said to come “from on high”—this theme comes up in Zechariah’s prophecy, especially verses 71 and 74. A similar title is used in Malachi 4:2, where the Messiah is called the “Sun of Righteousness.”
“visit.” See commentary on Luke 1:68; “visited”.(top)
“into.” Rather than solely expressing motion “into,” the preposition eis (#1519 εἰς) can also have the sense of “in.” Here it includes both the meanings of guiding us “into” the way of peace and also the notion of guiding along, “in,” the road while actually on the path. Christ leads us both ‘into’ and ‘in’ the road of peace.(top)
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