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General Considerations on Chap. 1. and 2.
It remains for us to form an estimate of the historical value of the accounts contained in these two chapters.
I. Characteristics of the Narrative.
We have already observed that Luke thoroughly believes that he is relating facts, and not giving poetical illustrations of ideas. He declares that he only writes in accordance with the information he has collected; he writes with the design of convincing his readers of the unquestionable certainty of the things which he relates ( Luk 1:3-4 ); and in speaking thus, he has very specially in view the contents of the first two chapters (comp. the ἄνωθεν , Luk 2:3 ). In short, the very nature of these narratives admits of no other supposition (p. 68). Was he himself the dupe of false information? Was he not in a much more favourable position than we are for estimating the value of the communications that were made to him? There are not two ways, we imagine, of replying to these preliminary questions. As to the substance of the narrative, we may distinguish between the facts and the discourses or songs. The supernatural element in the facts only occurs to an extent that may be called natural, when once the supernatural character of the appearance of Jesus is admitted in a general way. If Mary was to accept spontaneously the part to which she was called, it was necessary that she should be informed of it beforehand. If angels really exist, and form a part of the kingdom of God, they were interested as well as men in the birth of Him who was to be the Head of this organization, and reign over the whole moral universe. It is not surprising, then, that some manifestation on their part should accompany this event. That the prophetic Spirit might have at this epoch representatives in Israel, can only be disputed by denying the existence and action of this Spirit in the nation at any time. From the point of view presented by the biblical premisses, the possibility of the facts related is then indisputable. In the details of the history, the supernatural is confined within the limits of the strictest sobriety and most perfect suitability, and differs altogether in this respect from the marvels of the apocryphal writings.
The discourses or hymns may appear to have been a freer element, in the treatment of which the imagination of the author might have allowed itself larger scope. Should not these portions be regarded as somewhat analogous to those discourses which the ancient historians so often put into the mouth of their heroes, a product of the individual or collective Christian muse? But we have proved that, in attributing to the angel, to Mary, and to Zacharias the language which he puts into their mouths, the author would of his own accord have made his characters false prophets. They would be so many oracles post eventum contra eventum! Never, after the unbelief of the people had brought about a separation between the Synagogue and the Church, could the Christian muse have celebrated the glories of the Messianic future of Israel, with such accents of artless joyous hope as prevail in these canticles (Luke 1:17; Luke 1:54-55; Luke 1:74-75, Luke 2:10; Luk 2:32 ). The only words that could be suspected from this point of view are those which are put into the mouth of Simeon. For they suppose a more distinct view of the future course of things in Israel. But, on the other hand, it is precisely the hymn of Simeon, and his address to Mary, which, by their originality, conciseness, and energy, are most clearly marked with the stamp of authenticity. We have certainly met with some expressions of a universalist tendency in these songs (“goodwill towards men,” Luke 2:14; “a light of the Gentiles,” Luk 2:32 ); but these allusions in no way exceed the limits of ancient prophecy, and they are not brought out in a sufficiently marked way to indicate a time when Jewish Christianity and Paulinism were already in open conflict. This universalism is, in fact, that of the early days, simple, free, and exempt from all polemical design. It is the fresh and normal unfolding of the flower in its calyx.
The opinion in closest conformity with the internal marks of the narrative, as well as with the clearly expressed intention of the writer, is therefore certainly that which regards the facts and discourses contained in these two chapters as historical.
II. Relation of the Narratives of Chap. i. and ii. to the Contents of other parts of the N.T.
The first point of comparison is the narrative of the infancy in Matthew, chap. 1 and 2. It is confidently asserted that the two accounts are irreconcilable.
We ask, first of all, whether there are two accounts. Does what is called the narrative of Matthew really deserve this name? We find in the first two chapters of Matthew five incidents of the infancy of Christ, which are mentioned solely to connect with them five prophetic passages, and thus prove the Messianic dignity of Jesus, in accordance with the design of this evangelist, Luke 1:1: Jesus, the Christ. Is this what we should call a narrative? Is it not rather a didactic exposition? So little does the author entertain the idea of relating, that in chap. 1, while treating of the birth of Jesus, he does not even mention Bethlehem; he is wholly taken up with the connection of the fact of which he is speaking with the oracle, Isaiah 7:0. It is only after having finished this subject, when he comes to speak of the visit of the magi, that he mentions for the first time, and as it were in passing ( Jesus being born in Bethlehem), this locality. And with what object? With a historical view? Not at all. Simply on account of the prophecy of Micah, which is to be illustrated in the visit of the magi, and in which the place of the Messiah's birth was announced beforehand. Apart from this prophecy, he would still less have thought of mentioning Bethlehem in the second narrative than in the first. And it is this desultory history, made up of isolated facts, referred to solely with an apologetic aim, that is to be employed to criticise and correct a complete narrative such as Luke's! Is it not clear that, between two accounts of such a diflerent nature, there may easily be found blanks which hypothesis alone can fill up? Two incidents are common to Luke and Matthew: the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and His education at Nazareth. The historical truth of the latter piece of information is not disputed. Instead of this, it is maintained that the former is a mere legendary invention occasioned by Micah 5:0. But were it so, the fact would never occur in the tradition entirely detached from the prophetic word which would be the very soul of it. But Luke does not contain the slightest allusion to the prophecy of Micah. It is only natural, therefore, to admit that the first fact is historical as well as the other.
With this common basis, three differences are discernible in which some find contradictions.
1 st. The account which Matthew gives of the appearance of an angel to Joseph, in order to relieve his perplexity, is, it is said, incompatible with that of the appearance of the angel to Mary in Luke. For if this last appearance had taken place, Mary could not have failed to have spoken of it to Joseph, and in that case his doubts would have been impossible.
