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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Luke 1




Title. Εὐαγγέλιον. See Introd. ch. 1. The word has come to mean not the ‘good news’ in the abstract but the ‘written Gospel,’ a sense which it acquired before the end of the first century. But if the title of this Gospel came from the original writer it was used in its earlier and proper sense.

κατὰ Λουκᾶν. The preposition κατὰ implies the authorship of St Luke, just as ἡ καθ' Ἡρόδοτον ἱστορία in Diodorus means the history written by Herodotus, and ἡ κατὰ ΄ωϋσέα πεντάτευχος in Epiphanius means the Pentateuch written by Moses (Godet). Possibly however the expression originated from the currency of oral forms of teaching systematically adopted by different Apostles, which, when reduced to writing, were not represented as exclusive presentations of the Good Tidings, but as the Gospel in the particular form wherein it was preached by St Peter, St Matthew, or by other Apostles.

κατὰ Λουκᾶν. In אBF we have simply this title, but most MSS. add εὐαγγέλιον. Others have τὸ or ἐκ τοῦ, and some add ἅγιον before εὐαγγέλιον, or have ἐκ τοῦ κατὰ Λ. ἁγίου εὐαγγελίου. The earliest titles are the simplest.

Verse 1

1. That it narrates as it were a new departure in God’s Revelation of Himself to man, after a cessation of miracle, prophecy and inspiration for 400 years.

Verses 1-4


This brief preface is in several respects most interesting and important. Ewald rightly says that in its simplicity, brevity and modesty it is a model preface.

i. It is the only personal introduction to any historic book in the Bible except the Acts. It is specially valuable here as authenticating the first two chapters and shewing that Marcion’s excision of them was only due to his desire to suppress the true humanity of Christ, as his other mutilations of the Gospel (which made it “like a garment eaten by moths,” Epiphan.) were due to hostility to the Old Testament. See Mill’s Mythical Interpretation, p. 103.

ii. The style in which it is written is purer and more polished than that of the rest of the Gospel, though it is “the most literary of the Gospels.” It was the custom of antiquity to give special elaboration to the opening clauses of a great work, as we see in the Histories of Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, &c. In the rest of the Gospel the style of the Evangelist is often largely modified by the documents of which he made such diligent use.

iii. It shews us in the simplest and most striking manner that the Divine Inspiration was in no way intended to supersede the exercise of human diligence and judgment.

iv. It proves how “many” early attempts to narrate the Life of Christ have perished. We may well suppose that they have only perished because the Four Evangelists were guided by “a grace of superintendency” to select and to record all that was most needful for us to know, and to preserve everything which was accurate and essential in the narratives (διηγήσεις) which had previously been published.

v. It furnishes us on the very threshold with a key to the aims of the Evangelist in the more systematic and comprehensive history which he is now led to write. With a modesty, which is also evinced by his self-suppression in the Acts of the Apostles, he here lays claim to nothing beyond methodical order and diligent research.

vi. We see at once from this preface the association of thought and expression between St Luke and his great Teacher. Several of the most marked words, ‘attempted,’ ‘most surely believed,’ ‘orally instructed,’ ‘certainly,’ are only found elsewhere in the letters and speeches of St Paul.

vii. It marks the difference between St Matthew and St Luke, shewing us that we have here a less Jewish and a more universal Gospel.

Verse 2

2. That to any one who believes in God there can therefore be no stumblingblock in the Angelic appearances and other marvellous incidents. They are thrown into the shade by the awfulness of the central fact that “The WORD became Flesh.”

Verse 3

3. That the holy and awestruck reticence of the Virgin accounts for the absence of their earlier publicity.

Verse 4

4. In the narrative itself we notice: α. A clearness of detail which marks veritable history (see the minute circumstances in Luke 1:5; Luke 1:39; Luke 1:63, Luke 2:36-37, &c.). β. A prevalence of numerical elements (sevens and threes), which shews that St Luke is here basing his record on an Aramaic document. Thus the whole Gospel of the Childhood falls into three large and seven smaller divisions. I. 1. The announcement of the birth of the Forerunner, Luke 1:5-25. 2. The announcement of the birth of Jesus, Luke 1:26-38. 3. The visit of Mary to Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-56. II. 1. The birth of John, Luke 1:57-80. 2. The birth of Jesus, Luke 2:1 to Luke 20:3. The Presentation in the Temple and Circumcision, Luke 2:21-40. III. The first visit of Jesus to the Temple—which completes the cycle by a seventh narrative, Luke 2:41-52. We shall see further that even the subordinate sections often fall into subsections of three. See Godet I. 84. Thus the first section is divided into α, the test of faith, Luke 1:5-7; β the promise, Luke 1:8-22; γ the fulfilment, Luke 1:23-25.

Ἡρώδου βασιλέως. Towards the close of the reign of Herod the Great. The true sceptre had departed from Judah. Herod was a mere Idumaean usurper imposed on the nation by the Romans. “Regnum ab Antonio Herodi datum, victor Augustus auxit.” Tac. Hist. Luke 1:9.

τῆς Ἰουδαίας. Besides Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, his kingdom included the most important regions of Peraea (Jos. Antt. XV. 5, §§ 6, 7; B. J. I. 20, §§ 3, 4).

Ζαχαρίας. The common Jewish name Zachariah (2 Kings 14:29; Ezra 8:3; Ezra 8:11; Zechariah 1:1; 1 Maccabees 5:18, &c.) means ‘remembered by Jehovah.’ The Jews highly valued the distinction of priestly birth (Jos. Vit. I.). The notion that Zacharias was a High Priest and that his vision occurred on the great Day of Atonement is refuted by the single word ἔλαχε, “his lot was,” Luke 1:9.

ἐξ ἐφημερίας. The word ἐφημερία means first ‘a daily ministry’ (Heb. mishmereth) and then a class of the priesthood which exercised its functions for a week. It is used by the LXX[26] (as well as διαίρεσις) to render the Hebrew machaloketh. Josephus (Vit. I.) uses the less accurate term ἐφημερίς, and also πατρία (Antt. VII. 14. 7). Aaron had four sons, but the two elder, Nadab and Abihu, were struck dead for using strange fire in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10). From the two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, had sprung in the days of David twenty-four families, sixteen from the descendants of Eleazar, and eight from those of Ithamar. To these David distributes by lot the order of their service from week to week, each for eight days inclusively from Sabbath to Sabbath (1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 31:2). After the Babylonish exile only four of the twenty-four courses returned—a striking indication of the truth of the Jewish saying that those who returned from the exile were but like the chaff in comparison of the wheat. The four families of which the representatives returned were those of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur, and Harim (Ezra 2:36-39). But the Jews concealed the heavy loss by subdividing these four families into twenty-four courses, to which they gave the original names, and this is alluded to in Nehemiah 13:30 (“I … appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business”). This arrangement continued till the fall of Jerusalem A.D. 70, at which time, on the ninth of the month Ab (Aug. 5), we are told that the course in waiting was that of Jehoiarib (Jos. Bell. Jud. VI. 5; Taanith, IV. 6; Derenbourg, Palest. p. 291). Reckoning back from this we find that the course of Abijah went out of office on Oct. 9, B.C. 6, A. U. C. 748 (but see Lewin, Fasti Sacri, p. 191). The reckoning of the date, either backwards from the Fall of Jerusalem, or forwards from the Reformation of Judas Maccabaeus (1 Maccabees 4:38), necessarily involves elements of uncertainty. See Wieseler, Synopsis, 141–145. The reader should bear in mind that our received era for the Birth of Christ (A. U. C. 753) was only fixed by the Abbot Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, and is probably four years wrong.

Ἀβιά. 1 Chronicles 24:10, “the eighth [lot came forth] to Abijah.” This was not one of the four families which had returned, but the name was soon revived (Nehemiah 12:4). Josephus tells us that he himself enjoyed the high distinction of belonging by birth to the first of the twenty-four courses (Vit. I.).

καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ. ‘His wife was.’ See the critical note. This phrase like ἐγένετο (ויהי), and ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις is Hebraic. The construction throughout is rather paratactical (sentences joined by καὶ) than syntactical (subordinate clauses).

