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Bible Commentaries
Luke 1

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

The Gospel According to

St Luke

Ch. 1:1 4. Introduction

Forasmuch as ] This brief preface is in several respects most interesting and important.

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 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,’ ‘certainty,’ are only found elsewhere in the letters and speeches of St Paul.

1 . many ] Whether the Gospels of St Matthew and St Mark had been written when St Luke’s appeared is a question which cannot be answered with certainty; but it is certain that he does not here allude to those Gospels, and that he did not make any use of them (see Introd. p. 9).

These many attempts to narrate the earthly life of the Saviour were probably those collections of traditional memorials, parables and miracles ( logia, diegēseis ), of which all that was most valuable was incorporated in our four Gospels. Setting aside the Apocryphal Gospels, which are for the most part worthless and even pernicious forgeries, Christian tradition has not preserved for us one trustworthy event of the Life of Christ, and barely a dozen sayings ( agrapha dogmata like that preserved by St Paul in Acts 20:35 ) which are not found in the Gospels.

have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration ] Literally, attempted to draw up a narrative . A remarkable parallel to this passage is found in Josephus ( Contra Ap. i. 10); but no censure is here expressed. The word ‘attempted’ shews indeed that these endeavours were not wholly successful, and the use of the aorist implies that they had already failed. (Acts 19:13 .) “ Conati sunt qui implere nequiverunt,” Aug. The works to which St Luke alludes were fragmentary and ill-arranged but not necessarily misleading. Origen ( Hom. in Luc. ) is hardly justified in supposing that the authors are rebuked for temerity, and Dr M c Clellan goes much too far in calling them “false Evangelists.”

of those things which are most surely believed among us ] Others render it ‘ which have been fulfilled,’ ‘have found their accomplishment ;’ but the analogous uses of the same Greek verb in Romans 4:21 , Romans 14:5 , and 2 Timothy 4:17 , and especially of the substantive plerophoria in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 , Hebrews 6:11 , support the English version. The expression is most important as shewing that whatever might be the defects of the narratives there was no hesitation about the facts . (Bp Marsh, p. 364.) “The work of these unknown first Evangelists was new only in form and not in substance.” Westcott, Introd . p. 174.

2 . even as they delivered them unto us, which ] The English version is here ambiguous; and the way in which it is often read shews how completely it is misunderstood. It does not mean ‘that the writers of these narratives delivered them to St Luke and others who were eyewitnesses, &c.,’ but that ‘since many undertook to rearrange the facts which have been delivered (1 Corinthians 11:23 , 1 Corinthians 11:15 :3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 ) as a sacred treasure or tradition (1 Timothy 6:20 ; 2 Timothy 1:14 ) to us Christians by those who became eyewitnesses’ (which St Luke does not claim to be) ‘and ministers of the word, I too determined, &c.’ The words imply that the narratives to which St Luke alludes were secondhand that they were rearrangements of an oral tradition received from apostles and original disciples. Clearly therefore there can be no allusion to the Gospel of St Matthew, who wrote his own narrative and would have had no need to use one which had been ‘delivered’ and ‘handed down’ to him.

eyewitnesses, and ministers ] Those who delivered to the Church the facts of the Saviour’s life had ‘personal knowledge and practical experience,’ which these narrators had not. (See Acts 1:21 , Acts 1:22 .)

3 . having had perfect understanding ] Rather, having accurately traced out or followed up . See the same word in 1 Timothy 4:6 ; 2 Timothy 3:10 . St Luke modestly puts himself exactly on the same footing as these narrators in not having the primary apostolic qualification, but claims continuous and complete knowledge and careful research.

from the very first ] St Luke’s Gospel differed from these narratives in beginning from the birth of John the Baptist, and the Annunciation, whereas they began at the manhood and Public Ministry of Christ, as do St Mark and St John. See Acts 1:22 ; Luke 16:16 , “the Law and the Prophets were until John : since that time the Kingdom of God is preached.”

in order ] A favourite word of St Luke only, 8:1; Acts 11:4 , Acts 3:24 , Acts 18:23 . St Luke’s order is mainly objective, i. e. chronological; St Matthew’s, on the other hand, is much guided by subjective considerations, i. e. by moral sequence and unity of topics.

most excellent ] This is the title of official personages of high position, e. g. Felix, Acts 23:26 , and Festus, 26:25. Whether it is here used in this technical, or in a more general sense, like the Latin ‘optime,’ it is impossible to say.

