PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*
|Dedication to Theophilus||Dedication to Theophilus||Introduction||Introduction||Prologue|
The Births of John and Jesus
|The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold||John's Birth Announced to Zacharias||The Birth of John the Baptist is Announced||The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold|
|The Birth of Jesus Foretold||Christ's Birth Announced to Mary||The Birth of Jesus is Announced||The Annunciation|
|Mary Visits Elizabeth||Mary Visits Elizabeth||Mary Visits Elizabeth||The Visitation|
|Mary's Song of Praise||The Song of Mary||Mary's Song of Praise||The Magnificat|
|The Birth of John the Baptist||Birth of John the Baptist||The Birth of John the Baptist||The Birth of John the Baptist and Visit of the Neighbors|
|Circumcision of John the Baptist||The Circumcision of John the Baptist|
|The Prophecy of Zacharias||Zacharias' Prophecy||Zacharias' Prophecy||The Benedictus|
|1:76-79||The Hidden Life of John the Baptist|
* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical Structure, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
A. Luke the Historian
1. Verses 1-4 have several rare Greek words that relate to Hellenistic histography. Luke is trying to express his purpose of accurately recording what his research discovered about Jesus' His life and ministry. Luke was a well educated citizen of the first century Greco-Roman world.
2. The problem about Luke's Greek orientation has to do with the nature of Greek history. Often it was very selective and written more for entertainment and propaganda than modern history. Luke uses Hellenistic terms to describe his methods, but records Jesus' life in a Hebrew historical fashion. The best historians in the Ancient Near East (i.e., most accurate) were Hittites and Hebrews.
3. The real question is what is history? Modern western history is chronological and cause/effect driven. Yet even modern history is significantly colored by who writes it and why! History, by its very nature, is a biased selection and description of past events.
4. Luke's Gospel is not modern history or biography, but it is good and true history. The four Gospels are, in reality, gospel tracts, written for evangelistic purposes and targeting selected groups. Events and their relationship to each other are not necessarily chronologically arranged and interpreted for maximum impact. This is not to imply they are concoctions or fabrications, but they are eastern, not western; they are theological as well as historical. Different does not mean bad or false!
See Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 127-148.
5. Luke has used the best traditions of his day to present Jesus Christ as God's promised Messiah, sent to redeem all humanity. He is surely influenced by Paul's Gentile mission. Luke is writing to convert Gentiles (as well as encourage believers), not just historically inform them.
6. The four Gospels are different, very different, yet they are true—true eyewitness accounts, true summaries of Jesus' words and activities—but they are not modern histories.
7. Luke clearly wants to put Jesus' life and ministry into a Palestinian and Roman historical framework.
a. a vision of Zacharias in reign of Herod, King of Judea (cf. Luke 1:5)
b. birth connected to a decree of Caesar Augustus (cf. Luke 2:1)
c. birth connected to Quirinius' presence in Syria (cf. Luke 2:2)
d. preaching of John (cf. Luke 3:1-2)
(1) Tiberius Caesar's (fifteenth year of his reign)
(2) Pontius Pilate governor of Judea
(3) Herod tetrarch of Galilee
(4) Phillip tetrarch of Ituraea
(5) Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene
(6) Annas and Caiaphas were high priests
B. The Blessings of Chapters One and Two
1. It must be remembered that they are given in a mindset of OT prophecies. Jesus surely fulfilled these OT expectations, but moved beyond them. These blessings must be seen as precursors of the gospel. They are OT pictures which will be universalized (i.e., not Jew vs. Gentile, but believer vs. unbeliever; not Israel, but all the world). The Gospel affects more than Israel and Palestine (cf. Luke 24:47).
2. It needs to be remembered that Luke, in chapter one, is recording the blessing of those who were first informed about and impacted by Jesus' birth. These blessings are in OT poetic form (cf. Luke 1:46-55 and 67-79) and contain OT content. OT poetry is a genre called wisdom literature. It has special interpretive procedures (See Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, pp. 206-230).
a. "the Magnificat" (song of Mary), Luke 1:46-55
b. "the Benedictus" (song of Zechariah), Luke 1:68-79
c. "Gloria in excelsis" (song of the angels), Luke 2:14
d. "Nunc dimittis" (song of Simeon), Luke 2:29-32
C. The parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus
1. devout parents
2. birth announced by Gabriel
3. supernatural conceptions
4. mothers both glorify God
5. babies named by an angel
6. both babies fulfill prophecy
7. the circumcision of both under Mosaic Law is specifically mentioned
8. normal physical and emotional growth, but superior spiritual growth
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:1-4
1In as much as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
1:1-4 This is one long involved Greek sentence.
NASB, NKJV"In as much as"
The Greek word epeidē per is used only here in the NT. It is not used at all in the Septuagint, but is used in the Koine papyri found in the garbage dumps of Egypt (see James Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament). Itbasically means "since indeed" or "considering that." Luke is setting out the reason he is writing an account of Jesus' life when there are several already in existence. This probably includes Mark's Gospel (which forms the literary outline of much of Matthew and Luke), as well as "Q" (sayings of Jesus used by both Matthew and Luke). It also implies that by the a.d. 60s there were several written accounts of Jesus' life circulating in the churches.
NRSV"an orderly account"
This is another Greek term (diē gēsis) found only here in the NT. It is used twice in the Septuagint in Judges (cf. Judges 5:14; 7:15) for a scribe recording something. In Greek literature it has the connotation of a full and complete narrative. Luke is describing the careful, historical research of Jesus' life that preceded his own writing (cf. Luke 1:3).
NASB"the things accomplished"
NKJV"those things which are most surely believed"
NRSV"the events which have been fulfilled"
TEV"the things that have taken place"
NJB"events that have reached their fulfilment"
This verb is a perfect passive participle, which denotes the abiding results of the fulfilled promises concerning Jesus, His teachings, His actions, and His death and resurrection. The passive voice surely implies that God the Father's eternal purposes were fully accomplished in Christ.
The term plērophoreō has a dual connotation.
1. Paul uses it for being fully persuaded in Rom. 4:21; 14:5; Col. 2:2; 4:12 (cf. NKJV).
2. The Papyri uses it of "accomplished" or "fully completed" (cf. NASB, NRSV, NJB).
Theophilus needs to accept both connotations! The OT promises have come to completion in Jesus of Nazareth.
1:2 "they were handed down to us" This is the Greek word paradidōmi, often translated "traditions" (cf. Mark 7:3,5,8,9,13; 1 Cor. 11:2,23; 15:3). Luke is asserting that he had received information about the life of Jesus from eyewitnesses. This implies
1. the accuracy of his accounts
2. the admission that he was a second-generation believer
▣ "those who from the beginning" This refers to a larger number than the Twelve Apostles. Some examples would be
1. the women who followed Jesus and the Apostles (cf. Luke 8:2-3)
2. the one hundred and twenty disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:15)
3. the several men to choose from in replacing Judas (cf. Luke 1:21-22)
NASB, NRSV"servants of the word"
NKJV, NJB"ministers of the word"
TEV"who proclaimed the message"
These "from the beginning" eyewitnesses were responsible proclaimers of the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1). To know truth is to be a steward of that truth (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1,2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:10)!