Ἐλισάβετ. The same name as Elisheba (‘one whose oath is by God,’ comp. Jehoshebah, 2 Kings 11:2), the wife of Aaron, Exodus 6:23; mentioned by name according to Ibn Ezra as ‘the mother of the priesthood.’ John’s descent was priestly on both sides, as that of Jesus was royal.

Verse 5

5. Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις. The elaborate style of the Preface is at once replaced by one of extreme directness and simplicity, full of Hebraic expressions; shewing that here St Luke begins to use, and probably to translate, some Aramaic document which had come into his hands. The remainder of this chapter is known as the Protevangelium—the Gospel History before the Birth of Christ. The sweetness and delicate reserve of the narrative, together with the incidents on which it dwells, have led to the not unreasonable conjecture that the Virgin Mary had written down some of those things which she long ‘kept in her heart.’ Something however of the ‘lofty and lyric beauty’ of the narrative must be due to St Luke, for his peculiar expressions occur even amid the Hebraic idioms. In this new material we may note:

Verses 5-25


Verse 6

6. δίκαιοι. The Hebrew Tsaddîkîm. It is one of the oldest terms of high praise among the Jews (Genesis 6:9; Genesis 7:1; Genesis 18:23-28. See Psalms 37:37; Ezekiel 18:5-19, &c.). It is used also of Joseph, Matthew 1:19; and is defined in the following words in the almost technical sense of strict legal observance which it had acquired since the days of the Maccabees. The true Jashar (upright man) was the ideal Jew. Thus Rashi calls the Book of Genesis ‘the book of the upright, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’

ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ. The Hebrew לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה which implies perfect sincerity, since hypocrisy is

“the only evil that walks

Invisible, except to God alone,

By His permissive will, through heaven and earth.”

See Genesis 7:1; Acts 8:21. For the word ἐνώπιον which is read in some MSS. see note on Luke 24:11.

ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐντολαῖς καὶ δικαιώμασιν. The two words occur in the LXX[27] version of Genesis 26:5 (of Abraham) and 2 Chronicles 17:4 (of Jehoshaphat). ‘Commandments’ means the moral precepts of natural and revealed religion (Genesis 26:5; Deuteronomy 4:40; Romans 7:8-13). ‘Ordinances’ had come to be technically used of the ceremonial Law (Hebrews 9:1). The distinctions were not accurately kept, but the two words together would, to a pious Jew of that day, have included all the positive and negative precepts which later Rabbis said were 613 in number, namely 248 positive, and 365 negative. ‘To walk in the ordinances’ is a Hebraism (1 Kings 8:62; Deuteronomy 4:1; Psalms 119:93, &c.).

ἄμεμπτοι. ‘So that they were blameless.’ The word is used proleptically as in 1 Thessalonians 3:13. Blamelessness in external observances must not of course be confused with sinlessness.

Verse 7

7. καὶ οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τέκνον. This was regarded as a heavy misfortune, because it cut off all hope of the birth of the Messiah in that family. It was also regarded as often involving a moral reproach, and as being a punishment for sin. See Genesis 11:30; Genesis 18:11; Genesis 30:1-23; Exodus 23:26; Deuteronomy 7:14; Judges 13:2-3; 1 Samuel 1:6; 1 Samuel 1:27; Isaiah 47:9.

καθότι. This word in the N. T. is used only by St Luke 19:9; Acts 2:24. Classically it is better written καθ' ὅ τι.

προβεβηκότες ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις. A Hebraism for baîm bayamîm Genesis 18:11, &c. The classical phrase would be τῇ ἡλικίᾳ or τὴν ἡλικίαν or τοῖς ἔτεσιν. A priest apparently might minister until any age, but Levites were partially superannuated at 50 (Numbers 3:1-39; Numbers 3:4; Numbers 8:25).

Verse 8

8. ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν αὐτόν. The priest who had the highest functions allotted to him was called ‘the chief of the course.’ There are said to have been some 20,000 priests in the days of Christ, and it could therefore never fall to the lot of the same priest twice to offer incense. Hence this would have been, apart from the vision, the most memorable day in the life of Zacharias.

Verse 9

9. ἱερατείας. The word is used by Aristotle, and in Hebrews 7:5, but the more common and classic form is ἱερωσύνης.

ἔλαχε τοῦ θυμιᾶσαι. ‘He obtained by lot the duty of (entering and) burning incense.’ This was the loftiest and most coveted of priestly functions, Exodus 30:1-10; Numbers 16:1-40; Deuteronomy 33:10. King Uzziah was smitten with leprosy for trying to usurp it (2 Chronicles 26:18). Incense was a symbol of prayer (Psalms 141:2; Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 8:3-4), and Philo tells us that it was offered twice a day,—before the morning and after the evening sacrifice of a lamb. Incense was believed to atone, and the silent smoke of incense atoned for secret slander, T. B. Yoma, f. 44. 1; Wisdom of Solomon 18:21; Sirach 45:16. The ordinary construction after ἐγένετο would have been καὶ ἔλαχε as in Luke 5:1; Luke 5:12, Luke 9:51, &c., but St Luke more often omits the καί. The ἐγένετο is really pleonastic. Winer, E. T. p. 760. The τοῦ θυμιᾶσαι is governed by λαγχάνω as in ἔλαχε τοῦ βασιλεύειν. The word “custom” refers to the casting lots every day to see which priest was to burn the incense. The method of drawing lots is described in Yoma, f. 39. 1. Λαγχάνω may also be followed by the accusative as in Acts 1:17; 2 Peter 1:1. It was probably the morning offering at which Zacharias officiated.

εἰς τὸν ναόν. ‘Into the shrine or Holy Place.’ The golden altar of incense stood before the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:6). The priest entered in white robes and with unsandalled feet with two attendants, who retired when they had made everything ready. The people waited outside in the Court of Israel praying in deep silence till the priest who was sacrificing the evening lamb at the great altar of Burnt Offering in the Court gave a signal to his colleague in the shrine, perhaps by the tinkling of a bell (Exodus 30:1-10; Psalms 141:2; Malachi 1:11). He then threw the incense on the fire of the golden altar, and its fragrant smoke rose with the prayers of the people. It was while performing this solemn function that John Hyrcanus also had received a divine intimation (Jos. Antt. XIII. 103). The word εἰσελθὼν means strictly that the lot had fallen to him after entering the Sanctuary; but the meaning is that the lot gave him the right “to enter and to burn the incense” (as it is rendered in the R. V[28]). The participle must be taken in close connection with the infinitive. Winer, p. 443.

Verse 10

10. πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος. This seems to shew that the vision took place either on a sabbath, or some great feast-day.

προσευχόμενον. The prayer of the people without was typified by the rising incense-smoke within. The analytic form ἦν προσευχόμενον for προσεύχετο slightly emphasises the delay. Comp. ἡ καρδία αὐτῶν ἦν καιομένη, Luke 24:32. The imperfect was no longer sufficient when the continuance needed to be emphasised. (Cf. ἦν διανεύων, 22, ἦν προσδοκῶν, 21). The Temple was mainly used for sacrifice. Prayer in the Tabernacle is only once mentioned in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 26:12-15). But the Temple had naturally become a ‘House of Prayer’ (Isaiah 56:7; Nehemiah 11:17; Matthew 21:13). One of the Rabbis went so far as to argue that prayer was a Rabbinic not a Mosaic institution! See Cohen, Jud. Gottesdienst, p. 186.

τοῦ θυμιάματος. The hour of “the incense.” More accurately it would be τῆς θυμιάσεως ‘of the burning of the incense.’

Verse 11

11. ἄγγελος. The ὤφθη implies an objective vision. St Luke dwells more than any of the Evangelists on the ministry of angels, Luke 1:26, Luke 2:9; Luke 2:13; Luke 2:21, Luke 12:8, Luke 15:10, Luke 16:22, Luke 22:43, Luke 24:4; Luke 24:23, and frequently in the Acts. Compare the visions at the births of Isaac, Samson, and Samuel.