Theophilus ] A very common name. It means ‘Dear to God,’ but it is unlikely that it is here an ideal name. Absolutely nothing is known of him. Some from the title “most excellent” have conjectured that Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7-12 ) is meant, to whom they think that the Acts might have naturally been dedicated. But the name seems to shew that a Greek is intended, and St Luke is writing mainly for Greeks (see Introduction, p. 16). A Theophilus, who held some high distinction at Antioch, is mentioned in the Clementine Recognitions; and as St Luke was, not improbably, a proselyte of Antioch, this may be the person for whom he wrote. Others make him a Bishop of Caesarea Philippi.

4 . mightest know ] Rather, mayest fully know .

of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed ] Rather, of those accounts in which thou wast orally instructed . Galatians 6:6 . From the word κατηχεῖν ‘to teach orally’ comes our ‘ catechise ,’ &c. Oral instruction ( katechesis ) flourished especially at Alexandria, which was famous for its catechetical school. This may possibly have favoured the notion that Theophilus was an Alexandrian.

5 25. The Announcement of the Birth of the Fore-runner

5 . There was in the days ] 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.’

of Herod, the king ] 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. v. 9.

of Judea ] 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).

Zacharias ] The common Jewish name Zachariah (2 Kings 14:29 ; Ezra 8:3 , Ezra 8:11 ; Zechariah 1:1 ; Zechariah 1:0 Macc. 5:18, &c.) means ‘remembered by Jehovah.’ The Jews highly valued the distinction of priestly birth (Jos. Vit . 1). 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,” vs. 9.

of the course ] The word ephemeria means first ‘a daily ministry’ (Heb. Mishmereth ) and then a class of the priesthood which exercised its functions for a week. Aaron had four sons, but the two elder Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for using strange fire in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:0 ). 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 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.

of Abia ] 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 enjoyed the high distinction of belonging by birth to the first of the twenty-four courses ( Vit. 1).

Elisabeth ] 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.’

6 . righteous ] 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.’

in all the commandments and ordinances ] The two words occur in the LXX. version of Genesis 26:5 (of Abraham) and 2 Chronicles 17:4 (of Jehoshaphat). ‘ Commandments ’ means the moral precepts of natural and revealed religion (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.

7 . And they had no child ] 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 11:18 :11, 30:Genesis 11:1-23 ; Exodus 23:26 ; Deuteronomy 7:14 ; Judges 13:2 , Judges 13:3 ; 1 Samuel 1:6 , 1 Samuel 1:27 ; Isaiah 47:9 .

well stricken in years ] A priest apparently might minister until any age, but Levites were partially superannuated at 50 (Numbers 3:1-39 , Numbers 3:4 , Numbers 3:8 :25).

8 . executed the priest’s office ] 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.

9 . his lot was to burn incense ] Rather, 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 . 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 , Revelation 8:4 ), and Philo tells us that it was offered twice a day, before the morning and after the evening sacrifice of a lamb.

into the temple ] Rather, 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).

10 . the whole multitude ] This seems to shew that the vision took place either on a sabbath, or some great feast-day.

praying ] 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.

11 . an angel ] St Luke dwells more than any of the Evangelists on the ministry of angels, 1:26, 2:9, 13, 21, 12:8, 15:10, 16:22, 22:43, 24:4, 23, and frequently in the Acts. Compare the births of Isaac, Samson, and Samuel.

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

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

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

13 . Fear not ] 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.

thy prayer is heard ] Rather, 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.

John ] Jehochanan, ‘the favour of Jehovah’ (comp. Genesis 17:19 ). It is interchanged with Jona in Matthew 16:17 (comp. John 1:42 ), and in various forms was not uncommon, 1 Chronicles 3:24 , 28:12, &c.

14 . gladness ] Rather, exultation , vs. 44; Acts 2:46 ; Hebrews 1:9 .

many ] The Pharisees and leading Jews did not accept John’s baptism (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!”


15 . great in the sight of the Lord ] See 7:24 30; Matthew 11:11 .

shall drink neither wine nor strong drink ] He shall be a Nazarite (7:33; Numbers 6:1-4 ); like Samson (Judges 13:2-7 ); and the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:6 ). ‘Strong drink’ ( Sikera 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.

shall be filled with the Holy Ghost ] 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 .

even from his mother’s womb ] Compare 1 Samuel 1:11 ; Jeremiah 1:5 .