The term logos (word) is used of Jesus Himself in John 1:1, but here (cf. Luke 8:12) and in Acts 6:4; 8:4; 10:36; 11:19; 14:25 it refers to the gospel about Jesus.
1:3 This verse is the main clause of verses 1-4 and has several key terms that relate to Luke's research method.
1. "having investigated." This is a perfect active participle of a word that means "to follow." The metaphorical usage of this word meant "to make an extensive effort to learn the details and truth about something" (See Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 1, p. 331 and Josephus, Against Apion 1.10).
2. "carefully." This is the Greek term akribōs, which is translated "accurately," "diligently," or "precisely" (cf. Josephus Against Apion 1.10). Louw and Nida, vol. 1, p. 674, "pertaining to strict conformity to a norm or standard; involving both detail and completeness." It is used several times in the Septuagint (cf. Deut. 19:18; Dan. 7:19). Possibly the most relevant usage is that this term was used by Galen (a physician) for the careful checking of symptoms.
3. "from the beginning." This means from the source. In this case (1) the beginning events of John and Jesus' births or (2) the eyewitnesses from the beginning of Jesus' ministry (i.e., the Apostles, cf. Acts 1:21-22).
4. "in consecutive order." This term means "in a continual order," "successively," or "consecutively."
Luke is piling up word after word describing his faithful, accurate, and sequential arrangement of facts about Jesus' life and ministry. His account is not a fabrication or exaggeration.
▣ "most excellent" This is a first century title of honor and respect. This man may have been Luke's literary patron. The title is used in Acts of Felix (23:26; 24:3) and Festus (26:25), who were Roman regional officials. It is also used in the Septuagint as "best" (cf. 1 Sam. 15:15; Ps. 15:6; 22:5) or "chief" (cf. Amos 6:2), but not of people.
▣ "Theophilus" This was a common name in the Mediterranean area, used of both Jews and Gentiles. Theo means God, plus philos which means (1) loved, thus "God lover," "loved by God" or (2) friend, thus, "friend of God."
▣ "carefully investigated" This is also a medical term used by Galen to denote the careful checking of symptoms.
1:4 "in order" This is a purpose clause (hina with the subjunctive).
▣ "so that you may know" This is an intensified form (epiginōskō) which usually denotes full and complete knowledge by experience. It may well imply that Theophilus already knew something of the gospel.
▣ "the things" This is the Greek word logos, which has a wide semantic range. In Luke 1:2 it refers to (1) the truths about Jesus (cf. Luke 7:17) recorded by Luke or (2) the content of what Theophilus has been taught. This may be an additional evidence he was a new believer (although we must be careful of reading too much into the words of this introduction which only much later take on a technical usage in the church).
▣ "taught" From this Greek word we get the English "catechism." This may imply that Theophilus was a new convert, but this is uncertain because the word is a general, common term.
NASB"the exact truth about the things"
NKJV"the certainty of those things"
NRSV"the truth concerning the things"
TEV"the full truth about everything"
NJB"how well founded the teaching is"
The term asphaleia is used in two related senses in the Koine Greek Paypri found in Egypt: (1) safety, security and (2) certainty as to a belief.
Luke is trying to reassure Theophilus, his first century readers, and later readers of his diligence and accuracy as a researcher and Gospel author. Luke's presentation is accurate and trustworthy. Believers can fully rely on God, on Christ, on the Gospels!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:5-7
5In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
1:5 "Herod" This refers to Herod the Great (37-4 b.c.), an Idumean (from Edom), who, through political maneuvering and the support of Mark Antony, managed to be appointed ruler of a large part of Palestine (Canaan) by the Roman Senate in 40 b.c. See Special Topic: The Family of Herod at Luke 3:1.
▣ "Zechariah" His name meant "remembered by YHWH" (BDB 272). This was John the Baptist's father.
▣ "the division of Abijah" Only four of the twenty-four divisions of Levites returned from the Exile (cf. 1 Chr. 24:7-18; 2 Chr. 23:8). They were then sub-divided (cf. Ezra 2:36-39) so that different ones officiated at the Temple on different weeks. The Abijah division was considered to be the least prestigious of the divisions. For a complete discussion of the priestly divisions see Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 12, pp. 89-93.
▣ "he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron" His wife, Elizabeth, was also from a priestly family. Her Hebrew name could mean (1) "God is swearer" or (2) "God fully satisfies."
1:6 "they were both righteous in the sight of God" "righteous" is used in this context like Matthew's definition (cf. Matt. 6:1), not Paul's (cf. Romans 4). This does not imply sinlessness, but someone who faithfully responds to their understanding of God's will and ways (cf. Deut. 6:25. Old Testament examples are Noah, Gen. 6:9; 7:1 and Job, Job 1:1). This phrase is included to show that this couple was experiencing childlessness because of physical problems, not spiritual ones. See Special Topic below.
1:7 Barrenness was considered a divine curse in Jewish culture (cf. Gen. 20:18; 29:31; 30:2; Exod. 23:26; Lev. 20:20-21; Deut. 7:14; 1 Sam. 1:5; Jer. 22:30). There are several barren women mentioned in the Bible:
1. Sarah, Gen. 11:30; 16:1
2. Rebekah, Gen. 25:21
3. Rachel, Gen. 29:31; 30:1
4. Manoah's wife, Jdgs. 13:2,3
5. Hannah, 1 Sam. 1:2,5
Not only was Elizabeth barren, but now she was past the time of conception (like Sarah). This condition is theologically used as a way of asserting God's direct control in the affairs of men. This was not a virgin birth, but a birth with supernatural assistance (like Isaac, cf. Genesis 18; like Joseph, cf. Gen. 30:22-24; like Samson, cf. Judges 13; like Samuel, cf. 1 Samuel 1; like Hezekiah, Isa. 7:14-16). John the Baptist will fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:8-17
8Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
1:8 "while he was performing his priestly service before God" The Mishnah (part of the Talmud) says there were so many priests at this time that each offered incense only once in his lifetime; others, not at all.
1:9 "he was chosen by lot" Lots were a mechanical way to determine the will of God (cf Acts 1:21-26). There were several priests on duty at one time. This was the regular way to determine which offered the ritual.
In the OT the "lot" originally referred to the Urim and Thummim (cf. Lev. 16:8), which was carried behind the breastplate of the High Priest. It was a mechanical way of determining the will of God, usually for the King.
