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Bible Commentaries
Luke 1

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Nineteen hundred years have not dimmed the luster of this glorious chapter nor cast any shadow over the hard historical facts related therein, facts which have been etched into the conscience of all mankind and which are indelibly written into the pages of the world’s authentic records. The account here was written by a brilliant physician, scientist and literary genius, following years of patient and thorough research, and who had the incomparable opportunity of examining all of the sources, written and oral, that had any bearing on the events narrated. Luke’s vivid, scientific account is as far above the subjective guesses of modern scholars as the sun in heaven is above the mud-flats of earth. If men would know what really happened at that pivotal point in history which would split all time into the two segments called B.C. and A.D., then let them read it here. This is what happened!

This chapter contains the author’s preface (Luke 1:1-4), the record of the annunciation to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23), the conception of Elizabeth (Luke 1:24-25), the annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66), the prophecy of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-79), and a one-sentence summary of John the Baptist’s early life (Luke 1:80).

Verses 1-4


Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first to write thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

This preface is not a statement of what Luke proposed to do, but a record of what he had already done. "The tense of the verbs shows that he wrote these verses after he had completed the body of the Gospel."(F1)

Here also is a glimpse of the true meaning of the doctrine of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. "All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16 RSV), and "Men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21); but this does not mean that God’s inspiration comes to the lazy and inactive mind, but rather to the diligent seeker of truth, as beautifully exemplified by the research of Luke. As Barclay expressed it, "The word of God is given, but it is given to the man who is seeking for it."(F2) God guided his inspired authors by guiding their purpose, their research, and by protecting them from error, yet leaving the writer free to express the truth discovered in the terms and vocabulary that he already knew.

Many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative … This indicates that Luke’s written sources were numerous. "Many" is incapable of meaning only five or six. Even as many as eight are called "few" in Scripture (1 Peter 3:20); and we are therefore presented with the declaration which reveals a much larger number, perhaps as many as a score, or even more. Thus, the very first line of this Gospel disproves the notion that Luke got most of his Gospel from Mark. As a matter of fact, the solid evidence is all against the assumption that Luke ever saw either Matthew’s or Mark’s Gospels. As the scholarly Macknight stated, "Without all doubt, had he been speaking of them, he would not have passed them over in such a slight and casual manner."(F3)

Matters which have been fulfilled among us … By these words, Luke affirmed that his record dealt with nothing that was new or novel in the faith of the very extensive Christian community already established throughout the Mediterranean world. The word for "fulfilled" in this clause means "fully established" (English Revised Version (1885) margin); and this means that the total content of Luke’s Gospel was already the faith of the whole church at the time he wrote in 60 A.D.

Who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word … Luke’s mention of eye-witnesses of the things he recorded "from the beginning" and "from the first" (Luke 1:3), along with the conspicuous birth narrative in the first two chapters is very nearly the equivalent of saying that he had interviewed the Virgin Mary herself, a conclusion that will appear mandatory in the narrative itself. This is devastating to the wild, subjective theories with regard to Luke’s source for the first two chapters. This is also the end of all attempts to late-date the Gospel; for, even at the time Luke wrote, the Virgin Mother was not less than eighty years of age, even allowing for the annunciation to have occurred when she was fifteen years old.

Ministers of the word … The Greek word Luke used here for "ministers" is [@huperetai], a word used in medical terminology "to refer to doctors who served under a principal physician."(F4) Thus, Doctor Luke referred to a group, including the apostles themselves, who served as lesser DOCTORS under the Great Physician. There are numerous uses of such a medical vocabulary throughout Luke.

It seemed good to me also … This removes any doubt that Luke disapproved of previous writings on the Christian faith, for he here plainly placed himself on the same platform with previous authors.

Having traced the source of all things accurately from the first … The words "from the first" are a translation of the Greek term [@anothen], the same word which is rendered "from above" in John 3:3. G. Campbell Morgan insisted on the latter meaning here, which would make this an affirmation by Luke of the fact of his inspiration. Hobbs said that there is no reason why both meanings should not apply here.(F5)

To write unto thee in order … There is no way to know exactly what Luke intended by this, other than the inherent truth that his record is systematic. It does not seem to be strictly chronological in every instance; but it is not affirmed here that it is.

Most excellent Theophilus … The use of "excellent" denominates Theophilus as a man of equestrian rank, that is a knight, the term being used of such officials as the governor of the province (Acts 23:26). The name Theophilus means "one who loves God," but there is no reason to suppose that Luke used this name otherwise than as the personal cognomen of his friend, who might also have been his patron. The omission of the title "excellent" in Acts 1:1 supports the speculation that Theophilus was governor of an unnamed province when Luke was written, but that he was no longer governor when Acts was penned.

That thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed … The Greek word here rendered "things" is actually "words" (English Revised Version (1885) margin); and the last clause means "which thou wast taught by word of mouth," unmistakable references to the oral instruction received by Christians in those times, prior to and after their acceptance of the faith. This makes the implications of this passage to be of epic proportions. Despite the fact of there having been "many" written portions of the gospel message, even so important a person as Theophilus had received only word-of-mouth teaching, indicating the universality of the word-of-mouth method of instruction. This fully accounts for the word-by-word correspondence to be found in certain episodes recorded in the synoptic Gospels, all of them written independently. Luke’s Gospel was written for the precise purpose of confirming the accuracy of the oral instruction Theophilus had already received. The glimpse afforded here, as Dummelow said, "is all that is really known, as distinguished from what is guessed about the sources of the synoptic Gospels."(F6)

One other implication of vast significance appears in this preface. Whereas the oral instruction received by Theophilus was admitted by Luke to have been absolutely correct, and whereas the "many" writers had written of the things Luke recorded, this Gospel was composed for the purpose of greater "certainty" (Luke 1:4) than could have been held in respect of oral teachings, and with a design of giving an account of "all things" (Luke 1:3) that were pertinent to the holy faith, as contrasted with implied inadequacy of the "many" written accounts, this latter implication of inadequacy, or incompleteness, being the sole fault of the "many" writers before him. There is not the slightest hint that Luke was writing to correct false teachings of the writers cited.