ἐκ δεξιῶν. i.e. on the South side. It was the propitious side, so to speak, Mark 16:5; Matthew 25:33; and ib. Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr.

τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου. A small movable table of acacia wood overlaid with gold. See Exodus 30:1-38; Exodus 37:25; 1 Kings 7:48. In Hebrews 9:4 the word may possibly mean ‘censer.’

Verse 12

12. ἐταράχθη. Such is the effect always recorded of these supernatural appearances. See Luke 2:9; Judges 13:22; Daniel 10:7-9; Ezekiel 1:28; Mark 16:8; Revelation 1:17.

ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ' αὐτόν. Comp. Genesis 15:12. The more classic construction would have been αὐτῷ. But as a language becomes older it gets less and less synthetic, and multiplies the epexegetic use of pronouns, prepositions, &c.

Verse 13

13. ΄ὴ φοβοῦ. The first utterance of the Dawn of the Gospel. St Luke begins with this angelic encouragement, and ends with the Apostles ‘blessing and praising God;’ see the beautiful remarks of Bengel ad loc.

εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου. ‘Thy supplication was heard.’ Δέησις implies a special prayer, and with the aorist verb shews that Zacharias had been just praying either to have a son, or at least that the days of the Messiah might come.

Ἰωάννην. Jehochanan, ‘the favour of Jehovah’ (comp. Genesis 17:19). It is the same name as Johanan, and in various forms was not uncommon, 1 Chronicles 3:24; 1 Chronicles 28:12, &c. Compare the German name Gotthold.

Verse 14

14. ἀγαλλίασις. ‘Exultation,’ Luke 1:44; Acts 2:46; Hebrews 1:9.

πολλοί. The Pharisees and leading Jews did not accept John’s baptism (Luke 7:30; Matthew 21:27), and his influence, except among a few, seems to have been shortlived.

“There burst he forth: ‘All ye whose hopes rely

On God, with me amid these deserts mourn,

Repent, repent, and from old errors turn!’

Who listened to his voice, obeyed his cry?—

Only the echoes which he made relent

Rang from their flinty caves Repent! repent!”


Verse 15

15. μέγας ἐνώπιον Κυρίου. And therefore great indeed, since “we are as great as we are in God’s sight, and no greater.” See Luke 7:24-30; Matthew 11:11.

καὶ οἶνον καὶ σίκερα οὐ μὴ πίῃ. He shall be a Nazarite (Luke 7:33; Numbers 6:1-4); like Samson (Judges 13:2-7); Samuel (1 Samuel 1:12); and the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:6). ‘Strong drink’ (σίκερα from Heb. Shakar ‘he is intoxicated’) was also forbidden to ministering priests, Leviticus 10:8. The term seems to have been specially applied to palm wine (Plin. Hist. Nat. XIV. 19), and all intoxicants (e.g. beer, &c.) which are not made of the juice of the grape. ‘Ne Syder,’ Wyclif.

πνεύματος ἁγίου πλησθήσεται. The contrast between the false and hateful excitement of drunkenness and the divine exaltation of spiritual fervour is also found in Ephesians 5:18, “Be not drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit.” Comp. Acts 2:13.

ἐκ κοιλίας μητρὸς αὐτοῦ. Compare 1 Samuel 1:11; Jeremiah 1:5.

Verse 16

16. πολλοὺςἐπιστρέψει. Ezekiel 3:19; Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3-6. The word for ‘turn’ is sometimes rendered ‘convert’ as in Luke 22:32, ‘when thou are converted.’ These words resume the thread of prophecy which had been broken for three centuries (Malachi 4:6).

Verse 17

17. αὐτὸς προελεύσεται ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ. He shall himself go before the Messiah. The αὐτοῦ is used in its most emphatic sense for Christ as in 1 John 2:12; 2 Peter 3:4. The English version should have added, “in His presence” (ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ).

ἐν πνεύματι καὶ δυνάμει Ἡλία. From the last words of Malachi (Luke 4:4-6, Luke 3:1), the Jews universally believed (as they do to this day) that Elijah would visibly return to earth as a herald of the Messiah. It required the explanation of our Lord to open the eyes of the Apostles on this subject. “This is Elias which was for to come,” Matthew 11:14. “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things … Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist,” Matthew 17:10-14. The resemblance was partly in external aspect (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4); and partly in his mission of stern rebuke and invitation to repentance (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Kings 21:20).

ἐπιστρέψαι. The infinitive, expressive of a fact or consequence, almost resembling a purpose as in ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι, Matthew 2:2, where the supine would be used in Latin. Comp. ἤμισυ τοῦ στρατεύματος κατέλιπε φυλάττειν τὸ στρατόπεδον.

καρδίας πατέρων ἐπὶ τέκνα. ‘Of fathers to children;’ i.e. (as in the original meaning of Malachi,) to remedy disunion and restore family life. Kuinoel and others strangely follow St Augustine (De Civ. Dei, xx. 29) in explaining this to mean that John should make the Jews as pious as the Patriarchs were.

ἐν φρονήσει. (To walk) in or by wisdom. Φρόνησις (Ephesians 1:8) is the practical wisdom shewn by obedience. He shall turn them to wisdom so that they shall live in it. This is a constructio praegnans where a preposition of rest is placed after a verb of motion to imply the state produced. This ‘pregnant construction’ is one of the many signs of the agility of the Greek intellect. Compare

“Clarence, whom I indeed have cast in darkness.”

K. Rich. III. I. 3.

“And let the sounds of music | Creep in our ears.”

Merch. of Ven. Luke 1:1.

And in Latin In amicitia receptus, Sall. In aquam macerare, Cat. Brief Greek Syntax, § 89.

δικαίων. See Luke 1:6. The disobedient shall by his ministry begin to accept the δικαιώματα.

ἑτοιμάσαικατεσκευασμένον. The participle is proleptic—‘To prepare so that it may be ready.’ See Brief Greek Syntax, p. 82. (Comp. submersas obrues puppes, &c.) The reason why the R. V[29] renders this “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him” is because St Luke is fond of placing a word like ‘for the Lord’ between two others, with either or both of which it may be connected. See Acts 1:2 (Humphry, Rev. Version, p. 92).

Verse 18

18. ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης. The emphasis is on the I, which is therefore expressed. So “Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old?” Genesis 17:17. But he had believed the original promise (Genesis 15:6) though he asked for a confirmation of it (Luke 1:8). “He believed … God who quickeneth the dead,” Romans 4:17.

ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς. This is a Hebraism.

Verse 19

19. ἀποκριθείς. This aor. pass. part. is constantly used in the N. T. for the aor. mid. part. ἀποκρινάμενος. Veitch, Greek Verbs, p. 78, says that the earliest instance of this use is in Maco, a poet of the later comedy. In Hellenistic Greek the force of the middle voice is to some extent obliterated.

Γαβριήλ. Vir dei. The name means ‘Hero of God.’ He is also mentioned in Luke 1:26, and in Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21-23 (“idem Angelus, idem negotium,” Bengel). The only other Angel or Archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Judges 1:9) named in Scripture is Michael (‘Who is like God?’ Daniel 10:21). In the Book of Enoch we read of ‘the four great Archangels (Sarîm or Princes) Michael, Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel,’ and so too in Pirke Rabbi Eliezer, IV. In Tobit 12:15, “I am Raphael (one whom God heals), one of the seven holy Angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” Since Michael was despatched on messages of wrath and Gabriel on messages of mercy, the Jews had the beautiful saying that “Gabriel flew with two wings, but Michael with only one.”

ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ. He was thus one of the “Angels of the Presence” (Isaiah 63:9; cf. Matthew 18:10).

“One of the Seven

Who in God’s presence, nearest to His throne,

Stand ready at command, and are His eyes

That run through all the heavens, and down to the earth

Bear His swift errands over moist and dry,

O’er sea and land.”

MILTON, Paradise Lost, III. 650.

See Revelation 8:2; Daniel 7:10; 1 Kings 22:19. The supposed resemblance to the Amshaspands in the Zendavesta is shewn by Dr Mill to be purely superficial. Mythical Interpretation, p. 127.

εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα. The word εὐαγγελίσασθαι, ‘to preach the Gospel,’ is common in St Luke and St Paul, but elsewhere is not often found. It comes from the LXX[30] (Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 61:1). In the R. V[31] it is rendered “to bring thee these good tidings,” and εὐαγγέλιον is “good,” rather than “glad tidings.” It would be an anachronism here to render it by “preach the Gospel.”

Verse 20

20. ἰδού. The word is used to call attention to something notable or surprising, and is specially frequent in St Matthew and St Luke (הִנֵּה, Isaiah 7:14). It is often a mere lively form of transition.

σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι. ‘Thou shall be silent’ (not ‘dumb,’ which would be κωφός). The μὴ is used to indicate the thought of his friends that he was unable to speak. St Luke similarly puts a participle with μὴ after an adjective in Acts 13:14, ἔσῃ τυφλὸς μὴ βλέπων. See a somewhat different explanation in Winer, p. 610, and the note on Luke 4:42. This positive and negative way of expressing the same thing is common, especially in Hebrew literature, 2 Samuel 14:5; Exodus 21:11; Isaiah 38:1; Lamentations 3:2, &c.; but it is also found in classic writers. Zacharias receives the sign for which he had unfaithfully asked (Matthew 12:38), but it comes in the form of a punishment. Comp. Daniel 10:15.

οἵτινες. The pronoun is qualitative, and gives the reason for the punishment. ‘Thou didst not believe my words, which are of such a kind that,’ &c.

εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν. “I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life,” Genesis 18:10, i.e. after the usual nine months. Εἰς τὸν καιρὸν is a classical idiom by constructio praegnans for. ἐν τῷ καιρῷ. It means that the angel’s words shall await the due time for their accomplishment. Comp. εἰς τὸ μέλλον in Luke 13:9.

Verse 21

21. ἐν τῷ χρονίζειν αὐτόν. While he was lingering they wondered at his delay. Priests never tarried in the awful precincts of the shrine longer than was absolutely necessary for the fulfilment of their duties from feelings of holy fear. Comp. Leviticus 16:13, “that he die not.” Yoma, f. 52. 2.) See Excursus VII.

Verse 22

22. ἐξελθὼν δέ. The moment of the priest’s reappearance from before the ever-burning golden candlestick, and the veil which hid the Holiest Place, was one which powerfully affected the Jewish imagination. See Sirach 50:5-21.

οὐκ ἐδύνατο λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς. They were waiting in the Court to be dismissed with the usual blessing, which is said to have been generally pronounced by the other priest. Numbers 6:23-26. “Then he” (the High Priest Simon) “went down and lifted up his hands over the whole congregation of the children of Israel, to give the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to rejoice in His name. And they bowed themselves down to worship the second time, that they might receive a blessing from the Most High.” Sirach 50:20.

ὀπτασίαν. The classical term is ὄψιν. The word is used especially of the most vivid and ‘objective’ appearances, Luke 24:23; Acts 26:19; 2 Corinthians 12:1; Daniel 9:23.

αὐτὸς ἦν διανεύων αὐτοῖς. ‘He himself continued making signs to them.’

διέμενεν κωφός. The word κωφὸς means actual ‘dumbness.’ In Luke 1:20 the angel uses σιωπῶν, because, though Zachariah appeared to the people to be ‘dumb,’ his power of speech was only temporarily arrested. “Credat Judaeus ut loqui possit” (let the Jew believe that he may be able to speak) says St Augustine. Origen, Ambrose, and Isidore, see in the speechless priest vainly endeavouring to bless the people, a fine image of the Law reduced to silence before the first announcement of the Gospel. The scene might stand for an allegorical representation of the thesis so powerfully worked out in the Epistle to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 8:13). Zacharias became dumb, and Saul of Tarsus blind, for a time. “Praeludium legis ceremonialis finiendae Christo veniente.” Bengel.

Verse 23

23. ἐπλήσθησαν. The same verb occurs in 57, Luke 2:6; Luke 2:21, &c.

αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ. The word λειτουργία is derived from λεώς, ἔργον, a service done for the people. The time of a priest’s “liturgy” lasted from the evening of one Sabbath to the morning of the next. 2 Kings 11:5.

εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ. The simplicity of the narrative is marked by the recurrence of the phrase Luke 1:39; Luke 1:56.

Verse 24

24. περιέκρυβεν ἑαυτήν. ἔκρυβον is a late form of the 2nd aor. of κρύπτω (as though from κρύβω) found also in Plutarch, &c. The compound verb implies the complete seclusion. The periphrastic form used for the middle marks the decaying stage of a synthetic language. We can only conjecture Elizabeth’s motive. It may have been devotional; or precautionary; or she may merely have wished out of deep modesty to avoid as long as possible the idle comments and surmises of her neighbours. In any case there is in the incident an exquisite verisimilitude.

Verse 25

25. ἐπεῖδεν. Our versions understand μοι. The αἶς is repeated after ἡμέραις without repeating the preposition. Ἐφοράω implies providential care.

ἀφελεῖν ὄνειδός μου. So Rachel, when she bare a son, said, “God hath taken away my reproach,” Genesis 30:23. See Isaiah 4:1; Hosea 9:11; 1 Samuel 1:6-10. Yet the days were coming when to be childless would be regarded by Jewish mothers as a blessing. See Luke 23:29. The infinitive is here explanatory.

ἐν ἀνθρώποις. The ‘reproach’ was not real, but merely existed in human judgment. See Luke 1:36.

Verse 26

26. Ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ. i.e. after the vision of Zachariah. This is the only passage which indicates the age of John the Baptist, as half a year older than our Lord. The reader will observe how this, like most of the other sections of this narrative, falls naturally into three subsections: α. The Salutation, 26–29. β. The Message, 30–33. γ. The Meek Acceptance, 34–38.

τῆς Γαλιλαίας. Thus began to be fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2. Galilee of the Gentiles (Gelîl haggoyîm), one of the four great Roman divisions of Palestine, was north of Judaea and Samaria, west of Peraea, and comprised the territories of Zebulun, Naphtali, Issachar and Asher (Matthew 4:13). Josephus describes it as rich in trees and pastures, strong, populous, containing 204 towns, of which the least had 15,000 inhabitants, and occupied by a hardy and warlike race, Bell. Jud. III. 3; Vit. 45, 52. See Map, and note on Luke 3:2.

ᾗ ὄνομα Ναζαρέτ. The expression shews that St Luke is writing for those who were unfamiliar with Palestine. See on Luke 2:51. Keim (Gesch. Jesu, I. 319) argues in favour of the form Nazara, i. from the adjectives Ναζωραῖος, Ναζαρηνός; ii. from the phrase ἀπὸ Ναζάρων in Eusebius; iii. from the modern name En-Nezirah. But there can be little doubt of the reading here, though Νάζαρα is read by some MSS. in Luke 4:16. Nazareth and Nazara may both have been in use, like Ramath and Rama. The derivation of the name is disputed, but it is probably derived from Netser, ‘a branch.’ For a description of the village see Life of Christ, I. 53.

Verses 26-38


Verse 27

27. παρθένον. Isaiah 7:14; Jeremiah 31:22. The many miraculous and glorifying legends which soon began to gather round the name of Mary in the Apocryphal Gospels are utterly unknown to Scripture.

ἐμνηστενμένην. ‘Betrothed.’ The betrothal, which is in the East a ceremony of the deepest importance, usually took place a year before the marriage. The ‘espoused’ of the A. V[32] means ‘betrothed.’

Ἰωσήφ, ἐξ οἴκου Δαυείδ. We are nowhere told that Mary was of the house of David, for both the genealogies of the Gospels are genealogies of Joseph. See Excursus ii. The fact that it seems always to be assumed that Mary also was of the lineage of David (Luke 1:32), makes it probable that the genealogy of Mary is involved in that of Joseph, and that they were first cousins.

΄αριάμ. The same name as Miriam and Marah, Exodus 15:20; Ruth 1:20. Her early residence at Nazareth, before the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, is narrated by St Luke alone. It does not however follow that St Matthew was unaware of it (Matthew 13:55-56). After the narrative of the Nativity she is very rarely mentioned. The Ave Maria of the Roman Catholics did not assume its present form till the 16th century.