It was used as a way to divide the Promised Land among the tribes in Joshua 13-19.
The casting of lots was used by the early church to choose a new apostle to replace Judas in Acts 1.
▣ "to burn the incense" This procedure is described in Exod. 25:6; 30:7; 31:11. The incense itself is described in Exod. 30:34-38.
1:10 Obviously this was a set time of prayer associated with the sacrifice of the Continual (a twice daily sacrifice and burnt offering of a lamb) at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Jewish sources advocate the offering of incense twice a day in connection to "the Continual" sacrifice (cf. Exod. 30:7-8). Incense was a physical symbol of prayer rising to God.
1:11 "an angel of the Lord" This phrase is used two ways in the OT.
1. an angel (cf. Gen. 24:7,40; Exod. 23:20-23; 32:34; Num. 22:22; Jdgs. 5:23; 1 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chr. 21:15ff; Zech. 1:28)
2. as a way of referring to a physical manifestation of YHWH (cf. Gen. 16:7-13; 22:11-15; 31:11,13; 48:15-16; Exod. 3:2,4; 13:21; 14:19; Jdgs. 2:1; 6:22-24; 13:3-23; Zech. 3:1-2).
Luke uses the phrase often (cf. Luke 1:11,13; 2:9; Acts 5:19; 7:30; 8:26; 12:7,11,23; 10:3; 27:23) in the sense of #1 above. The NT does not use sense #2, "an angel of the Lord," unless Acts 18:26 and 29 is in a reference to the Holy Spirit.
▣ "standing to the right of the altar of incense" The altar of incense was located in the Holy Place, next to the veil of the Holy of Holies. The description of this golden incense altar is found in Exod. 30:1-10. This would place the angel between the incense altar and the seven pointed candle stand (Menorah).
1:12 Fear is the common human response in the presence of the spiritual realm (cf. Gen. 15:1; 21:17; Exod. 14:13,31; Jos. 8:1; 10:8; Dan. 10:12,19; Rev. 1:17). However, again and again the divine message is a clear "fear not" (cf. Luke 1:13,30; 2:10).
1:13 "Do not be afraid" This is a present middle (deponent) imperative with the Negative particle, which usually means stop an act already in progress. We get the English term "phobia" from this Greek term (phobos).
▣ "your petition has been heard" Zacharias was still praying for a child. The incense he was offering to God was a symbol of prayer. In Zacharias' priestly circle the offering of incense was considered a great honor. It was also considered to be a special time for personal requests.
▣ "John" In Hebrew it means "one whom God has graciously given" or "YHWH is gracious" (BDB 220).
1:14 John's birth will be a blessing, not only to Zacharias and his family, but to Israel and to all the earth.
1:15 "he will be great in the sight of the Lord" This is an idiom for "he will serve God's plan and kingdom in a special way." He is the promised precursor of the Messiah (cf. Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5,6). In Luke 1:32 this same term "great" is used of Jesus.
▣ "he will drink no wine or liquor" This is a strong double negative with an aorist active subjunctive. He was to be a Nazarite (cf. Numbers 6), which was a special dedicatory life given completely to God's service.
For alcohol (fermentation) and alcoholism (addiction) see Special Topic at Luke 22:18.
▣ "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit" This was an OT way of affirming God's power and giftedness (cf. Exod. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31,35, where it refers to those who helped build the tabernacle). This special presence and activity of the Spirit had been missing for 400 years. In Jesus the new age of the Spirit had come.
This will become a powerful NT idiom of the power and presence of the Lord with His people (cf. Acts 2:4; 3:10; 4:8,31; 9:17; 13:9; Eph. 5:18). See Special Topic: The Personhood of the Spirit at Luke 12:12.
▣ "while yet in his mother's womb" This shows God's initiation and blessing, not only in conception, but even fetal spiritual development (cf. Luke 1:41). This phrase also parallels God's affirmation to Jeremiah in Jer. 1:4 (cf. Isa. 49:1; Ps. 139:13-16).
1:16 John's primary task was to spiritually prepare Israel for her Messiah (cf. Mark 1:15). His message was repent and be restored. He was the first true prophet (i.e., filled with the Spirit) since Malachi. Huge numbers of spiritually hungry Jews flocked to him.
The Greek verb epistrephō is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for repentance (shub, cf. Num. 10:36; Deut. 30:2). It is used in this sense in Luke 1:16,17; 22:32; Acts 3:19; 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18,20; 28:27. See Special Topic: Repentance at Luke 3:3.
▣ "the Lord their God" This probably reflects the OT combination of the names for deity, as in Gen. 2:4,5,7,8 and many other verses.
1. Lord – YHWH (redeemer and covenant maker, cf. Gen. 3:14-15)
2. God – Elohim (creator, provider, and sustainer of all life, cf. Gen. 1:1)
This seems to reflect Luke's usage in Luke 1:16,32,68. See Special Topic: Names for Deity at Luke 1:68.
1:17 "in the spirit and power of Elijah" This verse is an allusion to the prophecies of Mal. 3:1 and 4:5-6. Elijah was to precede the Messiah. However, John fills the role of Elijah (cf. Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13). The fact that John fulfills the Elijah prophecies should warn us about western literalsim!
As Elisha received the Spirit of Elijah to become a prophet (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:16), Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's spirit (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:9). In a sense Elisha continued the ministry of Elijah. This is what John does; he extends the eschatological ministry of Elijah foretold in Malachi 3 and 4.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:18-20
18Zacharias said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years." 19The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time."
1:18 "How will I know" This sounds very much like Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:8) and Mary (cf. Luke 1:34). However, apparently God knows the heart, he asked in a doubting way to which God reacted (cf. Matt. 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11-12; John 2:18; 6:30; 1 Cor. 1:22). Modern interpreters are not able to do psycho analysis on biblical characters!
1:19 "Gabriel" This Hebrew name means "God's strong man," "man of God," or "God is my warrior" (BDB 150). This is God's messenger angel (cf. Luke 1:26; Dan. 8:16; 9:21). There are only two angels named in the Bible: (1) Gabriel, who is God's messenger angel to Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary, and (2) Michael (BDB 567), who is the national archangel (cf. Dan. 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7).
▣ "who stands in the presence of God" Angeology became a major element of rabbinical theology and speculation following Israel's contact with Zoroastrianism (Persian religion). The Bible is silent and vague about the spiritual realm. What is presented is often in metaphors or symbols. From the OT there are two types of angels surrounding YHWH's throne—Seraphim (cf. Isaiah 6) and Cherubim (cf. Ezekiel 1,10).
Gabriel's authority rests on his relationship with and proximity to God. This is an important message from God for His purposes (i.e., good news).
1:20 This verse serves as a powerful warning about rejecting, or at least not fully believing, the message from God. Humans may fear the spiritual realm (angels), but they must respect their message! The consequences of rejection are potent.