Verse 5

There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.


Herod … This ruler is the one known historically as Herod the Great, a savage Idumean, who had acquired the kingship of several provinces in Palestine from the Roman Senate, influenced by Octavius, to whom Herod had given large sums of money. He was a descendent of Esau and fully as profane as his progenitor. Technically, he reigned from 40 B.C. to the year of his death in 4 B.C.; but his actual control of the country dates from 37 B.C.(F7) The event narrated here occurred in either 7 B.C. or 5 B.C., depending upon the exact date assigned to the birth of our Lord. Dummelow favored 6 B.C.,(F8) and Boles 4 B.C.(F9) The reckoning of time from the birth of Christ began a long time after the event of his birth, the error remaining long undetected; and this accounts for the paradox that Christ was born in a year called B.C.! The uncertainty of the exact year stems from Matthew’s statement that Herod slew all the children "two years old" and under (Matthew 2:16). If the two years were those lost by the Wise Men in finding Jesus (which would suppose the star to have appeared two years before he was born), then the date would be 4 B.C.; but if the two years represented the two-year period while Herod searched for Jesus, then his birth would have been no later than 6 B.C. One thing is sure, Jesus was born before the death of Herod on April 1, 4 B.C.

Zacharias, of the course of Abijah … The name of this priest means" — Jehovah is renowned."(F10) Following the events of this chapter, there is no further mention of him in the New Testament. The course of Abijah was one of 24 classes of priests who were rotated in the service of the temple. The great numbers of priests necessitated that particular choice for various functions should be made by casting lots; and no one was allowed to burn incense more than once, many never being permitted to do so at all.

Elisabeth … was also a descendent of Aaron, her name meaning "God is an oath."(F11) It is significant that she was a relative, a cousin of the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:36); but this does not mean that Mary also belonged to the tribe of Levi, for "Male descent alone determined the tribe, and Mary may have been related to Elizabeth on her mother’s side."(F12)

Verse 6

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

It should be noted that this verse has Luke’s words, and that he who was the companion of the great apostle to the Gentiles and thus fully knowledgeable of Paul’s teaching about "the righteousness of God," here gave what is tantamount to a definition of that "righteousness," the same being not some kind of an inheritance through faith alone, but a state marked by the most careful and consistent obedience of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. Advocates of the "faith only" doctrine have, of course, sought to soften this. Summers said, "In later Christian use, particularly Pauline, the word RIGHTEOUS took on a connotation of RIGHTNESS with God through faith commitment to Christ rather than through obedience to legal requirement."(F13) If this view is correct, Luke could not possibly have written anything like this verse; but since he most assuredly wrote it, it must appear as a fair conclusion that this verse presents a Pauline view of righteousness fully in harmony with Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26 where "obedience of faith" is also stressed.

Verse 7

And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were well stricken in years.

The experience of this holy couple paralleled that of Abraham and Sarah in that their long and patient prayers for a child had brought no change in their status. However, God had not said, "No"; he had only said, "Wait!" Childlessness was a particularly deplorable state in the thinking of the Jewish people.

Verses 8-9

Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

The necessity for the choice of the priest who would burn incense having been made by lot sprang from the greatness of the number eligible to do this. It was an honor which resulted ever afterward in the title of "rich" for those who received it.

The temple … refers to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of God’s temple in the inner area where few men ever entered, and into which an ordinary priest entered only once in a lifetime.

Verse 10

And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense.

This would have been about 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. It was customary for the people to assemble in the great courts of the temple and wait for the benediction to be pronounced upon them by the priest who burned the incense morning and evening (Exodus 30:6-8).

Verse 11

And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right hand side of the altar of incense.

An angel of the Lord … appeared … Note that the angel did not approach; he just appeared, visibly manifested in an instant of time. The reality of the angelic creation is everywhere assumed and taught in the New Testament. Jesus himself frequently mentioned the angels of God; and those who believe in Jesus find in his holy words full authority for receiving all that the New Testament relates with regard to them. (For an essay on the subject of angels, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14).

The right hand side … This was the north side of the altar; and the inclusion of such details indicates that Luke’s research had extended far enough to discover such circumstantial knowledge as this. Scholars have been quick to point out that in this section the precise, elegant Greek preface (Luke 1:1-4) has been replaced by a style of language steeped in the traditions, religion, and psychological attitude of the Hebrews, a style which it would have been impossible for any man to improvise, showing how carefully Luke had researched these events. Some have tried to explain this by supposing "that St. Luke is here using a Hebrew document";(F14) but such a supposition is sheer unadulterated imagination. As is also evident, later in the chapter, and with regard to Mary, "The psychological detail Luke gives indicates he may have INTERVIEWED Mary, as later passages will confirm."(F15) Of course, the same is true here.

Verse 12

And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

Such an attitude of fear and apprehension was altogether natural in the presence of an archangel, such an attitude being invariably manifested by all who ever saw such a being, the lone exception being that of Mary Magdalene who, through her overwhelming grief at the grave of Jesus, seems to have talked with an angel without even realizing it (John 20:11-18).

Verse 13

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias; because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Fear not … This was the word of Jesus to his storm-tossed apostles, and the word of the angels to the shepherds when Jesus was born, and it was the last message of the enthroned Christ for all who believe in him (Revelation 1:17).

Thy supplication is heard … The most natural way to understand this is as a reference to the prayers of this holy couple for a child; and, although his priestly duties of that occasion demanded that he should also have prayed for the coming of the Messiah and the bringing in of the kingdom of God, it certainly appears that his prayer for a child, whether uttered again on that occasion or not, was nevertheless continually in his heart; and it was to THAT PRAYER which the angel referred in this appearance.