But all this is uncertain. For, first, Mary may certainly have told Joseph everything, either before or after her return from Elizabeth; but in this case, whatever confidence Joseph had in her, nothing could prevent his being for a moment shaken by doubt at hearing of a message and a fact so extraordinary. But it is possible also and this supposition appears to me more probable that Mary, judging it right in this affair to leave everything to God, who immediately directed it, held herself as dead in regard to Joseph. And, in this case, what might not have been his anxiety when he thought he saw Mary's condition? On either of these two possible suppositions, a reason is found for the appearance of the angel to Joseph.
2 d. It would seem, according to Matthew, that at the time Jesus was born, His parents were residing at Bethlehem, and that this city was their permanent abode. Further, on their return from Egypt, when they resolved to go and live at Nazareth, their decision was the result of a divine interposition which aimed at the fulfilment of the prophecies ( Mat 2:22-23 ). In Luke, on the contrary, the ordinary abode of the parents appears to be Nazareth. It is an exceptional circumstance, the edict of Augustus, that takes them to Bethlehem. And consequently, as soon as the duties, which have called them to Judaea and detained them there, are accomplished, they return to Nazareth, without needing any special direction ( Luk 2:39 ).
It is important here to remember the remark which we made on the nature of Matthew's narrative. In that evangelist, neither the mention of the place of birth nor of the place where Jesus was brought up is made as a matter of history; in both cases it is solely a question of proving the fulfilment of a prophecy. An account of this kind without doubt affirms what it actually says, but it in no way denies what it does not say; and it is impossible to derive from it a historical view sufficiently complete, to oppose it to another and more detailed account that is decidedly historical. There is nothing, therefore, here to prevent our completing the information furnished by Matthew from that supplied by Luke, and regarding Nazareth with the latter as the natural abode of the parents of Jesus. What follows will complete the solution of this difficulty.
3 d. The incidents of the visit of the magi and the flight into Egypt, related by Matthew, cannot be intercalated with Luke's narrative, either before the presentation of the child in the temple,
His parents would not have been so imprudent as to take Him back to Jerusalem after that the visit of the magi had drawn upon Him the jealous notice of Herod; and besides, there would not be, during the six weeks intervening between the birth and the presentation, the time necessary for the journey to Egypt, or after this ceremony; for, according to Luke 2:39, the parents return directly from Jerusalem to Nazareth, without going again to Bethlehem, where nevertheless they must have received the visit of the magi; and according to Matthew himself, Joseph, after the return from Egypt, does not return to Judaea, but goes immediately to settle in Galilee.
But notwithstanding these reasons, it is not impossible to place the presentation at Jerusalem either after or before the visit of the magi. If this had already taken place, Joseph and Mary must have put their trust in God's care to protect the child; and the time is no objection to this supposition, as Wieseler has shown. For from Bethlehem to Rhinocolure, the first Egyptian town, is only three or four days' journey. Three weeks, then, would, strictly speaking, suffice to go and return. It is more natural, however, to place the visit of the magi and the journey into Egypt after the presentation. We have only to suppose that after this ceremony Mary and Joseph returned to Bethlehem, a circumstance of which Luke was not aware, and which he has omitted. In the same way, in the Acts, he omits Paul's journey into Arabia after his conversion, and combines into one the two sojourns at Damascus separated by this journey. This return to Bethlehem, situated at such a short distance from Jerusalem, is too natural to need to be particularly accounted for. But it is completely accounted for, if we suppose that, when Joseph and Mary left Nazareth on account of the census, they did so with the intention of settling at Bethlehem. Many reasons would induce them to this decision. It might appear to them more suitable that the child on whom such high promises rested should be brought up at Bethlehem, the city of His royal ancestor, in the neighbourhood of the capital, than in the remote hamlet of Nazareth. The desire of being near Zacharias and Elizabeth would also attract them to Judaea. Lastly, they would thereby avoid the calumnious judgments which the short time that elapsed between their marriage and the birth of the child could not have failed to occasion had they dwelt at Nazareth. Besides, even though this had not been their original plan, after Joseph had been settled at Bethlehem for some weeks, and had found the means of subsistence there, nothing would more naturally occur to his mind than the idea of settling down at the place. In this way the interposition of the angel is explained, who in Matthew induces him to return to Galilee.
Bleek inclines to the opinion that the arrival of the magi preceded the presentation, and that the journey into Egypt followed it. This supposition is admissible also; it alters nothing of importance in the course of things as presented in the preceding explanations, of which we give a sketch in the following recapitulation:
1. The angel announces to Mary the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:0). 2. Mary, after or without having spoken to Joseph, goes to Elizabeth (Luke 1:0). 3. After her return, Joseph falls into the state of perplexity from which he is delivered by the message of the angel (Matthew 1:0). 4. He takes Mary ostensibly for his wife (Matthew 1:0). 5. Herod's order, carrying out the decree of Augustus, leads them to Bethlehem (Luke 2:0). 6. Jesus is born (Matthew 1:0; Luke 2:0). 7. His parents present Him in the temple (Luke 2:0). 8. On their return to Bethlehem, they receive the visit of the magi and escape into Egypt (Matthew 2:0). 9. Returned from Egypt, they give up the idea of settling at Bethlehem, and determine once more to fix their abode at Nazareth.
Only one condition is required in order to accept this effort to harmonize the two accounts; namely, the supposition that each writer was ignorant of the other's narrative. But this supposition is allowed by even the most decided adversaries of any attempt at harmony, such, for instance, as Keim, who, although he believes that Luke in composing his Gospel made use of Matthew, is nevertheless of opinion that the first two chapters of Matthew's writing were not in existence at the time when Luke availed himself of it for the composition of his own.