Verse 28

28. κεχαριτωμένη. Marg. “graciously accepted” or “much graced.” Literally, having been graced (by God). Ephesians 1:6, “accepted.” Not as in the Vulgate “Gratiâ plena” but “gratiâ cumulata.” “Not a mother of grace, but a daughter.” Bengel. The χαῖρε κεχ. is a pleasing paronomasia. The verb only occurs again in Ephesians 1:6.

[εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν.] These words are of dubious authenticity, being omitted by B and various versions. They may have been added from Luke 1:42. With this address comp. Judges 6:12.

Verse 29

29. ἡ δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ διεταράχθη. ‘But she was greatly troubled at the saying.’

ποταπός. ‘Of what kind.’ The salutation was to her not only astonishing, but enigmatical.

Verse 31

31. Ἰησοῦν. The name involves the whole Gospel. See Life of Christ, I. 18, 19. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jehoshua (Numbers 13:8), Joshua, Jeshua (Zechariah 3:1), which means ‘The salvation of Jehovah’ (Philo, I. 597). It was one of the commonest Jewish names. ‘Jesus’ is used for Joshua (to the great confusion of English readers) in Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8. St Matthew (Matthew 1:21) explains the reason of the name—“for He Himself shall save His people from their sins.” On Joshua as a type of Christ see Pearson On the Creed, Art. ii.

Verse 32

32. κληθήσεται. i.e. shall be. The best comment on this verse is furnished by the passages of Scripture in which we find the same prophecy (Micah 4:7; Micah 5:4; 2 Samuel 7:12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:24; Daniel 7:14; Hosea 3:5; Psalms 132:11) and its fulfilment (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 22:16).

ὑψίστου. Without the article (anarthrous), as in Luke 6:35, being here a synonym of θεός.

τὸν θρόνον Δαυεὶδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, according to Psalms 132:11.

Verse 33

33. βασιλεύσειεἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Daniel 2:44, “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall stand for ever.” (Comp. Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:27; Micah 4:7.) “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Psalms 45:6; Hebrews 1:8). “He shall reign for ever and ever,” Revelation 11:15. In 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 the allusion is only to Christ’s mediatorial kingdom,—His earthly kingdom till the end of conflict.

Verse 34

34. Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο; Mary does not doubt the fact as Zacharias had done; she only inquires as to the mode of accomplishment. The village maiden amid her humble daily duties shews a more ready faith in a far more startling message than the aged priest in the Holy Place amid the Incense. Inquirendo dixit non desperando. Aug.

Verse 35

35. Πνεῦμα ἅγιον. The phrase is anarthrous (i.e. the article is omitted) because ‘Holy Spirit’ is here a proper name.

ἐπισκιάσει σοι, as with the Shechinah and Cloud of Glory (see on Luke 2:9, Luke 9:34). See the treatise on the Shechinah in Meuschen, pp. 701–739. On the high theological mystery see Pearson On the Creed, Art. 3. See on Luke 2:9.

τὸ ἅγιον. “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” Hebrews 7:26. “Who did no sin,” 1 Peter 2:22.

γεννώμενον. ‘Which is in thy womb.’ Galatians 4:4, “born of a woman.”

υἱὸς θεοῦ. This title is given to our Lord by almost every one of the sacred writers in the N. T. and in a multitude of passages.

Verse 36

36. ἡ συγγενής σου. “thy kinswoman.” What the actual relationship was we do not know. It is a mistake to infer positively from this, as Ewald does, that Mary too was of the tribe of Levi, for except in the case of heiresses there was free intermarriage between the tribes (Exodus 6:23; Judges 17:7; Philo De Monarch. II. 11; Jos. Vit. 1). At the same time the tradition of the Aaronic descent of Mary is as old as the “Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs” in the second century. The reading συγγενὶς is a later form of the word. Γήρει is the Ionic form of the dative of γῆρας. Hellenistic Greek contained forms drawn from various dialects. See Winer, p. 73.

Verse 37

37. οὐκπᾶν ῥῆμα. Ῥῆμα means word or fact (דבר). The οὐ negatives the verb (every fact shall be possible). Cf. Matthew 24:22, οὐκ ἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ; Romans 3:20; Acts 10:14, &c. The idiom is Hebraic (Exodus 12:16; Exodus 12:44, &c. LXX[33]) See Winer, p. 215. It is a common idiom in emphatic gnomes, &c. The so-called ‘laws of nature’ cannot bind God, for Nature, in its highest use, is but a reverent synonym for God, and the laws of nature, so far from being limitations which He cannot break, are only gossamer-threads which He weaves at His will. For the thought see Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26. “There is nothing too hard for thee,” Jeremiah 32:17.

παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ. (אBDL) on the part of (lit. from) God. Romans 2:11 we have παρὰ θεῷ, with God.

Verse 38

38. δούλη. ‘Female slave,’ stronger than handmaid.

γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου. The use of the aorist optative delicately implies that the time of the fulfilment is left in God’s hands. The thoughts of the Virgin Mary seem to have found their most natural utterance in the phrases of Scripture. 1 Samuel 3:18, “If it be the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good.” For Mary too was aware that her high destiny must be mingled with anguish. She repeats the word ῥῆμα which the angel has just used.

καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ' αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος. We can best appreciate the noble simplicity of truthfulness by comparing this narrative of the Annunciation with the diffuse inflation of the Apocryphal Gospels. Take for instance such passages as these from one of the least extravagant of them, ‘The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.’ “The Angel Gabriel was sent to her … to explain to her the method or order of the Conception. At length having entered unto her, he filled the chamber where she abode with an immense light, and saluting her most courteously said, ‘Hail Mary! most acceptable Virgin of the Lord! Virgin full of grace … blessed art thou before all women; blessed art thou before all men hitherto born.’ But the Virgin, who already knew the countenance of angels and was not unused to heavenly light, was neither terrified by the angelic vision nor stupefied by the greatness of the light, but was troubled at his word alone; and began to think what that salutation so unwonted could be, or what it portended, or what end it could have. But the angel, divinely inspired and counteracting this thought, said, ‘Fear not, Mary, as though I meant something contrary to thy chastity by this salutation; for’ &c., &c.” The reader will observe at once the artificiality, the tasteless amplifications, the want of reticence,—all the marks which separate truthful narrative from elaborate fiction. (See B. H. Cowper, The Apocryphal Gospels, p. 93.)

Verse 39

39. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις. ‘in these days.’ Probably within a month of the Annunciation. The ‘those days’ of the A. V[34] would require ἐκείναις. The ταύταις is more graphic.

εἰς τὴν ὀρεινήν. Into the hill-district (or highlands) sub. χώραν. Palestine west of the Jordan lies in four parallel lines of very different formation. 1. The coast. 2. The Shephçlah, or maritime plain, broken only by the spur of Carmel. 3. The Har or Hill country,—the mass of low rounded hills which formed the main part of the Roman provinces of Judaea and Samaria south of the intervening plain of Esdraelon, and of Galilee north of it; and 4. The Ghôr or deep dint of the Jordan Valley. See Deuteronomy 1:7, “in the plain (Arabah), in the hills (Har), in the vale (Shephçlah), and in the south (Negeb), and by the sea-side (Chooph hayyâm).” (Joshua 9:1; Judges 5:17.) The specific meaning of ‘hill country’ is the elevated district of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim. (Genesis 14:10; Numbers 13:29; Joshua 9:1; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:16.)

μετὰ σπουδῆς. The same notion of haste is involved in the aorist participle ‘ἀναστᾶσα’ rising up. As a betrothed virgin she would live without seeing her future husband. When however a few weeks sufficed to shew her condition, the female friends about her would be sure to make it known to Joseph. Then would occur the enquiries and suspicions, so agonising to a pure maiden, which are alluded to by St Matthew (Matthew 1:18-25). After the dream which vindicated her innocence we can understand the “haste” with which she would fly to the sympathy of her holy and aged kinswoman and seek for peace in the seclusion of the priestly home. Nothing but the peculiarity of her condition could have permitted the violation of Jewish custom involved in the journey of a betrothed virgin. Were it not for the incidents recorded by St Matthew we should be wholly unable to account for this expression. Its naturalness under the circumstances is an undesigned coincidence.

εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα. See 2 Chronicles 25:28, where however the reading of the LXX[35] is doubtful. Similarly, Nazareth is described as “a city of Galilee.” The name of the city is not given. Had the home of Zacharias been at Hebron (Joshua 21:11) it would probably have been mentioned. Reland (Palest. p. 870) ingeniously conjectures that we should read Jutta, which was in the hill country (Joshua 15:55) and was one of the cities of Judah which were assigned to the priests (ib. Luke 21:9; Luke 21:16). We can hardly venture to alter the reading, but as Juttah was only a large village (Euseb. Onomast. s. v.) and is not mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:57-59 it may have been the home of Zacharias, and yet the actual name may easily have been omitted as obscure. Tradition names Ain Karim. ‘Judah’ is here used for Judaea (Matthew 2:6). See Robinson, Bibl. Researches II. 417.

Verses 39-45


Verse 41

41. ἐσκίρτησεν. The same word is applied to unborn babes in Genesis 25:22, LXX[36]

Verse 42

42. ἀνεφώνησεν. Vulg[37] exclamavit.

κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ. ‘with a great cry.’ The reading φωνῇ, voice, ACD, &c. is a commoner but weaker phrase. Ἀνεφώνησεν is ἅπαξ λεγόμενον in the N. T.

Εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν. i.e. preeminently blessed. (Cf. “fairest among women,” Song of Solomon 1:8.) Similar expressions are used of Ruth (Ruth 3:10), and, on a far lower level of meaning, of Jael (Judges 5:24), and of Judith. “All the women of Israel blessed her,” Judges 15:12. In the latter instances the blessing is pronounced by women, but here the word means ‘blessed by God.’ It is in fact a sort of Hebrew superlative, but is not unparalleled in Greek. Comp. Eur. Alc. 473, ὦ φίλα γυναικῶν. Pind. Nem. iii. 80, αἰετὸς ὠκὺς ἐν πετανοῖς (Winer p. 308).

ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου. Genesis 30:2; Lamentations 2:20.

Verse 43

43. ἵνα ἔλθῃ. This would have been expressed in classical Greek by the acc. and infinitive, and Hermann goes so far as to call it “labantis linguae quaedam incuria.” This use of ἵνα has become universal in modern Greek (να).

ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου μου. The words shew a remarkable degree of divine illumination in the mind of Elizabeth. See John 20:28; John 13:13. Yet she does not address Mary as Domina, but as ‘mater Domini’ (Bengel); and such expressions as Theotokos and ‘Mother of God’ are unknown to Scripture.

Verse 44

44. γάρ. This assigns the ground of her recognition of Mary as Mother of the Messiah.

ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει. ‘In exultation.’ To apply this incident to inferences as to the salvation of infants was one of the strange perversions to which almost every passage of Scripture has been rendered liable.

Verse 45

45. μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα. Perhaps Elizabeth had in mind the affliction which had followed her husband’s doubt. Comp. John 20:29.

ὅτι ἔσται τελείωσις. The words may also mean ‘she that believed that there shall be,’ &c.

Verse 46

46. Καὶ εἶπεν ΄αριάμ. The use of the calm word εἶπεν to describe the submissive and meek utterance of Mary, after the wild ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ (Luke 1:42) of Elizabeth is one of the many exquisite touches alike of subjective and objective truthfulness in the narrative. The one accords well with the mother of John, the other with the mother of Jesus. This chapter is remarkable for preserving a record of two inspired hymns—the Magnificat and the Benedictus—which have been used for more than a thousand years in the public services of Christendom. The Magnificat first appears in the office of Lauds in the rule of St Caesarius of Arles, A.D. 507. (Blunt, Annotated Prayer-Book, p. 33.) It is so full of Hebraisms as almost to form a mosaic of quotations from the Old Testament, and it is closely analogous to the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It may also be compared with the Hymn of Judith (Judith 16:1-17). But it is animated by a new, a far gentler and a more exalted spirit, and is specially precious as forming a link of continuity between the eucharistic poetry of the Old and New Dispensation. (See Bp Wordsworth ad loc.) It falls into four strophes, of which each contains three verses.

΄εγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον. Comp. 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Psalms 34:2-3. The soul (ψυχὴ) is the natural life with all its affections and emotions; the spirit (πνεῦμα) is the diviner and loftier region of our being, 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Verses 46-56


Verse 47

47. ἠγαλλίασεν. ‘exults’. In the original it is the general or gnomic aorist.

ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου. Isaiah 45:21, “a just God and a Saviour.” Comp. Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 25:9. The expression is also found in the later Epistles of St Paul; “God our Saviour,” 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 3:4.

Verse 48

48. ἐπέβλεψεν. ‘He looked upon’.

τὴν ταπείνωσιν. So Hagar (Genesis 16:11) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11; cf. Psalms 138:6; Psalms 102:17). The word may be rendered ‘humiliation’, Acts 8:33; Isaiah 1:9-10. ‘Humility’ is ταπεινότης. The reader will notice in this hymn more than one anticipation of the Beatitudes.

μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί. “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee,” Luke 11:27. “Leah said, The daughters will call me blessed,” Genesis 30:13; Psalms 72:17. We cannot but wonder at the faith of the despised and persecuted Virgin of Nazareth, whose inspired anticipations have been so amply fulfilled.

Verse 49

49. μεγάλα. gedolôth, Psalms 71:21; Psalms 126:3.

ὁ δυνατός. El Shaddai, Job 8:3; also Gibbôr, Psalms 24:8. See Pearson On the Creed, Art. i.

ἅγιον τὸ ἔνομα αὐτοῦ. Psalms 111:9; “Thou only art holy,” Revelation 15:4. Shem, ‘name,’ is often a reverent periphrasis in Hebrew for God Himself. Leviticus 24:11; Leviticus 24:16; Psalms 91:14; 2 Chronicles 6:20, &c.

Verse 50

50. τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ. Psalms 89:2-3 and passim.

εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς. ‘unto generations and generations’; ledôr vadôr, Genesis 17:9, &c. See Deuteronomy 7:9. “Et nati natorum et qui nascentur ab illis.” Virg.

Verse 51

51. ἐποίησεν κράτος. A Hebraism. Psalms 118:15, &c.

ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ. “Thou hast a mighty arm,” Psalms 89:13. The nearest parallel to the remainder of the verse is Job 5:12.

Verse 52

52. καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων. ‘He puts down potentates from thrones.’ The aorists throughout are gnomic, i.e. they do not express single but normal acts. Winer, indeed, denies this gnomic use of the aorist—to express what is wont to be done—in the N. T. (Gram., p. 346); but his explanation that the aorists represent the rapid succession of (normal) facts, comes to the same thing. See a marked instance in James 1:11 ἀνέτειλεν ὁ ἥλιοςκαὶ ἐξήρανε τὸν χόρτον. Hence Bleek renders these aorists by presents which is also the English way of expressing the gnomic aorist. Thus πολλὰ παρὰ γνώμην ἔπεσε means ‘many things happen unexpectedly.’ The thought is common throughout the Bible, e.g. Luke 18:14; Daniel 4:30; 1 Samuel 2:6-10; Psalms 113:6-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. The ancients noticed the fact (κύκλος τῶν ἀνθρωπηΐων ἐστὶ πρηγμάτων, Hdt. I. 207; “Irus et est subito qui modo Croesus erat,” Ov. Trist. III. vii. 41), but did not draw the true lessons from it. With the general thought compare Wisdom of Solomon 5:23, “Ill dealings shall overthrow the thrones of the mighty.” The rare word δυνάστας is rendered potentates in 1 Timothy 6:15.

Verse 53

53. πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν. “My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, &c.,” Isaiah 65:13; Isaiah 25:6; Psalms 34:10, and the Beatitude, Matthew 5:6. (See Luke 18:14, the Publican and the Pharisee.)