Verse 14

And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Rejoice at his birth … has reference to the rejoicing that would ultimately follow the great message from God which the promised son was destined to deliver, and not merely to the gladness of the relatively few neighbors who would joyfully hail the event itself.

Verse 15

For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Great in the sight of the Lord … is a far different thing from being great in the sight of men, the vicious and unprincipled Herod the Great, just mentioned, being a classical example of the latter type of "greatness."

No wine nor strong drink … This prohibited, not merely wine, but all intoxicants, and supports the view that John the Baptist like Samuel, Samson, and the Rechabites in the Old Testament, was a Nazarite for life (Numbers 6:1-21); however, as Ash noted, "Some facets of the Nazarite vow are not specified here (e.g., allowing the hair to grow)."(F16) The type of ascetic piety exhibited by John had its proper place in the purpose of God; although John, strictly speaking, was not in the kingdom, because he preceded it. Nevertheless, God used him, particularly in the manner of his life style contrasting so dramatically with that of Jesus.

It is impossible to avoid the significance of the contrast in this verse between intoxicating "spirits" which John would renounce and the "Spirit" who would be in him, filling him, even from his mother’s womb, and for his whole life. The same contrast was evident on Pentecost when the apostles were not "drunk with wine" but filled with "the Spirit." Paul wrote, "And be not drunken with wine wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). Strong drink is an unqualified curse upon the earth; and, although Christ did not require the kind of abstinence which marked the life of John the Baptist, drunkenness is forbidden, as well as any association with a drunkard (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Verse 16

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn unto the Lord thy God.

This, to be sure, was literally fulfilled, as detailed in Matthew 3:1-12.

Verse 17

And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.

And he shall go before his face … This is obviously an error in the English Revised Version (1885), this being a clause in which the KJV, the NEB, and the RSV concur in the reading, "And he shall go before him … etc." A good deal of importance attaches to this, because, as Summers noted, "The immediate antecedent of the pronoun `him’ appears to be `God’ in Luke 1:16."(F17) and this accounts for the rendition in Phillips translation which reads, "He will go out before God … etc." Thus, an archangel delivered the word that John the Baptist would go before God as a herald; and thus, in the fullness of time, when John went before Jesus, which was the very thing the angel had in view here, it was the same as going before God, thus attesting the fact of Jesus’ absolute identification with the Father. Therefore, one finds here on the first page of Luke’s Gospel the same thought expressed more fully by John who said that "the Word was God" (John 1:1).

In the spirit and power of Elijah … In these words, an angel of God explained what was meant by the promised coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). The express terminology of Malachi’s prophecy was used here by the angel; and, therefore, there was no excuse for the refusal of the Pharisees and other leaders of Israel to recognize John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. Not only was there this specific heavenly identification of the promised son as that "Elijah," but there was the additional fact of John’s conformity to the pattern of clothing worn by the first Elijah. Jesus, of course, confirmed the word of the angel, citing John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 17:9-13).

Turn the hearts of the fathers to the children … etc. These are plainly the words of Malachi 4:5-6; but what do they mean? There seems to be a metaphor here in which the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc. have turned away their hearts from the rebellious Israelites. Therefore, the preaching of the great herald will cause many to repent, leading to turning the fathers’ hearts to the children.

And the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just … This is the same as "turning the hearts of the children to the fathers," as it is stated in Malachi, meaning that they will repent and again honor the faith of their father Abraham. There is, of course, the obvious fact that much more than metaphor is intended here. Moses and Elijah who were also among "the fathers," appeared in conversation with Jesus in the transfiguration; and from this the deduction could be made that "the fathers" referred to by the angel in this passage were fully aware of Israel’s apostasy, and that the reunification of children and fathers would be a reality, although spiritual, and not merely a figure of speech. Of course, the envisioned unity would be accomplished only in the persons who would repent and turn to God under John’s preaching.

To make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him … This was indeed achieved, even though on a smaller scale than would have been desirable. Some of the apostles were first disciples of John. (John 1:35 ff).

Verse 18

And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

There was an element of unbelief in this question which, in effect, denied the possibility of what the angel had promised, contrasting sharply with the submissive belief of the virgin Mary in this narrative.

Verse 19

And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.

I am Gabriel … Only two angels are named in the canonical Scriptures, the other being Michael (Daniel 10:21; Judges 1:9). There are seven such archangels who stand before God’s throne (Revelation 8:2). "There seems to be a remarkable gradation in the words (of this verse) enhancing the guilt of Zacharias’ unbelief."(F18) The thought appears to be: I am Gabriel a holy angel, yes, one of the highest angels, and I have been specifically commissioned by God to bring you this good news!

Verse 20

And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Thou shalt be silent … This punishing rebuke was appropriate. Since Zacharias had not believed God’s word as delivered by Gabriel, his own words were cut off until the time appointed. From Luke 1:62, it is certain that Zacharias also lost his hearing at the same time. Implicit in this episode is the injunction that men should believe God’s words, even when they are delivered by one of God’s messengers.

Verse 21

And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple.

Zacharias was possibly very much unsettled and shaken by the awesome experience he had encountered, occasioning some delay in the completion of his duties; and, also, from his affliction imposed upon him by the angel, there would have been a reluctance for him to go forth to the people. Perhaps he waited awhile before appearing.

Verse 22

And when he came out, he could not speak unto them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb.

The last clauses in this verse explain the first two. As to the manner of how the people "perceived that he had seen a vision," it is clear that Zacharias communicated with them through the making of signs, an activity that was continued at length by him. Yet he remained a deaf-mute until his son was born.

Verse 23

And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house.

The word translated "ministration" here, [@leitourgein], "in Biblical Greek refers to priestly SERVICE in the worship of God and also to service for the needy. From the word comes the English word LITURGY."(F19) It should be noted that Zacharias did not use his handicap as an excuse for terminating his service. He fulfilled his assignment. In the same manner, people today should not use any handicap, old or new, as a basis for refusing to do their duty.

Verses 24-25

And after these days, Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men.