If the solution proposed does not satisfy the reader, and he thinks he must choose between the two writings, it will certainly be more natural to suspect the narrative of Matthew, because it has no proper historical aim. But further, it will only be right, in estimating the value of the facts related by this evangelist, to remember that the more forced in some cases appears the connection which he maintains between the facts he mentions and the prophecies he applies to them, the less probable is it that the former were invented on the foundation of the latter. Such incidents as the journey into Egypt and the massacre of the children must have been well-ascertained facts before any one would think of finding a prophetic announcement of them in the words of Hosea and Jeremiah, which the author quotes and applies to them.
We pass on to other parts of the N. T.
Meyer maintains that certain facts subsequently related by the synoptics themselves are incompatible with the reality of the miraculous events of the infancy. How could the brethren of Jesus, acquainted with these prodigies, refuse to believe in their brother? How could even Mary herself share their unbelief? (Mark 3:21; Mar 3:31 et seq.; Mat 12:46 et seq.; Luk 8:19 et seq.; comp. John 7:5.) In reply, it may be said that we do not know how far Mary could communicate to her sons, at any rate before the time of Jesus' ministry, these extraordinary circumstances, which touched on very delicate matters affecting herself. Besides, jealousy and prejudice might easily counteract any impression produced by facts of which they had not been witnesses, and induce them to think, notwithstanding, that Jesus was taking a wrong course. Did not John the Baptist himself, although he had given public testimony to Jesus, as no one would venture to deny, feel his faith shaken in view of the unexpected course which His work took? and did not this cause him to be offended in Him? (Matthew 11:6.) As to Mary, there is nothing to prove that she shared the unbelief of her sons. If she accompanies them when they go to Jesus, intending to lay hold upon Him (Mark 3:0), it is probably from a feeling of anxiety as to what might take place, and from a desire to prevent the conflict she anticipates.
Keim alleges the omission of the narratives of the infancy in Mark and John. These two evangelists, it is true, make the starting-point of their narrative on this side of these facts. Mark opens his with the ministry of the forerunner, which he regards as the true commencement of that of Jesus. But it does not follow from this that he denies all the previous circumstances which he does not relate. All that this proves is, that the original apostolic preaching, of which this Gospel is the simplest reproduction, went no further back; and for this manifest reason, that this preaching was based on the tradition of the apostles as eye-witnesses ( αὐτόπται , Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21-22; Joh 15:27 ), and that the personal testimony of the apostles did not go back as far as the early period of the life of Jesus. It is doubtless for the same reason that Paul, in his enumeration of the testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus, omits that of the women, because he regards the testimony of the apostles and of the Church gathered about them as the only suitable basis for the official instruction of the Church.
John commences his narrative at the hour of the birth of his own faith, which simply proves that the design of his work is to trace the history of the development of his own faith and of that of his fellow-disciples. All that occurred previous to this time the baptism of Jesus, the temptation he leaves untold; but he does not on that account deny these facts, for he himself alludes to the baptism of Jesus.
Keim goes further. He maintains that there are to be found in the N. T. three theories as to the origin of the person of Christ, which are exclusive of each other: 1 st. That of the purely natural birth; this would be the true view of the apostles and primitive Church, which was held by the Ebionitish communities ( Clement. Homil.). This being found insufficient to explain such a remarkable sequel as the life of Jesus, it must have been supplemented afterwards by the legend of the descent of the Holy Spirit at the baptism. 2 d. That of the miraculous birth, held by part of the Jewish-Christian communities and the Nazarene churches, and proceeding from an erroneous Messianic application of Isaiah 7:0. This theory is found in the Gospel of Luke and in Matthew 1:0 and Mat 2:3 d. The theory of the pre-existence of Jesus as a divine being, originated in the Greek churches, of which Paul and John are the principal representatives.
To this we reply:
1 st. That it cannot be proved that the apostolic and primitive doctrine was that of the natural birth. Certain words are cited in proof which are put by the evangelists in the mouth of the people: “Is not this the carpenter's son? ” (Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22; comp. Joh 6:42 ); next the words of the Apostle Philip in John: “We have found...Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph ” ( Joh 1:45 ). The absence of all protest on the part of John against this assertion of Philip's is regarded as a confirmation of the fact that he himself admitted its truth.
But who could with any reason be surprised that, on the day after Jesus made the acquaintance of His first disciples, Philip should still be ignorant of the miraculous birth? Was Jesus to hasten to tell this fact to those who saw Him for the first time? Was there nothing more urgent to teach these young hearts just opening to His influence? Who cannot understand why Jesus should allow the words of the people to pass, without announcing such a fact as this to these cavilling, mocking Jews? Jesus testifies before all what He has seen with His Father by the inward sense, and not outward facts which He had from the fallible lips of others. Above all, He very well knew that it was not faith in His miraculous birth that would produce faith in His person; on the contrary, that it was only faith in His person that would induce any one to admit the miracle of His birth. He saw that, to put out before a hostile and profane people an assertion like this, which He could not possibly prove, would only draw forth a flood of coarse ridicule, which would fall directly on that revered person who was more concerned in this history even than Himself, and that without the least advantage to the faith of any one. Certainly this was a case for the application of the precept, Cast not your pearls before swine, if you would not have them turn again and rend you. This observation also explains the silence of the apostles on this point in the Acts of the Apostles They could not have done anything more ill-advised than to rest the controversy between the Jews and Christ on such a ground.