This is the Greek term idou, which was an imperative of eidein, "to see." For Luke it has become a literary technique to draw attention to a statement. It is used many times in the Luke's writings and the Revelation.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:21-23
21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
1:21 "the temple" This is the term naos. Literally it is from the term "to dwell." It came to be used of the central shrine made up of the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place.
1:22 "when he came out, he was unable to speak" According to rabbinical tradition it was customary for the priest to bless the people when he came out from burning incense, using the Aaronic blessing of Num. 6:24-26.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:24-25
24After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25"This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."
1:25 This shows how she felt about being barren. It was viewed as a curse from God (cf. Gen. 30:23). See note at Luke 1:7.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:26-38
26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." 29But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
1:26 "sixth month" This refers to Elizabeth's pregnancy (cf. Luke 1:36).
▣ "Gabriel" See note at Luke 1:19.
▣ "a city in Galilee called Nazareth" Galilee was known as a Gentile area although many Jews lived there (apparently a small, new community from the royal tribe of Judah lived in Nazareth). Nazareth is never mentioned in the OT or Talmud or by Flavius Josephus. The name Nazareth itself may be related to the Messianic title "Branch" (nezer, cf. Isa. 11:1; Matt. 2:23). See SPECIAL TOPIC: JESUS THE NAZARENE at Luke 4:34. People from this area were generally looked down upon by Judean Jews. This is related to the prophecy of Isa. 9:1.
1:27 "a virgin" The Greek word from the Septuagint pathenon is not ambiguous as the Hebrew Almah (BDB 761 II) is in Isa. 7:4. It specifically means virgin. Matthew and Luke assert that Jesus had no human father (cf. Luke 1:34), that He was the ultimate fulfillment of Isa. 7:14 and Gen. 3:15! This child is of God, not of man (i.e., Immanuel). It is surprising that Luke's source does not mention Isa. 7:14.
Outside of the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke the virgin birth is not specifically mentioned in the NT. It does not appear in any of the sermons of Acts or the later Epistles. This is not because it is not true, but because it might be misunderstood by a polytheistic Greek/Roman culture, which believed that the gods at Olympus regularly took human women and produced offspring. The uniqueness of the biblical account would be lost in this cultural context.
At this point I wold like to use my comments from Isa. 7:14 (see www.freebiblecommentary.org).
"virgin" The Hebrew term here is almah (BDB 761). This term is used for a young woman of marriageable age (cf. Gen. 43:24; Exod. 2:8; Pro. 30:19). It designates a woman who is sexually mature. There is another Hebrew term for virgin, bethulah (BDB 143), which is used by Isaiah in Isa. 23:4, 12; 37:22; 47:1; 62:5. The Septuagint translates this verse with the Greek term "virgin." These terms are semantically overlapping and all of the young girls in Israeli culture were considered to be virgins. However, I do not believe in two virgin births, but one. There was a normal conception in Ahaz's day as a sign and a ("the," MT) virgin conception in Jesus' day (cf. Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38). This is a multi-fulfillment prophecy!
I think the reason that the NT does not emphasize this more (only appears in the two birth narratives [i.e., Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:31,34] and never in a sermon in Acts or an Epistle by any Apostle) is because of the possible misunderstanding of Greco-Roman religion where the cohabitation of gods and humans, resulting in offspring, was common.
To try to base a doctrine of sin as transmitted through male sperm and, therefore, show the reason for a virgin birth is, in my opinion, folly! In reality it is similar to the barren wives of the Patriarchs having children only at God's instigation. God is in control of the Messiah! An even greater truth is revealed in the NT where the Messiah is presented clearly as incarnated Deity (i.e., John 1:1; 5:18; 10:33; 14:9-11; Phil. 2:6)! Thus the need for a virgin birth!
▣ "engaged" This is a perfect passive participle. In Jewish culture of the first century, this was legally binding. Only divorce or death could break this arrangement. Girls became marriageable at 12 years of age (bat mitzvah) with a one year betrothal period (Ketubot 4.4-5). For OT background see Deut. 22:23-27.
▣ "Joseph, of the descendants of David" Whether Joseph (BDB 415, meaning "may YHWH add") and Mary both were of Davidic descent or just Joseph is uncertain (cf. Luke 2:5). The issue is significant because of the promises and prophecies of 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:19ff). The obvious differences between the genealogies of Matthew and Luke are probably due to different lineages. Many commentators assume that Luke records the royal genealogy of Mary (Jesus' actual lineage), while Matthew records Joseph's royal lineage (Jesus' Jewish legal lineage). However, this is only speculation.
▣ "name was Mary" In Hebrew this is the name Mara (i.e., "bitter" [BDB 600] of Ruth 1:20). In the Septuagint it is Mariam (BDB 599). Luke (like all the Synoptic Gospels) spells the name Maria (cf. Luke 1:27).
This is a form of the normal term for "greeting" (chairein, cf. Acts 15:23; James 1:1) in the Greco-Roman world of the first century. Its grammatical form is present active imperative. Its basic meaning is "be full of joy" or "continue to rejoice." It may reflect the Messianic passage of Zech. 9:9.
There is the added possibility that this phrase was used in the Septuagint in contexts where
1. the phrase "do not be afraid" is used
2. God's people are told to rejoice because God is about to deliver them
a. Lamentations 4:21-22
b. Zephaniah 3:14-20
c. Joel 2:21-27
d. Zechariah 9:9
The angel's first words are a sound play on chaire and kecharitōmenē (a perfect passive participle), which is "be glad, favored one." These words have different etymological roots, but they sound alike.
▣ "favored one" The Vulgate has "Hail, Mary, full of grace." This is a good translation if we see that Mary is the recipient of God's grace, not the giver of grace (NJB, "you who enjoy God's favor!"). There is only one mediator, Jesus (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5). However, this was a great and unique honor for a young, peasant woman (cf. Luke 1:48). This greeting shocked her (cf. Luke 1:29).
▣ "you" There are several ancient Greek uncial manuscripts (MSS A, C, D) which add the phrase "blessed are you among women." This illustrates one of the recurrent tendencies of copyists (i.e., scribes) to harmonize phrasing (see Luke 1:42). The UBS4 critical apparatus gives the absence of the phrase (MSS א, B, L, W) in Luke 1:28 an "A" rating (certain).
1:30 "'Do not be afraid'" This is a present imperative with the negative particle negated, which usually means to stop an act in process. This is a common angelic message to humans (see note at Luke 1:13).
▣ "you have found favor with God" This seems to be an OT idiom for God's special activity in someone's life (cf. Gen. 6:8; 18:3; 19:19; 30:27; Exod. 33:12,17; Acts 7:46). God chooses to use imperfect, but available, humans who choose to trust Him to accomplish His purposes in this world.