This contrasts dramatically with the conception by the virgin, that Luke is about to relate. Here, there is no suggestion of anything out of the ordinary, except in view of the age of both and the barrenness of Elizabeth. Though the power to conceive a son under such circumstances was, in a very genuine sense, from God, it was nonetheless a far different thing from the case of the conception of Jesus.

Hid herself five months … No good explanation of this seems to be available. Perhaps it was the natural embarrassment that came to a person of such age undergoing such an experience, or it may be that she deliberately waited until any doubt of her condition had been removed. This is another stark Lukan detail that could have come only from a personal interview with a member of the family, such as Mary.

The Lord … looked upon me … The Hebrew thought viewed God’s looking upon his servants as an indication of God’s intention of helping them. "Behold the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him" (Psalms 33:18).

To take away my reproach among men … This was not a mere euphemism among the Hebrews. Childlessness was viewed as a curse of God, or, at least, as a sign of God’s utmost displeasure; and the mores of that society were such that Elizabeth would indeed have suffered all kinds of reproach from her family, possibly even from her husband, and certainly from her community. Her gratitude at the lifting of such a reproach is beautiful and touching. If she had suffered a number of miscarriages in the past, it would have accounted for her period of hiding for five months.

Verse 26

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.


In the sixth month … refers to the time since Elizabeth’s conception (Luke 1:36). For note on "Gabriel," see under Luke 1:19.

Nazareth … Luke’s explanation that Nazareth was a city of Galilee indicates that many of his readers were Gentiles. No Jew would have needed to be told the location of Nazareth. No man could ever have imagined that an archangel would be commissioned by the God of all creation to visit a village such as Nazareth, situated in a district, the very name of which announced it as a place of the despised Gentiles. "GALILEE is a contraction of the region’s full name, [~geliyl] [~ha-gowyim], which means "district of the pagans."(F20) Many reasons have been suggested for God’s choice of such a place for the residence of the divine Messiah, including the following: (1) Its Gentile character pointed to God’s purpose of saving Gentiles. (2) Its insignificance suggested that no place where men live is beyond the Father’s love and care. (3) The rural atmosphere provided an appropriate place for Jesus to develop into maturity. (4) By such a choice God signaled the reversal of human value judgments. (5) It enabled the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus should be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). (6) It was less accessible to the curiosity and malignant hatred of powerful rulers than would have been the case with some large city.

Verse 27

To a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

To a virgin betrothed … Among the Jews of that period the betrothal took place a year before the couple lived together; but in every other respect it WAS the marriage ceremony. The bride’s infidelity during the betrothal period was a capital offense (Deuteronomy 22:23 f).

The house of David … Commentators have sometimes troubled themselves over the applications of these words, whether to Joseph or to Mary; but they surely apply to both. That Mary was also of the house of David, as a comparison with Luke 1:69 shows, Luke would fully prove by the genealogy which he introduced a little later (Luke 3:23 f).

The virgin’s name was Mary … This is the same as Miriam and was a common name for daughters in those times, and ever since.


The Old Testament foretold the virgin birth. The first prophecy of the Messiah ever given (Genesis 3:15) identified him as "the seed of woman"; and that never meant, nor could it ever have meant, anything other than the virgin birth of Christ. It was prophesied again in Isaiah 7:14, a prophetic word which an apostle declared a prediction of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:23).

The Old Testament identified the coming redeemer as Immanuel (meaning "God with us"), Mighty God, Everlasting Father, etc. (Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 1:14 f); and this identification was continued in the New Testament where Jesus Christ is referred to no less than ten times as "God." How could God have become a man if not by means of a virgin birth? The pre-existence of Christ "before the world was" (John 17:5) made it an impossibility for him to have entered earth life as a result of the normal processes of procreation in which the union of two mortals, male and female, is utterly incapable of producing a life which had already existed. A denial of the virgin birth is a denial of the deity of Jesus Christ.

All four of the Gospel writers evidence their belief that Christ was born of a virgin. Matthew spelled it out categorically, presenting it from the viewpoint of Joseph. Mark did not mention it, but in his report of the gossip at Nazareth selected the words "Is not this the carpenter?" rather than the other form of it, "Is not this the carpenter’s son?" as it is in Matthew (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). Of course, the gossip existed in both forms; but Matthew, who had recorded the virgin birth, selected one form of it; and Mark, who had not recorded the virgin birth, was careful to choose the other form in order to avoid any implication against the virgin birth. From this we are certain that Mark knew of the doctrine and that he believed it. Extensive New Testament reference to Jesus as "Son of God" cannot be understood otherwise than in the sense of the unique sonship of Jesus Christ, every such reference being equivalent to denial that Jesus was begotten by any mortal father. Therefore, the fact of the virgin birth is affirmed in every reference. "Only begotten," as used by John (John 1:18; John 3:18), carries the same message of confirmation from the Gospel of John.

Regarding the allegation that Paul "knew nothing of the virgin birth!" — such an error can derive only from ignorance of what that great apostle said: Christ was "of the seed of David" and also "Son of God" (Romans 1:3-4); "Christ existed in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:5-7); "God sent forth his Son, made of woman" (Galatians 4:4).(F21) Versions or translations rendering this passage "born of a woman" are in error. As Clarke said, "Being made of a woman was according to the promise of Genesis 3:15: (meaning) produced by the power of God in the womb of the virgin Mary without the intervention of man."(F22) "He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham" (Hebrews 2:16) has the reading in the Greek New Testament, "He taketh on him the seed of Abraham." This makes the birth of Jesus to have been an act willed by himself while existing at a time prior to his entering our earth life. This cannot be anything except a recognition of the fact of the virgin birth. The Hebrew reference is here considered as Pauline. The fact that Paul did not make any references to this doctrine is incapable of casting any doubt regarding his true acceptance of it; because, in his preaching to the Gentiles, he stressed the far greater miracle of the resurrection. Significantly, Luke himself, in Acts, made no reference to the virgin birth in that volume; and if, for any reason, the Gospel of Luke had been lost, the critics would still have been shouting to high heaven that "Luke knew nothing of it?’ We are thankful to God that Paul made a more than sufficient reference to this vital doctrine to justify the conclusion that he fully received it.