If John does not rectify the statements of the people and of Philip, the reason is, that he wrote for the Church already formed and sufficiently instructed. His personal conviction appears from the following facts:
He admitted the human birth, for he speaks several times of His mother. At the same time he regarded natural birth as the means of the transmission of sin: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. ” And nevertheless he regarded this Jesus, born of a human mother, as the Holy One of God, and the bread that came down from heaven! Is it possible that he did not attribute an exceptional character to His birth? As to Mark, we do not, with Bleek, rely upon the name Son of Mary, which is given to Jesus by the people of Nazareth ( Luk 6:3 ); this appellation in their mouth does not imply a belief in the miraculous birth. But in the expression, Jesus Christ, the Son of God ( Luk 1:1 ), the latter title certainly implies more, in the author's mind, than the simple notion of Messiah; this, in fact, was already sufficiently expressed by the name Christ. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this term implies in Mark a relation of mysterious Sonship between the person of Jesus and the Divine Being. All these passages quoted by Keim only prove what is self-apparent, that the notion of the natural birth of Jesus was that of the Jewish people, and also of the apostles in the early days of their faith, before they received fuller information. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that it remained the idea of the Ebionitish churches, which never really broke with the Israelitish past, but were contented to apply to Jesus the popular notion of the Jewish Messiah.
Keim also finds a trace of this alleged primitive theory in the two genealogies contained in Luke and Matthew. According to him, these documents imply, by their very nature, that those who drew them up held the idea of a natural birth. For what interest could they have had in giving the genealogical tree of Joseph, unless they had regarded him as the father of the Messiah? Further, in order to make these documents square with their new theory of the miraculous birth, the two evangelists have been obliged to subject them to arbitrary revision, as is seen in the appendix ἐξ ἧς ... Matthew 1:16, and in the parenthesis ὡς ἐνομίζετο , Luke 3:23. It is very possible, indeed, that the original documents, reproduced in Matthew 1:0 and Luke 3:0, were of Jewish origin; they were probably the same public registers ( δέλτοι δημόσιαι ) from which the historian Josephus asserts that his own genealogy was taken. It is perfectly obvious that such documents could contain no indication of the miraculous birth of Jesus, if even they went down to Him. But how could this fact furnish a proof of the primitive opinion of the Church about the birth of its Head? It is in these genealogies, as revised and completed by Christian historians, that we must seek the sentiments of the primitive Church respecting the person of her Master. And this is precisely what we find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The former, in demonstrating, by the genealogy which he presents to us, the Davidic sonship of Joseph, declares that, as regards Jesus, this same Joseph sustains part of the adoptive, legal father. The extract from the public registers which the second hands down is not another edition of that of Joseph, in contradiction with the former; it is the genealogy of Levi, the father of Mary (see Luk 3:23 ). In transmitting this document, Luke is careful to observe that the opinion which made Jesus the son of Joseph was only a popular prejudice, and that the relationship of which he here indicates the links is the only real one. These are not, therefore, Jewish-Christian materials, as Keim maintains, but purely Jewish; and the evangelists, when inserting them into their writings, have imprinted on them, each after his own manner, the Christian seal.
Keim relies further on the silence of Paul respecting the miraculous birth. But is he really silent? Can it be maintained that the expression, Romans 1:3, “ made of the seed of David according to the flesh,” was intended by Paul to describe the entire fact of the human birth of Jesus? Is it not clear that the words, according to the flesh, are a restriction expressly designed to indicate another side to this fact, the action of another factor, called in the following clause the Spirit of holiness, by which he explains the miracle of the resurrection? The notion of the miraculous birth appears equally indispensable to explain the antithesis, 1 Corinthians 15:47: “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second, from heaven.” But whatever else he is, Paul is a man of logical mind. How then could he affirm, on the one hand, the hereditary transmission of sin and death by natural generation, as he does in Romans 5:12, and on the other the truly human birth of Jesus ( Gal 4:4 ), whom he regards as the Holy One, if, in his view, the birth of this extraordinary man was not of an exceptional charaeter? Only, as this fact could not, from its very nature, become the subject of apostolical testimony, nor for that reason enter into general preaching, Paul does not include it among the elements of the παράδοσις which he enumerates, 1Co 15:1 et seq. And if he does not make any special dogmatic use of it, it is because, as we have observed, the miraculous birth is only the negative condition of the holiness of Jesus; its positive condition is, and must be, His voluntary obedience; consequently it is this that Paul particularly brings out ( Rom 8:1-4 ). These reasons apply to the other didactic writings of the N. T.
2 d. It is arbitrary to maintain that the narrative of the descent of the Holy Spirit is only a later complement of the theory of the natural birth. Is not this narrative found in two of our synoptics by the side of that of the supernatural birth? And yet this is only a complement of the theory of the natural birth! Further, in all these synoptics alike, it is found closely and organically connected with two other facts, the ministry of John and the temptation, which proves that these three narratives formed a very firmly connected cycle in the evangelical tradition, and belonged to the very earliest preaching.
3 d. The idea of the pre-existence of Jesus is in no way a rival theory to that of the miraculous birth; on the contrary, the former implies the latter as its necessary element. It is the idea of the natural birth which, if we think a little, appears incompatible with that of the incarnation. M. Secretan admirably says: “Man represents the principle of individuality, of progress; woman, that of tradition, generality, species. The Saviour could not be the son of a particular man; He behoved to be the son of humanity, the Son of man. ”
4 th. So far from there being in the N. T. writings traces of three opposite theories on this point, the real state of the case is this: The disciples set out, just as the Jewish people did, with the idea of an ordinary birth; it was the natural supposition ( Joh 1:45 ). But as they came to understand the prophetic testimony, which makes the Messiah the supreme manifestation of Jehovah, and the testimony of Jesus Himself, which constantly implies a divine background to His human existence, they soon rose to a knowledge of the God-man, whose human existence was preceded by His divine existence. This step was taken, in the consciousness of the Church, a quarter of a century after the death of Jesus. The Epistles of Paul are evidence of it (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-17; Php 2:6-7 ). Lastly, the mode of transition from the divine existence to the human life, the fact of the miraculous birth, entered a little later into the sphere of the ecclesiastical world, by means of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, about thirty-five or forty years after the departure of the Saviour.