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

17 . And he shall go before him ] Shall go before the Messiah. The English version should have added, “in His (God’s) presence” ( ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ).

in the spirit and power of Elias ] From the last words of Malachi (4:4 6, 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 ).

to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children ] Rather, of fathers to children ; i. e. as in the original meaning of Malachi, to remedy disunion and restore family life.

to the wisdom ] Rather, in or by the wisdom.

18 . for I am an old man ] 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 (vs. 8). “He believed … God who quickeneth the dead,” Romans 4:17 .

19 . Gabriel ] The name means ‘Hero of God.’ He is also mentioned in vs. 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 ; Jude 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 Michael, Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel,’ and so too in Pirke Rabbi Eliezer , iv. In Tobit 12:15, “I am Raphael (Healer of God), 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.”

that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee ] 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.

to shew thee these glad tidings ] The word euangelisasthai ‘to preach the Gospel’ is common in St Luke and St Paul, but elsewhere is only found in 1 Peter 1:12 ; Matthew 11:5 . It comes from the LXX. (Isaiah 40:9 , Isaiah 61:1 ).

20 . thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak ] He receives the sign for which he had unfaithfully asked (Matthew 12:38 ), but it comes in the form of a punishment. 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.

in their season ] “I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life,” Genesis 18:10 , i. e. after the usual nine months.

21 . he tarried so long ] 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, Leviticus 16:13 , “that he die not” (T. B. Yoma f. 52. 2.) See Excursus VII.

22 . And when he came out ] 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, Ecclus. 50:5 21.

he could not speak unto them ] They were waiting in the Court to be dismissed with the usual blessing, which is said to have been usually 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.” Ecclus. 50:20.

a vision ] Optasian . Used especially of the most vivid and ‘objective’ appearances, 24:23; Acts 26:19 ; 2 Corinthians 12:1 ; Daniel 9:23 .

he beckoned unto them ] Rather, he was himself making signs to them .

remained speechless ] “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.

23 . the days of his ministration ] They lasted from the evening of one Sabbath to the morning of the next. 2 Kings 11:5 .

24 . hid herself ] We can only conjecture her 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.

25 . to take away my reproach ] 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 23:29.

26 38. The Annunciation

26 . in the sixth month ] 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.

Galilee ] Thus began to be fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1 , Isaiah 9:2 . 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, Naphthali, 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 15000 inhabitants, and occupied by a hardy and warlike race, Bell. Jud. iii. 3; Vit. 45, 52. See Map, and note on 3:2.

named Nazareth ] The expression shews that St Luke is writing for those who were unfamiliar with Palestine. See on 2:51.

a virgin ] Isaiah 7:14 ; Jeremiah 31:22 . The many miraculous and glorifying legends which soon began to gather round her name in the Apocryphal Gospels are utterly unknown to Scripture.

27 . espoused ] Rather, betrothed . The betrothal, which is in the East a ceremony of the deepest importance, usually took place a year before the marriage.

Joseph, of the house of David ] 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 (vs. 32), makes it probable that the genealogy of Mary is involved in that of Joseph, and that they were first cousins.

Mary ] 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 , Matthew 13:56 ). 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.

28 . highly favoured ] 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.

blessed art thou among women ] These words are of dubious authenticity, being omitted by B and various versions. They may have been added from vs. 42. With this address comp. Judges 6:12 .

29 . And when she saw him, she was troubled ] Rather, But she was greatly troubled .

31 . Jesus ] The Greek form of the Hebrew name Jehoshua (Numbers 13:8 ), Joshua, Jeshua (Zechariah 3:1 ), which means ‘The salvation of Jehovah’ (Philo, 1:597). 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 (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.

He shall save His people from their sins , “Summa Evangelii.” Bengel.

32 . shall be called ] 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 5:4 ; 2 Samuel 7:12 ; Isaiah 9:6 , Isaiah 9:7 , Isaiah 9:11 :1, Isaiah 9:10 , Isaiah 9:16 :5; Jeremiah 23:5 , Jeremiah 23:30 :9; Ezekiel 34:24 ; Hosea 3:5 ; Psalms 132:11 ) and its fulfilment (Philippians 2:9-11 ; Revelation 22:16 ).

the throne of his father David ] according to Psalms 132:11 .

33 . reign … for ever ] Daniel 2:44 , “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall stand for ever.” (Comp. Daniel 7:13 , Daniel 7:14 , 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.

34 . How shall this be ?] Mary does not doubt the fact as Zacharias had done; she only enquires 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.