Actually, the virgin birth is no greater miracle than raising the dead, walking on the sea, or changing water into wine. It even pales in significance when compared to the resurrection of Christ. Therefore, unbelief of the virgin birth is really a refusal to believe in Christ at all.

Verse 28

And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.

Thou art highly favored … In the Vulgate, these words are "gratia plena" as found in the opening phrase of the famed "Ave Maria." Plummer noted that this is wrong if it means "full of grace which thou hast to bestow," and right only if it is understood as "full of grace which thou hast received."(F23) Thus, the Vulgate is inaccurate, as Spence said:

The "plena gratia" of the Vulgate, said and sung so often in the virgin’s famous hymn, is an inaccurate rendering. Rather, "gratia cumulata," as it has been well rendered. "Having been much graced (by God)" is the literal translation of the Greek word.(F24)

Verse 29

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.

The awesome presence of the mighty Gabriel was more than enough to strike terror into the heart of this young maiden in the village of Nazareth.

Verse 30

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God.

Fear not … is the same admonition addressed to Zacharias, and it was designed to calm the apprehensive excitement that swept over the virgin.

Favor … is also rendered "grace." We are not told just how she had come to receive such favor in the sight of God; but the burst of praise from her lips, later recorded in this chapter, called the Magnificat, reveals an intimate knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, a deep and abiding trust in God, accompanied by a life of virtue and integrity, these having ever been fundamental prerequisites for the receiving of favor in the sight of God.

Verse 31

And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

As Luke 1:34 reveals, Mary understood that such a conception was to take place at once; and since the consummation of her marriage was scheduled for some considerable time in the future, she could not understand how such a promise as this was to be fulfilled. Although not evident in this text, the meaning was clearly a promise of an immediate conception.

JESUS … is the New Testament form of the Old Testament "Joshua," and has the meaning, "Jehovah is salvation." Matthew’s account quotes the angel as giving the reason why this name was chosen, "For it is he who shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Thus, the great purpose of Jesus’ entry into our earth life was not political or secular, but redemptive.

Verse 32

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David.

The Son of the Most High … Strangely, this is the title given by the demoniac (Mark 5:7) to our Lord, suggesting that this is one of the titles given to the Son of God throughout the unseen world of angels and demons. Ash noted that "Most High" is used seven times in Luke (Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35; Luke 1:76; Luke 2:14; Luke 6:35; Luke 8:28; Luke 19:38) and only four times in the rest of the New Testament.(F25)

The throne of his father David … The virgin maiden of Nazareth might easily have understood these words as a reference to the secular throne of the Hebrews, despite the fact that the very name JESUS emphasized the moral and spiritual purpose of God and pointed away from any literal kingdom. Jesus was indeed destined to sit upon the throne of David, but it was to be upon the throne of the universal spiritual kingdom of which David’s throne was merely a feeble type. Jesus’ ascension to that throne would not come through military power, political change, or earthly favor; but it would be accomplished by his resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:31). The holy Mary may be forgiven if she misconstrued this promise; but one finds no extenuation for such a view as that of Spence who said: "These words of the angel … yet unfulfilled … speak of a restoration of Israel … still … very distant!"(F26)

Inherent in these words of the angel is also the fact of Mary’s descent from David. Mary herself being the only physical link that Jesus ever had with that monarch. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was also the direct heir to the Davidic throne, through Solomon, thus making Jesus the legal heir of David, as well as his fleshly descendent.

Verse 33

And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

The house of Jacob … This patriarch’s God-given name was "Israel"; and the Israel over which Christ is now reigning is the true "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16; Matthew 19:28).

And of his kingdom there shall be no end … has reference to the perpetual existence of Christ’s church throughout the present dispensation of God’s grace (Daniel 2:44; Ephesians 3:21).

Verse 34

And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

From this it is clear that the angel had foretold Mary’s immediate conception; and, since the consummation of her marriage was an event scheduled some considerable time afterward, her perplexity was natural.

I know not a man… As Gilmour said:

Mary is astonished that she is to have a son before her marriage. Roman Catholic interpreters have discovered support in this verse for their dogma that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity.(F27)

There is, however, no way to reconcile Mary’s betrothal and definite intention of being married to Joseph with any superstition to the effect that she made reference in this place to any vow of perpetual virginity.

Verse 35

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.

This record of what the archangel Gabriel said to the virgin mother of our Lord is unimpeachable. With Spence we agree that Luke’s narrative here derives from the lips of Mary herself; and, as for the meaning of what was promised in this announcement, the words of Bishop Pearson on the Creed are appropriate:

The Word was conceived in the womb of a woman, not after the manner of men, but by the singular, powerful, invisible, immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, whereby a virgin, beyond the law of nature, was enabled to conceive; and that which was conceived in her was originally and completely sanctified.(F28)

The power of the Most High shall overshadow thee … Ash has this beautiful word on the "overshadowing" of Mary:

"Overshadow" recalls the cloud over the tabernacle during the wilderness wandering. The word is used in all the synoptic Gospels of the cloud that came at the transfiguration. The only other New Testament usage is in Acts 5:15. The term is always used of divine power. The concept is reminiscent of the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2. Here the Spirit would be active in a new "creation" of God.(F29)

This whole paragraph regarding the annunciation is fantastically beyond the power of any mere human being to have invented it. Like many other passages in the Bible, this lies utterly beyond the perimeter of anything that the natural man might have imagined.

Verse 36

And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren.

Mary had not requested a sign, but one was given. The providential conception that had been allowed to Zacharias and Elizabeth would provide exactly the encouragement that Mary would require.

The sixth month … determines what is meant by the same expression in Luke 1:26.

Verse 37

For no word from God shall be void of power.