III. Connnection between these Narratives and the Christian Faith in general.
The miraculous birth is immediately and closely connected with the perfect holiness of Christ, which is the basis of the Christology; so much so, that whoever denies the former of these miracles, must necessarily be led to deny the latter; and whoever accepts the second, cannot fail to fall back on the first, which is indeed implied in it. As to the objection, that even if the biblical narrative of the miraculous birth is accepted, it is impossible to explain how it was that sin was not communicated to Jesus through His mother, it has been already answered (p. 93).
The miraculous birth is equally inseparable from the fact of the incarnation. It is true that the first may be admitted and the second rejected, but the reverse is impossible. The necessity for an exceptional mode of birth results from the pre-existence (p. 160). But here we confront the great objection to the miraculous birth: What becomes, from this point of view, of the real and proper humanity of the Saviour? Can it be reconciled with this exceptional mode of birth? “The conditions of existence being different from ours,” says Keim, “equality of nature no longer exists.”
But, we would ask those who reason in this way, do you admit the theories of Vogt respecting the origin of the human race? Do you make man proceed from the brute? If not, then you admit a creation of the human race; and in this case you must acknowledge that the conditions of existence in the case of the first couple were quite different from ours. Do you, on this ground, deny the full and real humanity of the first man? But to deny the human character to the being from whom has proceeded by way of generation, that is to say, by the transmission of his own nature, all that is called man, would be absurd. Identity of nature is possible, therefore, notwithstanding a difference in the mode of origin. To understand this fact completely, we need to have a complete insight into the relation of the individual to the species, which is the most unfathomable secret of nature. But there is something here still more serious. Jesus is not only the continuator of human nature as it already exists; He is the elect of God, by whom it is to be renewed and raised to its destined perfection. In Him is accomplished the new creation, which is the true end of the old. This work of a higher nature can only take place in virtue of a fresh and immediate contact of creative power with human nature. Keim agrees with this up to a certain point; for, while holding the paternal concurrence in the birth of this extraordinary man, he admits a divine interposition which profoundly influenced and completely sanctified the appearance of this Being. This attempt at explanation is a homage rendered to the incomparable moral greatness of Jesus, and we think it leaves untouched the great object of faith
Jesus Christ's dignity as the Saviour. But must we not retort upon this explanation the objection which Keim brings against the two notions of the pre-existence and the supernatural birth: “These are theories, not facts established by any documents!” If it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge that Jesus was a man specifically different from all others, and if, in order to explain this phenomenon, it is indispensable to stipulate, as Keim really does, for an exceptional mode of origin, then why not keep to the positive statements of our Gospels, which satisfy this demand, rather than throw ourselves upon pure speculation?
IV. Origin of the Narratives of the Infancy.
The difference of style, so absolute and abrupt, between Luke's preface ( Luk 1:1-4 ) and the following narratives, leaves no room for doubt that from Luk 1:5 the author makes use of documents of which he scrupulously preserves the very form. What were these documents? According to Schleiermacher, they were brief family records which the compiler of the Gospel contented himself with connecting together in such a way as to form a continuous narrative. But the modes of conclusion, and the general views which appear as recurring topics, in which Schleiermacher sees the proof of his hypothesis, on the contrary upset it. For these brief summaries, by their resemblance and correspondence, prove a unity of composition in the entire narrative. Volkmar regards the sources of these narratives as some originally Jewish materials, into which the author has infused his own Pauline feeling. According to Keim, their source would be the great Ebionitish writing which constitutes, in his opinion, the original trunk of our Gospel, on which the author set himself to graft his Paulinism. These two suppositions come to the same thing. We are certainly struck with the twofold character of these narratives; there is a spirit of profound and scrupulous fidelity to the law, side by side with a not less marked universalist tendency. But are these really two currents of contrary origin? I think not. The old covenant already contained these two currents, one strictly legal, the other to a great extent universalist. Universalism is even, properly speaking, the primitive current; legalism was only added to it afterwards, if it is true that Abraham preceded Moses. The narratives of the infancy reflect simply and faithfully this twofold character; for they exhibit to us the normal transition from the old to the new covenant. If the so-called Pauline element had been introduced into it subsequently, it would have taken away much more of the original tone, and would not appear organically united with it; and if it were only the product of a party manoeuvre, its polemical character could not have been so completely disguised. These two elements, as they present themselves in these narratives, in no way prove, therefore, two sources of an opposite religious nature.
The true explanation of the origin of Luke's and Matthew's narrative appears to me to be found in the following fact. In Matthew, Joseph is the principal personage. It is to him that the angel appears; he comes to calm his perplexities; it is to him that the name of Jesus is notified and explained. If the picture of the infancy be represented, as in a stereoscope, in a twofold form, in Matthew it is seen on the side of Joseph; in Luke, on the contrary, it is Mary who assumes the principal part. It is she who receives the visit of the angel; to her is communicated the name of the child her private feelings are brought out in the narrative; it is she who is prominent in the address of Simeon and in the history of the search for the child. The picture is the same, but it is taken this time on Mary's side.
From this we can draw no other conclusion than that the two cycles of narratives emanate from two different centres. One of these was the circle of which Joseph was the centre, and which we may suppose consisted of Cleopas his brother, James and Jude his sons, of whom one was the first bishop of the flock at Jerusalem; and Simeon, a son of Cleopas, the first successor of James. The narratives preserved amongst these persons might easily reach the ear of the author of the first Gospel, who doubtless lived in the midst of this flock; and his Gospel, which, far more than Luke's, was the record of the official preaching, was designed to reproduce rather that side of the facts which up to a certain point already belonged to the public. But a cycle of narratives must also have formed itself round Mary, in the retreat in which she ended her career. These narratives would have a much more private character, and would exhibit more of the inner meaning of the external facts. These, doubtless, are those which Luke has preserved. How he succeeded in obtaining access to this source of information, to which he probably alludes in the ἄνωθεν ( Luk 1:3 ), we do not know. But it is certain that the nature of these narratives was better suited to the private character of his work. Does not Luke give us a glimpse, as it were designedly, of this incomparable source of information in the remarks (Luke 2:19; Luk 2:50-51 ) which, from any other point of view, could hardly be anything else than a piece of charlatanism?