35 . shall overshadow thee ] as with the Shechinah and Cloud of Glory (see on 2:9, 9:34). See the treatise on the Shechinah in Meuschen, pp. 701 739. On the high theological mystery see Pearson On the Creed , Art. iii. See on 2:9.

that holy thing ] “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” Hebrews 7:26 . “Who did no sin,” 1 Peter 2:22 .

which shall be born of thee ] Rather, which is in thy womb . Galatians 4:4 , “born of a woman.”

the Son of God ] 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.

36 . thy cousin ] Rather, “ thy kinswoman .” What the actual relationship was we do not know. It is a mistake to infer 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 Monach . ii. 11; Jos. Vit. i).

37 . nothing ] Rather, no word . For the thought see Genesis 18:14 ; Matthew 19:26 . “There is nothing too hard for thee,” Jeremiah 32:17 .

38 . be it unto me according to thy word ] 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.

And the angel departed from her ] 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.)

39 45. The Visit of Mary to Elizabeth

39 . in those days ] Rather, these . Probably within a month of the Annunciation.

went into the hill country ] Palestine west of the Jordan lies in four parallel lines of very different formation. 1. The coast. 2. The Shephēlah , 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 ( Shephēlah ), 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 .)

with haste ] The same notion of haste is involved in the aorist participle ‘ anastasa ’ 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 (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. But 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.

into a city of Juda ] 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 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. 21:9, 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 the actual name may easily have been omitted as obscure. Tradition names Ain Karim . ‘Judah’ is here used for Judaea (Matthew 2:6 ).

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

42 . with a loud voice ] For ‘ phonē ,’ voice, B has the stronger word ‘ kraugē ,’ cry.

Blessed art thou among women ] i. e. preeminently blessed, as “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,” Jude 1:15 :12. In the latter instances the blessing is pronounced by women, but here the word means ‘blessed by God.’

43 . the mother of my Lord ] 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.

44 . for joy ] Rather, in exultation .

45 . blessed is she that believed ] Perhaps Elizabeth had in mind the affliction which had followed her husband’s doubt. Comp. John 20:29 .

for there shall be a performance ] The words may also mean ‘she that believed that there shall be,’ &c.

46 56. The Magnificat

46 . And Mary said ] 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 (Jude 1:1-17 ). But it is animated by a new and 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.)

My soul doth magnify the Lord ] 1 Samuel 2:1 ; Psalms 34:2 , Psalms 34:3 . 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 .

47 . hath rejoiced ] Rather, exults . In the original it is the general , or gnomic aorist.

in God my Saviour ] 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 .

48 . he hath regarded ] Rather, He looked upon .

the low estate ] 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 , Isaiah 1:10 . The reader will notice in this hymn more than one anticipation of the Beatitudes.

all generations shall call me blessed ] “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 vast faith of the despised and persecuted Virgin of Nazareth, whose inspired anticipations have been so amply fulfilled.

49 . he that is mighty ] El Shaddai , Job 8:3 ; also Gibbôr , Psalms 24:8 . See Pearson On the Creed , Art. i.

great things ] Gedolôth , Psalms 71:21 , Psalms 126:3 .

holy is his name ] Psalms 111:9 ; “Thou only art holy,” Revelation 15:4 . Shem , ‘name,’ is often a reverent periphrasis in Hebrew for God Himself. Psalms 91:14 ; 2 Chronicles 6:20 , &c.

50 . his mercy ] Psalms 89:2 , Psalms 89:3 and passim.

From generation to generation ] Rather, Unto generations and generations ; ledôr vadôr , Genesis 17:9 , &c. See Deuteronomy 7:9 .

51 . with his arm ] “Thou hast a mighty arm,” Psalms 89:13 . The nearest parallel to the remainder of the verse is Job 5:12 .

52 . He hath put down the mighty from their seats ] Rather, He puts down potentates from thrones . The aorists throughout are gnomic , i. e. they do not express single but normal acts. 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.

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

54 . hath holpen ] Literally, “took by the hand.” Isaiah 41:8 , Isaiah 41:9 , LXX. The proper punctuation of the following words is to remember His mercy ( even as He spake to ( πρὸς ) our fathers ) to ( 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.”

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

returned ] The word used hupestrepsen 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.

57 80. The Birth of John the Baptist

58 . her cousins ] Rather, her kinsfolk , which was the original meaning of the word cousins ( con-sobrini ). See vs. 36.