It was not his own word that was delivered by Gabriel, but the word of Almighty God; and what was true (and ever is true) of the word Gabriel delivered is also true of the word of God delivered by the sacred writers of the New Testament, including, of course, the words through the beloved physician.

Verse 38

And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

This is the record of Mary’s acceptance of God’s promise. "Handmaid" as rendered here is from a Greek term that means bondservant, or slave. It is certain that Mary’s acceptance was taken in full light of the human consequences. How could she hope to explain such a thing to Joseph? What would the neighbors say? And there were the stern provisions of the Law that might require her to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23 f). Never was there a greater act of faith.

Verse 39

And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah.


Milligan identified the "city of Judah" mentioned here as a place called "Juttah," basing his conclusion upon the following:

(1) From the fact that Juttah was one of the forty-eight cities that were given to the priests (Joshua 15:55; Joshua 11:16). (2) It was in the hill country of Judaea; and (3) This is according to the tradition of the primitive Church.(F30)

Some have identified the residence of Zacharias as Hebron; but Milligan’s identification is more likely correct.

Verses 40-41

And entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

This phenomenal event was construed by the principals who participated in it, as well as by the inspired author of this Gospel, as being due to the fact of John the Baptist’s being filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and a perception of the blessed Spirit with John of the presence of the Son of God in the virgin’s womb. The Spirit also inspired the following words of Elizabeth.

Verse 42

And she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

One may only be astounded at the declaration to the effect that "Elizabeth’s exclamation was not unlike uncontrollable ecstatic behavior"!(F31) Indeed! Indeed! Where is there any evidence of any such thing as that? The loud cry of Elizabeth could have been nothing else except a shout of joy; and, as for the notion that her actions were uncontrollable, such a view is refuted by the ordered logic of the intelligible words spoken by her on that occasion.

This greeting from Elizabeth did not follow Mary’s revelation of her own conception, but preceded it, Elizabeth having become aware of it through the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit. Her words, therefore, were of monumental encouragement to the virgin who would at once have accepted Elizabeth’s salutation as a divine confirmation of all that the angel Gabriel had foretold.

Verse 43

And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?

The New Testament does not relate just how Elizabeth had arrived at the conclusion that Mary would be the mother of the Messiah; but the active voice of prophecy in Zacharias, as well as her own inspiration, had left no doubt whatever of the fact. Her words in this verse recognized Jesus as God within a short while after his conception.

Verse 44

For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

Thus, Elizabeth interpreted that leaping of the unborn child as proof that the Saviour was already conceived in the virgin’s womb; and this was spoken by Elizabeth as proving the implications of what she had just said in the previous verse. At the age of six months, there would already have been a number of "quickenings" by the unborn son; but there was something extraordinary about what happened when Mary appeared and greeted Elizabeth.

Verse 45

And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord.

Elizabeth’s use of the word "Lord" here and in Luke 1:43 is significant. There it means "Messiah," and here it means the Father in heaven. This testifies at once to the oneness of God and Christ, and to the fact of their being two different persons; hence, there can be no valid ground here for denominating Mary as the "Mother of God."


Mary’s marvelous response recorded in the next ten verses is also called "The Virgin’s Hymn."

For nearly fourteen centuries it has been used in the public liturgies of Christendom. We find it first in the office of Lauds in the rule of St. Caesarius of Aries (A.D. 507).(F32)

The fact of this response from Mary having been written in poetic form is no evidence whatever that Luke was copying some document in this section. The Psalms of David are also poetry; and Mary the descendent of David proved in these lines that she was indeed a worthy member of the house of David. Only a male chauvinist could deny that this highly favored daughter of David’s line could have composed such a beautiful poem, relating it to Luke in her own words.

Verses 46-48

And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my Spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

This is the first of four divisions of the MAGNIFICAT. It details the joy, reverence, and gratitude of a person, counted by the world as lowly, and who refers to herself as a slave. It utters praise to God for what he has done for her. The privilege which came to Mary dominates the thought. The prophecy that all generations should call her "blessed" was a true one, and it shows that she fully realized the world-shaking import of what God was doing through her. It is inconceivable that any young girl, pregnant through some illicit relationship, could ever have thought any such thoughts as these, much less have composed an eternal poem to express them.

Verses 49-50

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. And his mercy is unto generations and generations on them that fear him.

These lines extol the power, the holiness, and the mercy of God, three of the great attributes of the Almighty. The words seem to reach a climax with reference to God’s mercy. A particular aspect of that mercy was seen, and perhaps had already been realized by Mary, in the patient and understanding love of the incomparable Joseph who dared the scorn of all the world to maintain his patient place at the side of his beloved Mary. This was mentioned by Matthew who recorded the story from the standpoint of Joseph; and, although Luke does not mention Joseph, approaching the narrative from another standpoint, the thought of Joseph surfaces in this song.

Verses 51-53

He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down princes from their thrones, And hath exalted them of low degree. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away.

Barclay found in this gracious hymn the "dynamite" of the Christian religion which has wrought in the world a triple revolution:

He scatters the proud … this is a moral revolution. … He cast down the mighty; he exalts the humble. This is a social revolution. … He has filled those who are hungry …those who are rich he hath sent empty away. This is an economic revolution.(F33)

Thus, there is in this beautiful song a prophetic discerning of the immense consequences of the religion of Christ upon the earth.

Verses 54-55

He hath given help to Israel his servant, That he might remember mercy (As he spake unto our fathers) toward Abraham and his seed for ever.

In the first division of this matchless hymn, there was a stanza regarding the blessing and privilege that had come to Mary herself; in the second there was uttered a praise of the power, holiness, and mercy of God; in the third, there was prophesied the world consequences of the faith of Jesus Christ; and in this final stanza there was a connecting of the old and new covenants, a glimpse of the true Israel, the church, and the relation of all the redeemed to the old institution as the true spiritual seed of Abraham. It may well be believed that the young girl who spoke these immortal lines in reality did not possess any complete knowledge of all their total meaning, any more than the other prophets before her (1 Peter 1:10-12); but it was given her to speak this hymn, even as it was given her to bear the flesh of the Son of the Most High!