We think that these two cycles of narratives existed for a certain time, the one as a public tradition, the other as a family souvenir, in a purely oral form. The author of the first Gospel was doubtless the first who drew up the former, adapting it to the didactic aim which he proposed to himself in his work. The latter was originally in Aramaean, and under any circumstances could only have been drawn up, as we have shown, after the termination of the ministry of Jesus. It was in this form that Luke found it. He translated it, and inserted it in his work. The very songs had been faithfully preserved until then. For this there was no need of the stenographer. Mary's heart had preserved all; the writer himself testifies as much, and he utters no vain words. The deeper feelings are, the more indelibly graven on the soul are the thoughts which embody them; and the recollection of the peculiar expressions in which they find utterance remains indissolubly linked with the recollection of the thoughts themselves. Every one has verified this experience in the graver moments of his life.
Lastly, in the question which now occupies our attention, let us not forget to bear in mind the importance which these narratives possessed in the view of the two writers who have handed them down to us. They wrote seriously, because they were believers, and wrote to win the faith of the world.
PROLOGUE, Luke 1:1-4 .
THE first of our synoptic Gospels opens with a genealogy. This mode of entering upon the subject transports us into a completely Jewish world. This preamble is, as it were, a continuation of the genealogical registers of Genesis; in the βίβλος γενέσεως of Matthew ( Mat 1:1 ) we have again the Ellé Tholedoth of Moses.
How different Luke's prologue, and in what an entirely different atmosphere it places us from the first! Not only is it written in most classical Greek, but it reminds us by its contents of the similar preambles of the most illustrious Greek historians, especially those of Herodotus and Thucydides. The more thoroughly we examine it, the more we find of that delicacy of sentiment and refinement of mind which constitute the predominant traits of the Hellenic character. Baur, it is true, thought he discerned in it the work of a forger. Ewald, on the contrary, admires its true simplicity, noble modesty, and terse conciseness. It appears to us, as to Holtzmann, “that between these two opinions the choice is not difficult.” The author does not seek to put himself in the rank of the Christian authorities; he places himself modestly among men of the second order. He feels it necessary to excuse the boldness of his enterprise, by referring to the numerous analogous attempts that have preceded his own. He does not permit himself to undertake the work of writing a Gospel history until he has furnished himself with all the aids fitted to enable him to attain the lofty aim he sets before him. There is a striking contrast between his frank and modest attitude and that of a forger. It excludes even the ambitious part of a secretary of the Apostle Paul, which tradition has not been slow to claim for the author of our Gospel.
This prologue is not least interesting for the information it contains respecting the earliest attempts at writing histories of the Gospel. Apart from these first lines of Luke, we know absolutely nothing definite about the more ancient narratives of the life of Jesus which preceded the composition of our Gospels. Therefore every theory as to the origin of the synoptics, which is not constructed out of the materials furnished by this preface, runs the risk of being thrown aside as a tissue of vain hypotheses the day after it has seen the light.
This introduction is a dedication, in which Luke initiates the reader into the idea, method, and aim of his work. He is far from being the first who has attempted to handle this great subject ( Luk 1:1 ). Numerous written narratives on the history of Jesus are already in existence; they all of them rest on the oral narrations of the apostles ( Luk 1:2 ). But while drawing also on this original source, Luke has collected more particular information, in order to supplement, select, and properly arrange the materials for which the Church is indebted to apostolic tradition. His aim, lastly, is to furnish his readers, by this connected account of the facts, with the means of establishing their certainty ( Luk 1:4 ).
Vers. 2-4. “ Since, as is known, many have undertaken to compose a narrative of the events which have been accomplished amongst us, (2) in conformity with that which they have handed down to us who were eye-witnesses of them from the beginning, and who became ministers of the word, (3) I have thought good also myself, after carefully informing myself of all these facts from their commencement, to write a consecutive account of them for thee, most excellent Theophilus, (4) in order that thou mightest know the immoveable certainty of the instructions which thou hast received. ”
This period, truly Greek in its style, has been composed with particular care. We do not find a style like it in all the New Testament, except at the end of the Acts and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As to the thought of this prologue, it cannot be better summed up than in these lines of Tholuck: “Although not an immediate witness of the facts that took place, I have none the less undertaken, following the example of many others, to publish an account of them according to the information I have gathered.”
The conjunction ἐπειδήπερ is found nowhere else in the New Testament; it has a certain solemnity. To the idea of since ( ἐπεί ), δή adds that of notoriety: “since, as is well known;” περ draws attention to the relation between the great number of these writings and the importance of the events related: It is so ( δή ), and it could not be otherwise ( περ ).
The relation between the since thus defined and the principal verb, I have thought good, is easy to seize: If my numerous predecessors have not been blamed, why should I be blamed, who am only walking in their steps?
The term ἐπεχείρησαν , have undertaken, involves no blame of the skill of these predecessors, as several Fathers have thought; the I have thought good also myself is sufficient to exclude this supposition. This expression is suggested by the greatness of the task, and contains a slight allusion to the insufficiency of the attempts hitherto made to accomplish it.