59 . on the eighth day ] 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.

they called ] Rather, 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’ ( diekōluen ).

61 . none of thy kindred ] We find a John among 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.

62 . made signs ] 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.

63 . table ] Rather, 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 Mal. 3:24 (Bengel).

64 . he spake ] Rather, he began to speak (imperfect), the previous verb ‘was opened’ being an aorist.

65 . fear ] 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. v. 13; Jos. Bell. Jud. vi. 5, § 4.

66 . What manner of child ] Rather, What then will this child be?

And ] Rather, For indeed , with א , B, C, D, L, which read καὶ γάρ .

the hand of the Lord was with him ] The turn of expression is Hebraistic, as throughout the chapter. Comp. 13:11; Acts 11:21 . “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand,” Psalms 80:17 .

68 . Blessed ] This hymn of praise is hence called the Benedictus. 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 acknowledgment 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.

the Lord God ] Rather, the Lord, the God .

redeemed ] Literally, “ made a ransom for .” Titus 2:14 .

69 . a horn of salvation ] 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.

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

70 . by the mouth of his holy prophets ] namely “in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms,” see on 24:44.

since the world began ] Rather, of old ( ἀπʼ αἰῶνος ). “At sundry times and in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1 ) but even “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 ).

71 . That we should be saved ] Rather, Salvation referring back to “a horn of salvation,” to which it is in apposition. The previous verse is a parenthesis.

from our enemies ] No doubt in the first instance the “enemies” from which the prophets had promised deliverance were literal enemies (Deuteronomy 33:29 ; Isaiah 14:2 , 51:22, Isaiah 14:23 , &c.), but every pious Jew would understand these words as applying also to spiritual enemies.

72, 73 . mercy … remember … oath ] 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. 45). Such paronomasiae , or plays on words, are exceedingly common in the Bible. For similar possible instances of latent paronomasiae see the author’s Life of Christ , i. 65; ii. 200, 240.

72 . To perform the mercy promised to our fathers ] It is simply to do mercy towards our fathers . The “promised” is a needless addition of the E.V.

73 . The oath which he sware ] Genesis 12:3 , Genesis 12:17 :4, 22:16, Genesis 12:17 ; comp. Hebrews 7:13 , Hebrews 7:14 , Hebrews 7:17 .

75 . In holiness ] towards God,

and righteousness ] 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 the Hebrew Tsaddik , whence ‘Sadducees.’

76 . child ] Rather, little child ( paidion ) “quantillus nunc es,” Bengel.

To prepare his ways ] An allusion to the prophecies of the Forerunner in Isaiah 40:3 ; Malachi 3:1 .

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

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

78 . Through the tender mercy of our God ] Literally, “ Because of the heart of mercy .” Σπλάγχνα (literally ‘bowels’) is favourite word with St Paul to express emotion (2 Corinthians 7:15 ; Philippians 1:8 , Philippians 1:2 :1; Philemon 1:7 , Philemon 1:12 , Philemon 1:20 , &c.). The expression is common to Jewish (Proverbs 12:10 , &c.) and classical writers.

the dayspring ] The word Anatole is used by the LXX. to translate both Motsah ‘the Dawn’ (Jeremiah 31:40 ) and Tsemach ‘branch’ (Zechariah 3:8 , Zechariah 6:12 . See on Matthew 2:23 ). Here the context shews that the Dawn is intended. 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 , John 1:5 .

hath visited ] or shall visit , in some MSS.

79 . in the shadow of death ] The Hebrew Tsalmaveth . Job 10:21 , 38:17; Psalms 23:4 , 107:10; Isaiah 9:2 ; Matthew 4:16 , &c.

80 . the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit ] 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 .)

was in the deserts ] Not in sandy deserts like those of Arabia, but in the wild waste region south of Jericho and the fords of Jordan to the shores of the Dead Sea. This was known as Araboth or ha-Arabah , 2 Kings 25:4 , 2 Kings 25:5 (Heb.); Jeremiah 39:5 , Jeremiah 52:8 . See on vs. 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.’ John was by no means the only hermit. The political unsettlement, the shamelessness of crime, the sense of secular exhaustion, the wide-spread Messianic expectation, marked ‘the fulness of time.’ 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, with the Essenes. 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 priestly boy 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 ).

his shewing ] his public ministry, literally, “appointment” or manifestation . The verb ( anedeixen ) occurs in 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.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/luke-1.html. 1896.
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