Verse 56

And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house.

It is idle to speculate on whether or not she remained until John the Baptist was born, for there is nothing in the word of God that settles the question.


Luke’s mention of Mary’s departure before introducing the event of John’s birth seems to suggest that Mary was not any longer present.

Verse 57

Now Elisabeth’s time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.

Thus was fulfilled the word of God through Gabriel to Zacharias.

Verse 58

And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy toward her; and they rejoiced with her.

This verse seems to say that many, even of the relatives, did not know of the approaching event of this birth, but they heard the glad news after it happened. The devout community celebrated it by acknowledging the hand of the Lord in such an occurrence and by general rejoicing.

Verse 59

And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.

This is an authentic glimpse of a small community where the officious neighbors took a ready hand in naming someone else’s child. Of course, they meant well! It was customary to name a male child upon the occasion of his being circumcised.

Verse 60

And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.

This indicates that Zacharias had already informed Elizabeth of the name bestowed by the angel Gabriel. Of course, this, like all other communications from Zacharias during that period, would have been through written communication. Someone has remarked that Zacharias was "a quiet father" prior to John’s birth!

The officiousness of the neighbors is seen in their appealing over the mother’s wishes to Zacharias himself.

Verse 61

And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.

The heavy hand of tradition was in evidence here; and, of all the people who ever lived, the Jews seem to have had the greatest regard for such things.

Verse 62

And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called.

This plainly indicates the deafness of Zacharias; because, if he had been able to hear, there would have been no reason at all to "make signs."

Verse 63

And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.

Writing tablet … "The tablets in use generally at the time were usually made of wood, covered with a thin coating of wax."(F34) Writing on such a tablet was done with a small iron stylus. By this strong statement of the neighbors’ efforts to name the child, Zacharias affirmed the word of the angel of God as truth; and his impediment was quickly removed.

Verse 64

And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, blessing God.

True to the word borne through Gabriel, Zacharias’ handicap lasted only until the son had come, as promised, and the fact of his name had been determined. The prophet Zacharias used his first words to bless the name of God and to extol his praise.

Verse 65

And fear came on all that dwelt around about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea.

Fear … was a natural result of such providential intervention as had been evidenced, not only in the birth, but in the naming of John. Also, Luke is careful to point out, as distinguished from the affairs of Mary, that the events relative to this birth received the widest publicity and comment throughout the whole area. There were none who could say they had not heard of such a thing.

Verse 66

And all that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.

This outlines the great expectations which many had with regard to a child providentially born to aged parents, and who might indeed have become an orphan at quite an early age. God, however, was more than able to take care of this one whom God has chosen as herald of the Redeemer.

For the hand of the Lord was with him … This verse is a projection of the attitude in that community as it extended for years after the events narrated. Along with Luke 1:80, and Luke 2:52, this is a typically Lukan style. This clause is an anthropomorphic metaphor such as abounds in the Old Testament. The "feet" of God (Exodus 24:10), the "finger" of God (Exodus 31:18), the "eyes" of God (Deuteronomy 11:12), the "ears" of God (Numbers 11:18), and the "hand" of God (Exodus 9:3) are Old Testament examples of the same metaphor. Such imagery was used to aid human thinking with regard to HIM who is actually a Spirit (John 4:24). "Lord" is the word Luke here used of the Almighty, and the same word was used of Jesus even before he was born (Luke 1:43); thus this Gospel author joined apostles (John 1:1) and other sacred authors in ascribing absolute deity to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 67

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying.

Prophesied … This word, as used in the New Testament, is not limited in meaning to the mere prediction of future events. Paul, a close friend of Luke, said, "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, exhortation, and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). Of course, the foretelling of the future is also part of the meaning.

Filled with the Holy Spirit … The inspiration and infallible accuracy of what Zacharias said in this circumstance is affirmed by such a declaration as this.


The twelve verses recording Zacharias’ words could be briefly summarized as a thanksgiving for the arrival of the times of the Messiah. It was God’s blessing and mercy manifested by his fulfilling at last the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament, his breaking the centuries of silence after Malachi, and his establishing the promised reality of the covenant with Abraham that dominated the major part of Zacharias’ prophecy. Not until the last four verses did he speak of his precious son and the share he would have in such a glorious fulfillment of God’s word.

Like the Magnificat, this portion of Luke has been used extensively in the liturgies of the historical church; like the Virgin’s Hymn, this too was first adopted for liturgical use by St. Caesarius of Arles in the sixth century.

Verses 68-69

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.

Here Zacharias was speaking, not of his own son John, but of Jesus the Christ. The use of the past tense, at a time when Jesus had not yet been born, is prophetic, a tense peculiar to the Holy Scriptures, in which future events are announced in the past tense, implying the certainty of fulfillment. What God promises is as certain as if it had already happened.

Horn of salvation … This metaphor was one which, to the Israelites, suggested the very greatest strength. Such men as Abraham and Moses were said to be "horns" of Israel.(F35)

In the house of his servant David … This, like the words of the angel (Luke 1:32), shows that Mary was a descendent of David.

Verses 70-71

(As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been of old), Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.

His holy prophets … Beginning with Genesis 3:15 and through the last words of the Old Testament, there are 333 prophecies regarding Jesus the Saviour; and fittingly enough this received emphasis by Zacharias. This holy priest had probably spent the previous months studying those very prophecies and coming to the conclusion that the time had arrived for God to fulfill them all.