The nature of these older writings is indicated by the term ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν , to set in order a narrative. It is a question, as Thiersch says, of an attempt at arrangement. Did this arrangement consist in the harmonizing of a number of separate writings into a single whole, so as to make a consecutive history of them? In this case, we should have to admit that the writers of whom Luke speaks had already found in the Church a number of short writings on particular events, which they had simply united: their work would thus constitute a second step in the development of the writing of the Gospel history. But the expression, in conformity with that which they have handed down to us, hardly leaves room for intermediate accounts between the apostolic tradition and the writings of which Luke speaks. The notion of arrangement, then, refers rather to the facts themselves which these authors had co-ordinated in such a way as to make a consecutive narrative of them. The term diegesis designates not, as Schleiermacher maintained, recitals of isolated facts, but a complete narrative.
What idea should we form of these writings, and are they to be ranked among the sources on which Luke has drawn?
Certain extra-canonical Gospels, which criticism has sometimes regarded as prior to Luke's, may be thought of, that of the Hebrews, for example, in which Lessing was disposed to find the common source of our three synoptics; or that of Marcion, which Ritschl and Baur regarded as the principal document reproduced by Luke. But does not tradition exhibit itself in these writings in a form already perceptibly altered, and very far removed from the primitive purity and freshness which characterize our canonical Gospels? They are then later than Luke.
Or does Luke allude to our Gospels of Matthew and Mark? This is maintained by those who think that Luke wrote after Matthew and Mark (Hug), or only after Matthew (Griesbach, etc.). But however little Luke shared in the traditional opinion which attributed the first Gospel to the Apostle Matthew, he could not speak of that writing as he speaks here; for he clearly opposes to the writers of the tradition (the πολλοί , Luk 1:1 ), the apostles who were the authors of it. It may be affirmed, from the connection of Luk 1:2 with Luke 1:1, that Luke was not acquainted with a single written Gospel emanating from an apostle. As to the collection of the Logia (discourses of the Lord), which some attribute to Matthew, it certainly would not be excluded by Luke's expressions; for the term diegesis denotes a recital, a historical narrative. Hug, in his desire to save his hypothesis, according to which Luke made use of Matthew, explained Luk 1:1-2 in this sense: “Many have undertaken to compose written Gospels similar to those which the apostles bequeathed to us...” But this sense would require ὁποῖα ( βιβλία ) instead of καθώς , and has not been accepted by any one.
As to the Gospel of Mark, Luke's expressions might certainly suit this writing. For, according to tradition, Mark made use in his narrative of the accounts of an eye-witness, St. Peter. But still it may be questioned whether Luke would have employed the term undertake in speaking of a work which was received in the Church as one of the essential documents of the life of Jesus. For the rest, exegesis alone can determine whether Luke really had Mark before him either in its present or in a more ancient form.
It appears probable, therefore, to me, that the works to which Luke alludes are writings really unknown and lost. Their incompleteness condemned them to extinction, in proportion as writings of superior value, such as our synoptics, spread through the Church.
As to whether Luke availed himself of these writings, and in any way embodied them in his own work, he does not inform us. But is it not probable, since he was acquainted with them, that he would make some use of them? Every aid would appear precious to him in a work the importance of which he so deeply felt.
The subject of these narratives is set forth in expressions that have a touch of solemnity: “the events which have been accomplished amongst us.” Πληροφορεῖν is a word analogous in composition and meaning to τελεσφορεῖν ( to bring to an end, to maturity, Luk 8:14 ). It signifies, when it refers to a fact, to bring it to complete accomplishment (2 Timothy 4:5, to accomplish the ministry; Luke 1:17, to accomplish [to finish rendering] the testimony); and when it refers to a person, it means to cause him to attain inward fulness [of conviction], that is to say, a conviction which leaves no room for doubt (Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5; Hebrews 10:22, etc.). With a substantive such as πράγματα , the second sense is inadmissible. Nevertheless, it has been defended by some of the Fathers, by some modern interpreters, as Beza, Grotius, Olshausen, and by Meyer, who concludes from 2Ti 4:17 that πληροφεῖσθαι may also be applied to things in the sense of being believed. But when Paul says, “In order that the testimony might be accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear it,” the last words plainly show that accomplished signifies not fully believed, but fully rendered. This term, which has more weight than the simple πληροῦν , is designedly chosen here to indicate that these events were not simple accidents, but accomplished a preconceived plan; the divine thought carried into execution was, as it were, a measure which filled up itself.
Doubtless, what has led many interpreters to prefer the sense of fully believed, is the complement amongst us. This is said that the facts of the gospel were accomplished not only in the presence of believers, but before the Jewish people and the whole world. This is true; but was not Jesus from the beginning surrounded by a circle of disciples, chosen to be witnesses of His life? It is with this meaning that John says, Luke 20:30, “Jesus did many other miracles in the presence of His disciples; ” and Luke 1:14, “He dwelt among us ( ἐν ἡμῖν ), and we saw His glory,” a sentence in which the last words limit the us to the circle of believers. The meaning is the same here. In Luk 1:2 the sense of the word us is more limited still. Here us denotes the Church with the apostles; in Luke 1:2, the Church apart from the apostles. Bleek extends the meaning of the word us, in Luke 1:1, to the whole contemporary generation both within and without the Church. But Luke, writing for believers, could scarcely use us in such a general sense as this.
In this expression, “the events accomplished amongst us,” did the author include also the contents of the book of the Acts, and did he intend the preface to apply to the two books, so that the Acts would be just the second volume of the Gospel? The words amongst us would be more easily explained in this case, and the mention made of the apostles as ministers of the word ( Luk 1:2 ) might lead us to this supposition. It is not probable, however, that Luke would have applied to the facts related in the Acts the expressions παράδοσις , tradition ( Luk 1:2 ), and κατήχησις , instruction ( Luk 1:4 ). The subject of apostolical tradition and catechetical instruction could only be the history and teaching of Jesus. It is impossible, therefore, to infer from this preface, that when Luke wrote his Gospel he had in view the composition of the book of the Acts.