Verse 54

54. ἀντελάβετο. Literally, “took by the hand.” Isaiah 41:8-9, LXX[38] The proper rendering of the following words is ‘to remember mercy—(even as He spake to (πρὸς) our fathers)—toward (τῷ) Abraham and his seed for ever.’ Micah 7:20, “Thou wilt perform … the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” Galatians 3:16. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.”

Verse 56

56. ὡς μῆνας τρεῖς. As this would complete the nine months of Elizabeth’s ‘full time,’ it might seem probable that the Virgin Mary remained at least until the birth of the Baptist.

ὑπέστρεψεν. This is a favourite word of St Luke, and almost (Galatians 1:17; Hebrews 7:1) peculiar to him. It occurs twenty-one times in this Gospel.

Verse 57

57. Again we have triple subsections: α. The Birth of John, 57, 58. β. His Circumcision, 59–66. γ. The Song of Zachariah, 67–80.

ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν. The genitive depends on the substantive. See Winer, p. 408.

Verses 57-80


Verse 58

58. οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς. Rather, ‘her kinsfolk,’ which was the original meaning of the word cousins (con-sobrini). See Luke 1:36.

ἐμεγάλυνενμετ' αὐτῆς. A Hebraism (Luke 1:72; 1 Samuel 12:24. LXX[39]), but an expressive one. ‘God magnified (comp. μεγαλύνει in the Magnificat) His mercy with her.’

“I say not God Himself can make man’s best

Without best men to help Him.”

G. ELLIOT, Stradivarius.

Verse 59

59. τῇ ἡμέρα τῇ ὀγδόῃ. According to the ordinance of Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3; —Philippians 3:5. The name was then given, because at the institution of circumcision the names of Abram and Sarai had been changed, Genesis 17:15. The rite was invested with extreme solemnity, and in later times a chair was always put for the prophet Elijah.

ἐκάλουν. ‘they wished to call.’ Literally, ‘they were calling,’ but the imperfect, by an idiomatic use, often expresses an unfulfilled attempt. So in Matthew 3:14, ‘he tried to prevent Him’ (διεκώλυεν). Comp. Thuc. IV. 28, ἐξανεχώρει τὰ εἰρημένα, ‘he tried to back out of his assertions.’ See Brief Greek Syntax, § 136. Winer, p. 336 (comp. Acts 7:26, συνήλλασσεν αὐτούς, ‘he tried to reconcile them’). This is the very meaning of imperfectum, “in eo quod quis voluit facere, nec tamen perfecit.” “Vere incipit actus sed ob impedimenta caret eventu.” Schäfer on Eur. Phoen. 79.

Verse 61

61. Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου. We find a John among other hierarchs in Acts 4:6; Acts 5:17. Those priests however who passed the High Priesthood from one to another—a clique of Herodian Sadducees—the Boethusîm, Kamhiths, Benî Hanan, &c.—were partly of Babylonian and Egyptian origin, and had been introduced by Herod to support his purposes. They would not be of the kin of Zacharias.

Verse 62

62. ἐνένευον. The discussion whether Zacharias was deaf as well as mute is a very unimportant one, but the narrative certainly seems to imply that he was.

τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι. The τὸ is an apposition to the following sentence,—the question ‘what he might wish.’ Indirect questions are expressed by ἂν with the optative, where ἂν implies the existence of different possibilities. See Luke 6:11, διελάλουντί ἂν ποιήσειαν.

Verse 63

63. πινακίδιον. ‘tablet.’ A small wooden tablet (abacus) either smeared with wax, or with sand sprinkled over it, on which words were written with an iron stylus. Thus ‘John,’ (‘the grace of Jehovah,’) is the first word written under the Gospel; the aeon of the written Law had ended with Cherem, ‘curse,’ in Malachi 3:2-4 (Bengel).

ἔγραψεν λέγων. 2 Kings 10:6. It is one of the common picturesque pleonasms with which Hebrew abounds.

Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. The Spartan brevity and decision of his answer was more marked in the two Aramaic words—יחנן שמו—which he probably wrote.

Verse 64

64. ἀνεῴχθη. The aorist implies that the result was immediate. The A. V[40], “his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed,” translates the zeugma of the original, where ‘was opened’ is connected with both substantives, though it is not accurately applied to γλῶσσα (comp. Mark 7:35). The most marked instances of zeugma in the Greek Testament are in 1 Corinthians 3:2, γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα οὐ βρῶμα. 1 Timothy 4:3, κωλυόντων γαμεῖν, ἀπέχεσθαι βρωμάτων. See Winer, p. 777. For the distinction between zeugma and syllepsis, and English and other illustrations of these figures, see Brief Greek Syntax p. 195.

ἐλάλει. ‘he began to speak’ (imperfect), the previous verb ‘was opened’ being an aorist. For instances of the aorist (of an instant act) followed, as here, by the imperfect of a continuous result see Matthew 26:59, ἐζήτουν μαρτυρίαν καὶ οὐχ εὗρον: Luke 8:23, κατέβη λαῖλαψ καὶ συνεπληροῦντο: Mark 7:35; James 2:22, &c. Winer, p. 337.

Verse 65

65. φόβος. The minds of men at this period were full of dread and agitated expectancy, which had spread even to the heathen. Virg. Ecl. IV.; Orac. Sibyl. III.; Suet. Vesp. 4; Tac. Hist. Luke 1:13; Jos. Bell. Jud. VI. 5, § 4.

διελαλεῖτο. The preposition implies that they became the topic of mutual conversations.

Verse 66

66. ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν. Comp. Luke 2:19. The use of καρδίᾳ for φρεσὶ is a Hebraism. 1 Samuel 21:12.

Τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; The ἄρα expresses wonderment, and is thoroughly classical, Luke 8:25, Luke 12:42. Τίς might have been used for τί by the common sense-construction (κατὰ σύνεσιν), but the τί expresses more surprise. Comp. Matthew 28:19, ἔθνηαὐτούς, Galatians 4:19, τεκνίαοὕς. Winer, p. 176. ‘What then will this child be?’ The question implies, not “What manner of child,” (as in A. V[41]), but ‘to what kind of man will this child grow?’ Vulg[42] Quis, putas, puer iste erit?

καὶ γάρ. For indeed. (אBCDL.)

χεὶρ κυρίου ἧν μετ' αὐτοῦ. The turn of expression is Hebraistic, as throughout the chapter. Comp. Luke 13:11; Acts 11:21. “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand,” Psalms 80:17.

Verse 68

68. Εὐλογητός. This hymn of praise is hence called the BENEDICTUS. It is expressed (as was natural) almost exclusively in the language of ancient prophecy, Psalms 98:3; Psalms 105:8-9; Psalms 132:17; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 40:3; Ezekiel 16:60, &c. It has been in use in Christian worship perhaps as far back as the days of St Benedict in the sixth century, and it was early recognised that it is the last Prophecy of the Old Dispensation, and the first of the New, and furnishes a kind of key to the evangelical interpretation of all prophecies. It is also a continual acknowledgement of the Communion of Saints under the two dispensations; for it praises God for the salvation which has been raised up for all ages out of the house of His servant David, and according to the ancient covenant which He made with Abraham (see Romans 4:11; Galatians 3:29). Blunt, Annotated Prayer-Book, p. 16.

κύριος ὁ θεός. ‘The Lord (= Jehovah), the God of Israel.’

ἐποίησεν λύτρωσιν. Literally, “made a ransom for.” Titus 2:14.

Verse 69

69. κέρας σωτηρίας. A natural and frequent metaphor. Ezekiel 29:21, “In that day will I cause the horn of the house of Israel to bud forth.” Lamentations 2:3, “He hath cut off … all the horn of Israel.” Psalms 132:17; 1 Samuel 2:10, “He shall exalt the horn of His anointed.” (A Rabbinic writer says that there are ten horns—those of Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, the horn of the Law, of the Priesthood, of the Temple, and of Israel; and some add of the Messiah. They were all placed on the heads of the Israelites till they sinned, and then they were cut off and given to the Gentiles. Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr. ad loc.) We find the same metaphor in classic writers. “Tunc pauper cornua sumit,” Ov. Art. Am. I. 239; “addis cornua pauperi,” Hor. Od. III. xxi.18. The expression has nothing to do with the horns of the altar, 1 Kings 1:50, &c.