1:31 "you will conceive in your womb" Mary could have been stoned for pregnancy outside of marriage (cf. Deut. 22:24-25).
A virgin-born child fulfills the prophecy and promise of Gen. 3:15 (cf. Gal. 4:4). Until this point in progressive relation, neither Isa. 7:14 nor Gen. 3:15 made sense. But now John 1:1-14; Rom. 1:3; 8:3; Phil. 2:6-11 make perfect sense. God became incarnate to deal with human sin.
In Jesus, God's justice,( "the soul that sins it will surely die") and God's grace ("For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son") meet in a redemptive, loving, sacrificial climax (cf. Isa. 52:13-53:12; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor. 5:21)!
▣ "you shall name Him Jesus" Jesus is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew "Joshua" (BDB 221). Both are a compound of "YHWH" and "salvation." In the Matthew parallel (Matt. 1:21) the name is explained by the angel.
1:32-33 These two verses describe who this male child is and what he will do.
1. He will be great (cf. Micah 5:4).
2. He will be called the Son of the Most High (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7).
3. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12; Ps. 132:11; Micah 5:2)
4. He will reign over the house of Jacob (cf. Micah 5:3-4)
5. His kingdom will have no end (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:14,18,27).
These phrases must have shocked Mary because
1. The Jews were not expecting an incarnation, but an empowering (like the Judges).
2. Her child will be the promised Messiah (cf. Isa. 9:7)
3. His kingdom would be universal and eternal (cf. 2 Sam. 7:13,16; Isa. 9:7; Dan. 2:44; 7:14,18,27; Micah 5:4).
1:32 "the Son of the Most High" In the OT the King is called a "son" (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7). For a note on "Most High" see 1:76.
▣ "the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David" That Jesus is a descendant of David is a major Messianic affirmation (cf. 2 Sam. 7; Ps. 89:3-4; 132:11; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15-18; Micah 5:2); it is a recurrent theme of the Gospels (both Matthew's and Luke's genealogies, cf. Luke 1:32,69; 2:4; 3:31; Acts 2:29-31; 13:23; Matt. 15:22; 20:3; 21:9,15; John 7:42); Paul's Epistles (cf. Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8); and the book of the Revelation (cf. Luke 3:7; 22:16).
1:33 "He will reign. . .forever, and His kingdom will have no end" This obviously is not a reference to a millennial reign (cf. Rev. 20:1-6, as a matter of fact, Jesus never refers or alludes to a limited Messianic reign), but an eternal kingdom (cf. Ps. 45:7; 93:2; Isa. 9:6,7; Dan. 7:14,18; and implied in Mic. 5:2-5a). For "kingdom" see Special Topic at Luke 4:21.
TEV"Since I am a virgin"
NKJV"since I do not know a man"
NJB"since I have no knowledge of a man"
The word "know" in Hebrew implies an intimate, personal relationship (cf. Jer. 1:5), even a sexual union (cf. Gen. 4:1; 1 Sam. 1:19). This same idiom is used in the same sense in the Septuagint (cf. Jdgs. 11:39; 21:12).
1:35 "overshadow you" This was not a sexual experience for God or Mary. The Spirit does not have a physical, human body. There is a parallel relationship between "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" and "the power of the Most High will overshadow you." In this context it is not the person of the Spirit that is emphasized, but that OT concept of Him as the power of God that goes forth to do God's bidding (cf. Gen. 1:2). As the power of God came upon Mary (eperchomai) to accomplish His purposes, so too did it come upon the early church (cf. Acts 1:8).
We must be careful not to involve Greek polytheistic ideas in these virgin-birth texts. See note at Luke 1:27. This may be the very reason that this truth does not appear in the sermons of Acts or in the NT Epistles.
"Overshadow" (episkiazō) seems to be related to the OT Shekinah cloud of the Wilderness Wanderings which symbolized God's presence (cf. Septuagint of Exod. 40:35). The same Greek term is used of God's presence overshadowing the inner circle of Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:5; Mark 7:9; Luke 9:34). It showed His personal presence and power.
NASB, TEV"the holy Child"
NKJV"that Holy One who is to be born"
NRSV"the child to be born will be holy"
NJB"the child will be holy"
It is obvious from these English translations there is a problem in the Greek text. Literally the phrase is "wherefore also the thing being born holy." To the participle "being born" (present passive) some ancient Greek manuscripts add "out of (or "from") you" (i.e., Mary, cf. MS C*). There have been several possible explanations.
1. The two previous clauses have "you."
2. The addition follows the Matthew parallel (cf. Matt. 1:20).
3. This is one of several purposeful theological additions by scribes to deter ancient Christological heresies (cf. Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p. 139).
This is used in the sense of "sinless" (cf. Acts 3:14; 7:12; 22:14), but also "given to accomplish God's tasks" (cf. Acts 4:27).
Holiness is a family characteristic of God ("holy child" is parallel to "Son of God"). See Special Topic below.
▣ "the Son of God" See Special Topic: The Son of God at Luke 1:32.
1:37 "For nothing will be impossible with God" This statement refers to Luke 1:36, but also to Gabriel's message to Mary (Luke 1:26-35). Elizabeth's pregnancy was a way of confirming God's supernatural actions in human conception (cf. LXX of Gen. 18:14). This phrase is an OT idiom of God's power accomplishing His purposes (cf. Job 42:2; Jer. 32:17; Zech. 8:6). It may be an allusion to Gen. 18:14, which deals specifically with the birth of Isaac (another supernatural, but not virgin, birth). It also occurs in a similar affirmation in Mark 10:27 and Luke 18:27.
1:38 "the bondslave of the Lord" The term "Lord" (kurios which reflects adon) obviously refers to YHWH here, but in Luke 1:43 Elizabeth uses the term for Jesus. See fuller note at Luke 1:43 and Special Topic at Luke 1:68.
▣ "may it be done to me according to your word" This is an aorist middle (deponent) optative, which is a prayer or expressed desire. What great faith this young girl displayed! She is not sinless, but has great faith (cf. Luke 1:45). This verse shows the theological balance between God's sovereignty and His covenant mandate (i.e., "if. . .then") of human response. God planned and initiated; Mary cooperated!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:39-45
39Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."
1:39 Zacharias and Elizabeth did not live in Jerusalem, but close by.
1:41 "baby leaped in my womb" This is not unusual for the sixth month of pregnancy, but the timing is miraculous! The eye of faith saw great meaning in a common occurrence. The rabbis asserted that the unborn child could respond to spiritual things (cf. Gen. 25:22). John, who was conceived with God's help, was in the presence of Jesus (both yet unborn).
▣ "filled with the Holy Spirit" Notice that this phrase (so common in Acts) occurs here in a pre-Pentecostal setting. However, Elizabeth's resulting prophetic insight is far-reaching and obviously supernatural.