Salvation from our enemies … It is too much to suppose that Zacharias knew the full meaning of this; for like the majority of his contemporaries, he might fully have expected that God would chase out the Romans and restore the earthly kingdom. The true enemies, of which God spake through him, however, were Satan and the sins which warred against the souls of men. The bondage from which Israel most required to be delivered was the servitude of Satan, not political vassalage under the Romans. Yet, so very few of Israel were aware of this. As Godet expressed it:

A carnal and malignant patriotism had taken possession of the people and their rulers, and the idea of a political deliverance had been substituted for that of a moral salvation.(F36)

Speaking under the power of God’s Spirit, Zacharias spoke truth beyond his full comprehension of it (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Verses 72-73

To show mercy towards our fathers, And to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to Abraham our father.

These words show the connection between the old and the new covenants. The covenant with Abraham had envisioned the blessing of "all the families of the earth" through the glorious Seed (singular) which is Christ (Genesis 12:1-3). Moreover, God had confirmed the covenant promise to Abraham with an oath (Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13-15). Just as God’s promise to Abraham of a son was delayed of fulfillment until it seemed no longer possible, so also the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom had been held in abeyance for centuries, the last voice of prophecy having expired with Malachi; but wow all was to be fulfilled. As to who were, and who were not, true sons of Abraham and thus entitled to the promise, there was widespread misunderstanding. The materialistic, secular priests, and a majority of the people, thought that mere fleshly descent from Abraham was all that mattered; but, of course, it was only to the "spiritual seed," the people of like faith and character with Abraham, that the promise really pertained. It was the great mission of John the Baptist to enlighten Israel on this very point.

Verses 74-75

To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies should serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zacharias here foretold the character of the coming kingdom as one in which Israel would be delivered from enemies and continue in the service of God with holiness and righteousness without fear. That he might have thought, in his own heart, that this had reference to the restoration of the secular kingdom is a possibility; but the fidelity of his words to the promptings of the Holy Spirit was such that the more extended meaning as it pertains to the universal church of all ages is clearly evident; and, in the remaining words of his message, there appears the glorious promise of salvation for the Gentiles.

Verse 76

Yea, and thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways.

Only the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could have prompted the father of this child of such long hopes and prayers to have deferred any mention of him until near the end of the prophecy. One is reminded of the cows that went lowing away from their calves (1 Samuel 6:7-12).

Most High … See under Luke 1:32.

Go before the face of the Lord … These words are an elaboration of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6. The imagery is that of a herald going before a king to prepare the way for a royal visitor. Here too the subordination of John, the child of hope, to the royal dignity of the yet unborn Christ (by these words of Zacharias) is contrary to all human behavior and must be attributed solely to the inspiration of the prophet Zacharias by the Holy Spirit.

To make ready his ways … The principal burden upon John was to enlighten Israel with regard to the fundamental truth with regard to just who were really the sons of Abraham.

Verses 77-78

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people in the remission of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us.

In the remission of their sins … This is the salvation Jesus came to provide. In this sector only is man powerless to do anything for himself. It is forgiveness that the soul cries for, and it is available nowhere except in Jesus Christ the Saviour. When either churches or individuals lose sight of this, total moral blindness is the result. It is not the standard of living, nor political freedom, nor civil rights, nor economic parity — or anything else, which distinguishes the salvation of Christ — "it is the forgiveness of sins." This focuses attention upon the great prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31 ff, in which forgiveness of sins is the distinctive mark of the new covenant. The term here rendered forgiveness is found eight times in the Lukan writings, and only seven times in the rest of the New Testament.(F37)

Dayspring from on high … Neither the English Revised Version (1885) nor the RSV has properly translated this phrase; as Summers noted:

The RSV is not a translation, but a smooth paraphrase of a Greek expression which literally translated would be, "in which shall shine upon us the light rising from on high."(F38)

Thus again we have a close correspondence with the Gospel of John which also identified Jesus as "the true Light lighting every man, coming into this world" (John 1:9). In view of the actual meaning, "Dayspring from on High" (as in the KJV) is the best rendition. Christ is indeed the Light of the world; and it was appropriate that he should thus have been identified by the very first prophet to speak after the promise of Malachi (Malachi 4:2) that "the Sun of righteousness" should arise "with healing in his wings." There is a strong resemblance here to 2 Peter 1:19, in which Christ is compared to a lamp shining in a squalid room.

Shall visit us … should in all probability be rendered "hath visited us," as in many ancient authorities; but, since prophetic tense refers to future events, no violence to the true meaning was done. It is fully the truth, stated either way.

Verse 79

To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.

Darkness and the shadow of death … Here there is a certain reference to salvation for the Gentiles, as more pointedly stated by Matthew, who explained Jesus’ residence in Capernaum as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-2), as follows:

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.

Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles.

The people that sat in darkness

Saw a great light,

And to them that sat in the region

and shadow of death

To them did light spring up.

Zacharias’ words in this verse correspond perfectly with the prophecy of Isaiah.

To guide our feet into the way of peace … The word "peace" is like "forgiveness" in Luke’s writings, where it occurs nineteen times, twelve times in this Gospel, and occurring only nine times in the rest of the New Testament. The type of peace referred to is peace with God through the forgiveness of sins and a restoration of fellowship with the Creator.

Verse 80

And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.

Like a similar statement in Luke 2:52, this compresses thirty years of John’s life into one sentence. A comparison of the two reveals some significant differences, there being no hint here that John increased in favor "with men." The strong, rugged, ascetic character of the herald contrasts with the loving, sociable nature of the Sun of Righteousness.

The deserts … refers to the desolate and forbidding wastelands south of Jericho and along by the Dead Sea. The occasion of his dwelling in such places could have come about through the death of his parents, who were in their old age when he was born; but this is not stated. This region was not inhabited. "The Qumran covenanters (had) established their headquarters in this general area"(F39) as proved by the Dead Sea Scrolls; but "any definite connection of the Baptist with the Qumranites is pure theory."(F40) God certainly would not have brought John the Baptist into the world for his great work and then have turned his education over to such radical sects in the wilderness as the Essenes or the Qumranites! Besides this, any resemblances based upon the teachings are very superficial; and, as Ash said, "There are marked differences."(F41)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/luke-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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