παιδὸς αὐτοῦ. The word does not here mean ‘son’ in the original, but ‘servant’ being the rendering of the Hebrew ebed, Psalms 132:10.

Verse 70

70. διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίωνπροφητῶν αὐτοῦ. Namely, “in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms,” see on Luke 24:44. The phrase “by the month of” is the circumstantial and picturesque mode of expression so common in Semitic style.

ἀπ' αἰῶνος. ‘of old.’ πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως, “fragmentarily and multifariously” (Hebrews 1:1) but “in old time” (2 Peter 1:21) and dating back even to the promises to Eve, and to Abraham (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 49:10), and the sceptre and the star of Balaam (Numbers 24:17).

Verse 71

71. σωτηρίαν. ‘salvation’—referring back to “a horn of salvation,” to which it is in apposition. The previous verse is a parenthesis.

ἐξ ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν. No doubt in the first instance the “enemies” from which the prophets had promised deliverance were literal enemies (Deuteronomy 33:29; Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 51:22-23, &c.), but every pious Jew would understand these words as applying also to spiritual enemies. Still, as Godet points out, the utter lack of resemblance between these anticipations, regarded in a temporal point of view, and the grim realities involved in the Fall of Jerusalem and the Rejection of Israel, are a sure mark of the authenticity of the narrative.

Verse 72

72. ποιῆσαι ἔλεος μετὰ τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν. ‘To do mercy towards (lit. ‘with’) our fathers.’ The “promised” is a needless addition of the A. V[43]

Verse 72-73

72, 73. ἔλεοςμνησθῆναιὅρκον. These three words have been thought by some to be an allusion to the three names John (‘Jehovah’s mercy’), Zacharias (‘remembered by Jehovah’), and Elizabeth (see p. 88). Such plays on words, are exceedingly common in the Bible. For similar possible instances of latent paranomasiae see the author’s Life of Christ, I. 65; II. 200, 240.

Verse 73

73. ὅρκον ὃν ὤμοσεν. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:4; Genesis 22:16-17; comp. Hebrews 7:13-14; Hebrews 7:17. The ὅρκον is attracted into the accus. by the following relative, although we might suppose a double construction, since in the LXX[44] μνησθῆναι takes both a genitive and an accusative.

τοῦ δοῦναι. The gen. depends on ὄρκον. The use of the genitive of the article with the infinitive became very frequent in Hellenistic Greek (Acts 10:25; Acts 27:1; 1 Corinthians 2:2).

Verse 75

75. ἐν ὁσιότητι. Towards God.

καὶ δικαιοσύνῃ. Towards men. We have the same words contrasted in 1 Thessalonians 2:10, “how holily and righteously;” Ephesians 4:24, “in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Ὅσιος, ‘holy,’ is the Hebrew Châsîd, whence the ‘Chasidîm’ (Pharisees); and δίκαιος is the Hebrew Tsaddîk, whence some derive the name ‘Sadducees.’

Verse 76

76. παιδίον. ‘little child’—“quantillus nunc es,” Bengel. From this diminutive is derived our word ‘page.’

πρὸ προσώπου. Redundant, like the Hebrew לִפְנֵי.

ἑτοιμάσαι ὁδοὺς αὐτοῦ. An allusion to the prophecies of the Forerunner in Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1.

Verse 77

77. γνῶσιν σωτηρίας. A clear proof that these prophecies had not the local and limited sense of national prosperity which some have supposed.

ἐν ἀφέσει. In remission. Comp. Acts 5:31, “to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

Verse 78

78. διὰ σπλάγχνα ἐλέους. Literally, “Because of the heart of mercy.” Σπλάγχνα (literally ‘bowels’ rechamîm) is a favourite word with St Paul to express emotion (2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20, &c.). The expression is common to Jewish (Proverbs 12:10, &c.) and classical writers. (Aesch. Choeph. XL. 7.)

ἀνατολή. The word ἀνατολὴ is used by the LXX[45] to translate both Motsah ‘the dawn’ (Jeremiah 31:40) and Tsemach ‘branch’ (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; Jeremiah 23:5. See on Matthew 2:23). Here the context shews that the dawn is intended, though the word itself might equally mean the rising of a star, as in Aesch. Agam. 7. Malachi 4:2, “Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” See Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16; John 1:4-5; Revelation 7:2.

ἐπεσκέψατο, in some MSS. ‘shall visit.’

Verse 79

79. ἐπιφᾶναι. 1st aor. inf., a late (and Doric) form for ἐπιφῆναι.

σκιᾷ θανάτου. The Hebrew Tsalmaveth. Job 10:21; Job 38:17; Psalms 23:4; Psalms 107:10; Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16, &c.

Verse 80

80. Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι. The ηὔξανεν refers to bodily, and the ἐκραταιοῦτο to mental growth. The description resembles that of the childhood of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26) and of our Lord (Luke 2:40-52). Nothing however is said of ‘favour with men.’ In the case of the Baptist, as of others, ‘the boy was father to the man,’ and he probably shewed from the first that rugged sternness which is wholly unlike the winning grace of the child Christ. “The Baptist was no Lamb of God. He was a wrestler with life, one to whom peace does not come easily, but only after a long struggle. His restlessness had driven him into the desert, where he had contended for years with thoughts he could not master, and from whence he uttered his startling alarms to the nation. He was among the dogs rather than among the lambs of the Shepherd.” (Ecce Homo.)

ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις. Not in sandy deserts like those of Arabia, but in the wild waste region south of Jericho and the fords of Jordan as far as the shores of the Dead Sea. This was known as Araboth or ha-Arabah, 2 Kings 25:4-5 (Heb.); Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:8; Matthew 3:1. See on Luke 1:39. This region, especially where it approached the Ghôr and the Dead Sea, was lonely and forbidding in its physical features, and would suit the stern spirit on which it also reacted. In 1 Samuel 23:19 it is called Jeshimon or ‘the Horror.’ The political unsettlement, the shamelessness of crime, the sense of secular exhaustion, the widespread Messianic expectation, marked ‘the fulness of time,’ and drove men to desire solitude. John was by no means the only hermit. Banus the Pharisee also lived a life of ascetic hardness in the Arabah, and Josephus tells us that he lived with him for three years in his mountain-cave on fruits and water. (Jos. Vit. 2.) But there is not in the Gospels the faintest trace of any intercourse between John, or our Lord and His disciples, and the Essenes. John has Messianic hopes; the Essenes had laid them aside. The Essenes were recluse ascetics; St John is a preacher, a reformer, a missionary. The Essenes were mystics; St John is intensely practical (see Godet, p. 145). The great Italian painters follow a right conception when they paint even the boy John as emaciated with early asceticism. In 2 Esdras 9:24 the seer is directed to go into a field where no house is, and to “taste no flesh, drink no wine, and eat only the flowers of the field,” as a preparation for ‘talking with the Most High.’ It is doubtful whether Christian Art is historically correct in representing the infant Jesus and John as constant friends and playmates. Zacharias and Elizabeth, being aged, must have early left John an orphan, and his desert life began with his boyish years. Further, the habits of Orientals are exceedingly stationary, and when once settled it is only on the rarest occasions that they leave their homes. The training of the son of the priest and the ‘Son of the Carpenter’ (Matthew 13:55) of Nazareth had been widely different, nor is it certain that they had ever met each other until the Baptism of Jesus (John 1:31).

ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ. His public ministry, literally, “appointment” or manifestation. The verb (ἀνέδειξεν) occurs in Luke 10:1; Acts 1:24. Thus St John’s life, like that of our Lord, was spent first in hallowed seclusion, then in public ministry.

At this point ends the first very interesting document of which St Luke made use. The second chapter, though in some respects analogous to it, is less imbued with the Hebraic spirit and phraseology.


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"Commentary on Luke 1:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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