1:42 "'Blessed. . .blessed" These are both exclamatory forms (Hebrew and Aramaic), like Ps. 1:1 (no verbs). These are also both perfect passive participles. Mary is blessed for a divine purpose. The world is blessed because of her child (cf. Gen. 3:15).
1:43 "my Lord" Elizabeth is using the theologically significant term "Lord" (cf. Exod. 3:14; Ps. 110:1) to refer to the unborn Messiah (cf. Luke 2:14). The filling of the Spirit has clearly opened her eyes as He did for Simeon in Luke 2:26; for Anna in Luke 2:36-38; for Nathanael in John 1:49; and for Peter in Matt. 16:16.
Elizabeth uses the same Greek term, "Lord," of YHWH in Luke 1:45 and 46-47 (by means of His messenger angel). In later Jewish worship the Jews were nervous of pronouncing the covenant name for God, YHWH, so they substituted the Hebrew term Adon (husband, owner, master, lord) for it in their reading of Scripture. This in turn affected later translations like the English ones, which use Lord for YHWH and Lord for Adon (cf. Ps. 110:1). See Special Topic at Luke 1:68.
1:45 "blessed" This is a different Greek word for blessed (makaria) than Luke 1:42 (twice), which is eulogeō. The term in Luke 1:42 is used only of God (once of Mary in Luke 1:42), while the term in Luke 1:45 is used of humans (cf. Luke 6:20-23; Matt. 5:3-11).
▣ "is she who believed" This seems to be a purposeful comparison with Zacharias' expressed doubts and resulting dumbness. However, it could also function as a way to denote the evangelistic purpose of all the Gospels (cf. John 20:30-31). Luke wants his Gentile readers/hearers to also exercise faith in God's word and promises!
▣ "that there would be a fulfillment" This is the Greek term teleiōsis, which means "completion" or "accomplishment." Mary believed God's word to her. This is the key to the biblical concept of faith. Throughout the OT God spoke to human beings. Those who would be believers must believe! They must respond to God's word by yielding to His will and purpose. Many surely fit this "faith" category (cf. Hebrews 11).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:46-55
46And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, 47And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."
1:46-47 "soul. . .spirit" These two terms (psuchē and pneuma) are in a parallel relationship, therefore, these are synonymous (as are "Lord" and "God my Savior"). Humans are a unity, not a dichotomy or trichotomy (cf. Gen. 2:7). This is a controversial issue, so I would like to insert the note from my commentary on 1 Thess. 5:23 (www.freebiblecommentary.org):
"This is not an ontological dichotomy in mankind, but a dual relationship to both this planet and to God. The Hebrew word nephesh is used of both mankind and the animals in Genesis, while spirit (ruah) is used uniquely of mankind. This is not a proof-text on the nature of mankind as a three-part (trichotomous) being. Mankind is primarily represented in the Bible as a unity (cf. Gen. 2:7). For a good summary of the theories of mankind as trichotomous, dichotomous, or a unity, see Millard J. Erickson's Christian Theology (second edition) pp. 538-557; Frank Stagg's Polarities of Man's Existence in Biblical Perspective (p. 133) and W. T. Conner, Revelation and God, pp. 50-51."
▣ "exalts. . .rejoiced" The first is present tense. The second is aorist tense. It is possible that the first phrase refers to the unborn Messiah and the second phrase to Mary's faith in YHWH.
1:46 "Mary" There is an interesting discussion about which name—(1) Mary, (2) Elizabeth, or (3) no name at all—appeared in the original autograph. All Greek witnesses have "Mary" (spelled two different ways), but three Latin texts and comments by Irenaeus and Jerome, commenting on Origen's notes, have given rise to speculation. For further information, see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pp. 130-131.
1:47 "God my Savior" Mary recognizes her need for a savior!
As there has been an ambiguity in the use of Lord (kurios), possibly referring to YHWH or the Messiah, it is interesting to me how this possibly "purposeful" ambiguity continues throughout the NT. The Trinitarian aspect of God's nature unifies the Father and the Son. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at Luke 3:22.
In Paul's letter to Titus he calls the Father "Savior" three times (cf. Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4). In every context he also calls Jesus "Savior" (cf. Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6).
1:48 "humble state" God chose a young peasant girl to be the Messiah's mother (cf. Gen. 3:15). Isn’t that just like God! He is in control. He will be magnified. He does not need human merit or performance. He will bring redemption!
▣ "will call me blessed" Elizabeth has already blessed her younger relative twice (cf. Luke 1:42,45). This will be repeated throughout time because of the significance of her Son!
1:49 "the Mighty One" This reflects the Patriarchal name of God, El Shaddai (cf. Exod. 6:3). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at Luke 1:68.
▣ "holy is His name" See Special Topic at Luke 1:35.
1:50 "His mercy is upon generation after generation" This is an OT allusion to YHWH's unchanging character of mercy and covenant loyalty toward those who believe (cf. Deut. 5:10; 7:9; Ps. 103:17).
▣ "fear Him" This means to respect or revere Him, to keep Him in a place of awe (of God in Acts 9:31; of government officials in Rom. 13:7; of slave owners in 1 Pet. 2:18).
1:51 "He has done mighty deeds with His arm" This is an anthropomorphic phrase. God does not have a physical body. It is used in the Bible to describe God's power to act (cf. Ps. 98:1; 118:15-16; Isa. 51:9; 52:10). Often Jesus is depicted at the Father's right hand (cf. Matt. 22:44; 26:64; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:33,34; 5:31; 7:55,56).
▣ "He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart" This reflects YHWH's actions in the OT recorded in the Septuagint (cf. Num. 10:35; Deut. 30:1,3; Jer. 51:20-22). God's ways are so different from mankind's ways (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). He exalts those who are weak, powerless, and humble, like Mary (cf. Luke 10:21).
The Greek term for "proud" (huperēphanos) is used often in Isaiah (cf. Isa. 1:25; 2:12; 13:11; 29:20).
For "heart" see Special Topic below.
1:52 This is parallel to Luke 1:51, as is Luke 1:53. This is known as a "reversal" promise. YHWH will bring down the proud and powerful, but will exalt the lowly!
1:53 This is a quote from Ps. 107:9. The same concept is found in Ps. 146:7-9. God's ways are not mankind's ways (cf. Isa. 55:8-11).
1:54 "to Israel His servant" The term "servant" was originally used in the OT as an honorific title for leaders (e.g., Moses, Joshua, David).
It came to be used in a collective sense for Israel, especially in the Servant Songs of Isaiah (cf. Luke 41:8-9; 42:18-19; 43:10). This collective sense is personified in an ideal Israelite (i.e., the Messiah in Isa. 42:1; 52:13-53:12).
▣ "In remembrance of His mercy" God is and has been faithful to Israel because of His unchanging character (cf. Mal. 3:6) of mercy and covenant love (Hebrew hesed).
1:55 This verse emphasizes the call of Abraham (cf. Gen. 12, 15, 17) and his descendants who will provide a family and a nation for the Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of "the seed" of Abraham (cf. Rom. 2:28-20; Gal. 3:15-19).
▣ "forever" See Special Topic: Greek Idioms for "Forever" at Luke 1:33.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:56
56And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
1:56 "then returned to her home" Obviously to face ridicule. Belief always costs!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:57-58
57Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.
1:57 For Jews the birth of a child, especially a son, was a blessing from God. Elizabeth had been childless for so long and now had delivered a healthy boy!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:59-66
59And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60But his mother answered and said, "No indeed; but he shall be called John." 61And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name." 62And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, "His name is John." And they were all astonished. 64And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, "What then will this child turn out to be?" For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.
1:59 "on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child" This was practiced by all of Israel's neighbors except the Philistines (Greek Aegean people). For most cultures it was usually a rite of passage into manhood, but not for Israel. It was instead an initiation rite into the covenant People. It was a sign of a special faith relationship with YHWH (Gen. 17:9-14). Each Patriarch circumcised his own sons (i.e., acted as priest for his own family). Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 214, says the rite of circumcision connected the rite of blood-shedding with the act of circumcision. Blood was connected to covenant forming (cf. Gen. 15:17), covenant breaking (cf. Gen. 2:17), and covenant redemption (cf. Isaiah 53).
The eighth day was the set time for male Jews to have the foreskin of their penises removed (cf. Lev. 12:3; Gen. 17:12). It was so important that even if the eighth day occurred on the Sabbath the ritual was still performed.
1:60 "he shall be called John" Naming was usually the choice of the father, but for both Jesus (cf. Matt. 1:21) and John (cf. Luke 1:13) the messenger angel gave their names.
1:63 "they were all astonished" This is the Greek term thaumazō, which is used often by Luke (cf. Luke 1:21,63; 2:18,33; 4:22; 7:9; 8:25; 9:43; 11:13,38; 20:26; 24:12,41; Acts 2:7; 3:12; 4:13; 7:31; 13:41). Luke's vocabulary is influenced by the Septuagint. This word is also found in several OT contexts (cf. Gen. 19:21; Lev. 19:25; 26:32; Deut. 10:17; 28:50; Job 41:4; Dan. 8:27). The noun form is used of God's miracles (cf. Exod. 3:20; Deut. 34:12; Jdgs. 6:13; and 1 Chr. 16:9).
▣ "fear" These neighbors, family, and friends recognized God's special presence and divine purpose (cf. Luke 1:66) in this conception and birth. This fear (a better word, "awe," cf. NJB) is the common human response to the presence of the supernatural.
1:66 "For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him" Luke adds these personal comments several times (cf. Luke 2:50; 3:15; 7:39; 16:14; 20:20; 23:12).
This was a Semitic idiom for God's presence, power, and plan for individuals who become part of His design for the Kingdom (cf. 1 Chr. 28:19; Ezek. 1:3). By analogy it would apply to the mindset and worldview of all believers. God is with us, for us, and has a plan and purpose for our lives. See Special Topic at Luke 1:51.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:67-79
67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 68"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant – 70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – 71Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; 72To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace."
1:67 "was filled with the Holy Spirit" This shows the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit who was active in the world before Pentecost. Be careful about making too radical a distinction between the OT actions of the Spirit and the NT actions of the Spirit. The difference is in the NT personification of the Spirit (see Special Topic at Luke 12:12), not His actions.
▣ "prophesied" See Special Topic below.
1:68-70 Zacharias, John the Baptist's father, thanks "the Lord God of Israel" for sending His promised Messiah. The context does not mention his own son (i.e., John) until Luke 1:76-77. In this same section, Luke 1:71-75 and 78-79 are also a psalm of thanksgiving to YHWH for the salvation He has brought in His Messiah (cf. Eph. 1:3-12).
1:68 "Blessed" See note at Luke 1:45.
▣ "the Lord God of Israel" This phrase contains a Greek translation of the two most common names for deity.
1. "Lord" reflects YHWH of Exod. 3:14, which denotes God as Savior, Redeemer, and Covenant-making God.
2. "God" reflects the general name for God, Elohim (cf. Gen. 1:1), which denotes God as creator, provider, and sustainer of all life on this planet.
The creator and redeeming God (cf. Gen. 2:4) reveals Himself to the world through His dealings with Abraham and his descendants (cf. Gen. 12,15,17). Israel will be the source of God's promised Messiah.
▣ "For He has visited us" This visit of YHWH was in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus has brought redemption, not only for Israel, but for the world (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6).
▣ "redemption" See Special Topic below.
1:69 "horn of salvation" In the OT an animal's horns were a symbol of that animal's power (cf. Deut. 33:17; Ps. 92:10; Zech. 1:18-21). It was used to describe the power of the wicked (cf. Ps. 75:10) and the righteous (cf. 1 Sam. 2:1; Ps. 75:10; 89:17; 148:14).
This cultural idiom came to be used for the efficacious power of the altar of sacrifice (cf. Exod. 27:2; 30:10; 1 Kgs. 1:50; 2:28). From this developed the concept of God as the efficacious protector of one's salvation (cf. 2 Sam. 22:2; Ps. 18:2).
▣ "in the house of David His servant" This phrase brings several OT connotations.
1. The key term is "house" and the key context is 2 Samuel 7. From this Messianic promise comes Ps. 132:17 and Isa. 11:1. The Messiah will be from the tribe of Judah (cf. Genesis 49) and the family of Jesse (cf. Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32; John 7:42; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3; Rev. 22:16).
2. "Servant" was an OT title of honor and of Moses and Joshua.
1:70 The "He" of this verse refers to the "Spirit" of Luke 1:67. This is the NT affirmation of the inspiration and relevance of OT prophecy (cf. Rom. 1:2; 3:21; 16:26). It is also an affirmation of the personality of the Spirit. See Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed., pp 875-878. See Special Topic at Luke 12:12.
NASB, NRSV"from of old"
NKJV"who have been since the world began"
NJB"from ancient times"
This phrase relates to the OT prophets. It was inserted between "holy" and "prophets" (cf. Acts 3:21). The theological thrust is that the Messiahship of Jesus was not a recent invention, but ancient, inspired prophecy. He would bring physical (OT) and spiritual (NT) salvation to Israel and beyond (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
1:71 "Salvation" In the OT the word "salvation" has a primary meaning of physical deliverance (cf. Luke 1:74). This introduces a quote from Ps. 106:10.
NASB"to show mercy toward our fathers"
NKJV"to perform the mercy promised to our fathers"
NRSV"thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors"
TEV"He said He would show mercy to our ancestors"
NJB"and show faithful love to our ancestors"
The two lines of Luke 1:72 are parallel. The covenant to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12,15,17) is specifically mentioned in Luke 1:73-75. This was a conditional covenant based on God's promise in Luke 1:73-74a and the appropriate faith response in Luke 1:74b-75.
▣ "holy covenant" See Special Topic below.
1:73 "The oath which He swore to Abraham our father" God's covenant with Abraham is recorded in Lukes 12 and 15, but this specific oath is recorded in Gen. 22:16-18. Paul mentions this oath/promise several times in Romans 4, where he documents that God's salvation has always been based on (1) God's mercy and covenant initiation and (2) mankind's faith response.
1:74 The infinitive that begins this verse in NASB, NKJV, and NJB is found in Luke 1:73 in UBS4 and NRSV.
The purpose of human redemption is human service to God. This is Paul's very point in Romans 6!
Fear of God is caused by sin. The Messiah removes the penalty of sin and restores the "image of God" (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) in fallen mankind, so fellowship without fear is possible again, as it was in the Garden of Eden.
1:75 "holiness" See Special Topic: Holy at Luke 1:35.
▣ "righteousness" See Special Topic at Luke 1:6.
1:76 "you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High" This was a startling statement since there had been no prophet in Israel since Malachi, over 400 years earlier.
The title "Most High" (hupsistos) comes from the Septuagint's translation of the Hebrew Elion. It is first applied to God in Gen. 14:18,19,20,22 in connection with Melchizedek (cf. Heb. 7:1) and again in Num. 24:16 in connection with Balaam.
Moses uses it of God in Deut. 32:8 (cf. Acts 17:26). It is used several times in the Psalms (cf. Luke 18:13; 78:35; 89:27).
The Gospel writers use it several times in connection to Jesus being called the Son of the Most High (cf. Luke 1:32; Mark 5:7; and parallel Luke 8:28) and here in this text, John the Baptist as prophet of the Most High. See Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 35.
▣ "you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways" The Jews were expecting a forerunner to the Messiah and because of Mal. 4:5, they were expecting Elijah to be reincarnated. John the Baptist dressed and lived much like Elijah.
John did not see himself in this role (cf. John 1:21), but Jesus says he fulfilled this prophecy (cf. Matt. 11:14). John describes himself (cf. Luke 3:2-6) by this very quote from Mal. 3:1 (cf. Isa. 40:3-4).
The word "Lord" is a way to translate YHWH. It refers to the Covenant God of Israel (cf. Luke 1:16-17; Mal. 3:1; Isa. 40:3-4). John prepares for the coming of YHWH in His Messiah.
1:77 John's ministry of preparation had a threefold purpose.
1. to accentuate a spiritual sense of need (i.e., baptism of repentance)
2. to bring knowledge of salvation (i.e., repent and believe) in God's mercy, God's Messiah, God's soon-coming provision (cf. Luke 1:15)
3. to point toward Jesus (cf. John 1:29-34, 35-37)
John cannot bring salvation by the forgiveness of sins, but he points toward One who can and will—Jesus of Nazareth.
1:78 "Because of the tender mercy of our God" It was the unchanging character of God the Father (cf. Mal. 3:6, although it could reflect Isa. 9:2 or 60:1), which sent the Messiah (cf. John 3:16). Mercy is the key to "predestination" (cf. Rom. 9:15,16,18; 11:30,31,32).
The Greek term translated "tender" is literally splagchnon, which denoted "the inward parts" of a sacrifice, which the Canaanites ate but the Jews offered to YHWH on the altar of sacrifice at the Tabernacle (cf. Exod. 29:13; Lev. 3:3-4,10,15; 4:8-9; 7:3-4; 8:16,25; 9:10,16).
The Ancients located the feelings in these "lower organs" (liver, kidneys, intestines, cf. Isa. 63:15; Jer. 4:19; and the metaphor is continued in the NT, cf. 2 Cor. 6:12; 7:15; Phil. 1:8; 2:1; Col. 3:12; Philemon 7,12,20).
NASB"With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us"
NKJV"With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us"
NRSV"The dawn from on high will break upon us"
TEV"He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us"
NJB"In which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us"
Because there have been several allusions to Malachi in this praise of Zacharias, this is probably an allusion to Mal. 4:2a. "But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings."
The word "sun" does not appear in the Greek text, but only the term "rising" (as it does in the LXX of Mal. 4:2). The term "sun" has two possible origins.
1. The Zoroastrians' (i.e., Persian religion during the captivity of Israel) symbol of their high, good god (Ahura Masda) was the sun disk with wings.
2. The title for God, "Most High" (cf. Luke 1:32,76) is a way of referring to God's gift of light/sun (cf. Ps. 19:1-6).
Malachi 4 speaks of a day of salvation coming symbolized by light/healing.
There are Greek manuscript variations as to the verb tense (present/future). The Malachi prophecy is future, but the Christ-event for John the Baptist was present.
1:79 This is a quote from Isa. 9:1-2 (which means Luke 1:78 could also refer to Isa. 9:2). There have been several quotes from Malachi that have had parallels in Isaiah (i.e., prepare the way of the Lord). This seems to be another (i.e., a rabbinical wordplay on "sun rise" and "shine").
Originally the Isaiah prophecy referred to the first defeated tribes in the north of Israel who were taken captive first by the northern invasion of Assyria in the eighth century b.c. Isaiah asserts they will be the first to have good news presented to them. Jesus' first area of ministry was Galilee!
▣ "to guide our feet into the way of peace" This is an aorist active infinitive of the Greek term "to direct." It is used only three times in the NT: here and twice by Paul in his letters to Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thess. 3:11; 2 Thess. 3:5). In all three occurrences it emphasizes God's guidance. In the Septuagint it is linked to "keep one straight" (i.e., on God's path).
OT faith is characterized as a clear path. God's people are to follow the path, stay on the straight path. It is not by accident the early church in Acts is called "the Way."
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: LUKE 1:80
80And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
1:80 "the child continued to grow and to become strong" This is very similar to the description of Jesus' development, both physically and spiritually (cf. Luke 2:40).
▣ "in spirit" As is often the case, the interpretive issue is, does this refer to the Holy Spirit or to John's human spirit? Possibly to both, based on an allusion to Isa. 11:1-2.
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. Why is the virgin birth an important biblical concept?
2. How did the Spirit accomplish this task?
3. How do we balance the greatness of Mary's faith with the normalcy of her humanity?
4. What is the important truth revealed in Luke 1:51-53?
5. Why are the titles of the godly king listed in Luke 1:6 so significant in our understanding of Jesus of Nazareth?
6. Why can Zacharias be filled with the Holy Spirit before Pentecost?
7. Why is the Davidic origin of the Messiah so important?
8. Why were the Jews expecting Elijah to be reincarnated?
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