Ver. 3. Tradition emanating from the apostles was the common source, according to Luke 1:2, of all the first written narratives. The general accuracy of these accounts follows from καθώς , in conformity with that which. This conjunction can only refer to the principal thought of Luke 1:1, to compose a narrative, and not to the secondary idea πεπληροφορημἑνων , as Olshausen thinks, who translates, “fully believed in conformity with the account of the first witnesses.”
As the two substantives, αὐτόπται and ὑπηρέται , witnesses and ministers, have each certain defining expressions which especially belong to them (the first, ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς , from the beginning, and the second, γενόμενοι , become, and τοῦ λόγου , of the word), the most simple construction appears to us to be to regard οἱ , the, as a pronoun, and make it the subject of the proposition: they (the men about to be pointed out). This subject is defined by the two following substantives, which are in apposition, and indicate the qualification in virtue of which these men became the authors of the tradition. 1. Witnesses from the beginning. The word ἀρχή , beginning, in this context, can only refer to the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, particularly to His baptism, as the starting-point of those things which have been accomplished amongst us. Comp. Acts 1:21-22, for the sense; and for the expression, John 15:27; John 16:4. Olshausen would extend the application of this title of witnesses from the beginning to the witnesses of the birth and infancy of Jesus. But the expression became ministers of the word does not allow of this application. 2. Ministers of the word; become ministers, as the text literally reads. This expression is in contrast with the preceding. These men began afterwards to be ministers of the word; they only became such after Pentecost. It was then that their part as witnesses was transformed into that of preachers. The sense then is: “Those who were witnesses from the commencement, and who afterwards became ministers of the word.”
If ὑπηρέται , ministers, is thus taken as a second noun of apposition with οἱ , parallel to the first, there is no longer any difficulty in referring the complement τοῦ λόγου , of the word, to ὑπηρέται , ministers, alone, and taking this word in its ordinary sense of preaching the gospel. This also disposes of the reason which induced certain Fathers (Origen, Athanasius) to give the term word the meaning of the eternal Word ( Joh 1:1 ), which is very forced in this connection. Only in this way could they make this complement depend simultaneously on the two substantives, witnesses and ministers The same motive led Beza, Grotius, and Bleek to understand the term word here in the sense in which it is frequently taken the thing related: “eye-witnesses and ministers of the Gospel history.” But in passages where the term word bears this meaning, it is fixed by some defining expression: thus, at Luk 1:4 by the relative proposition, and in Acts 8:21; Acts 15:6 (which Bleek quotes), by a demonstrative pronoun.
With the third verse we reach the principal proposition. Luke places himself by the κᾀμοὶ , myself also, in the same rank as his predecessors. He does not possess, any more than they, a knowledge of the Gospel history as a witness; he belongs to the second generation of the ἡμεῖς , us ( Luk 1:2 ), which is dependent on the narratives of the apostles.
Some Italic MSS. add here to mihi, et spiritui sancto (it has pleased me and the Holy Spirit), a gloss taken from Acts 15:28, which clearly shows in what direction the tradition was gradually altered.
While placing himself in the same rank as his predecessors, Luke nevertheless claims a certain superiority in comparison with them. Otherwise, why add to their writings, which are already numerous ( πολλοί ), a fresh attempt? This superiority is the result of his not having confined himself to collecting the apostolic traditions current in the Church. Before proceeding to write, he obtained exact information, by means of which he was enabled to select, supplement, and arrange the materials furnished by those oral narratives which his predecessors had contented themselves with reproducing just as they were. The verb παρακολουθεῖν , to follow step by step, is not used here in the literal sense; this sense would require πᾶσιν to be taken as masculine: all the apostles, and thus would lead to an egregiously false idea; the author could not have accompanied all the apostles! The verb, therefore, must be taken in the figurative sense which it frequently has in the classics: to study anything point by point; thus Demosth. de coronâ, 53: παρακολουθηκὼς τοῖς πράγμασιν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς . Comp. 2 Timothy 3:10, where we see the transition from the purely literal to the figurative meaning. The πάντα , all things, are the events related ( Luk 1:1 ). Luke might have put the participle in the accusative: παρακολουθηκότα ; but then he would only have indicated the succession of the two actions, the acquisition of information, and the composition which followed it. This is not his thought. The dative makes the information obtained a quality inherent in his person, which constitutes his qualification for the accomplishment of this great work.
Luke's information bore particularly on three points: 1. He sought first of all to go back to the origin of the facts, to the very starting-point of this res christiana which he desired to describe. This is expressed in the word ἄνωθεν , literally from above, from the very beginning. The author compares himself to a traveller who tries to discover the source of a river, in order that he may descend it again, and follow its entire course. The apostolic tradition, as current in the Church, did not do this; it began with the ministry of John the Baptist, and the baptism of Jesus. It is in this form that we find it set forth in the Gospel of Mark, and summarized in Peter's preaching at the house of Cornelius, and in Paul's at Antioch in Pisidia ( Act 10:37 et seq., Luk 13:23 et seq.). The author here alludes to the accounts contained in the first two chapters of his Gospel. 2. After having gone back to the commencement of the Gospel history, he endeavoured to reproduce as completely as possible its entire course ( πᾶσιν , all things, all the particular facts which it includes). Apostolic tradition probably had a more or less fragmentary character; the apostles not relating every time the whole of the facts, but only those which best answered to the circumstances in which they were preaching. This is expressly said of St. Peter on the testimony of Papias, or of the old presbyter on whom he relied: πρὸς τὰς χρείας ἐποιεῖτο τὰς διδασκαλίας (he chose each time the facts appropriate to the needs of his hearers). Important omissions would easily result from this mode of evangelization. By this word πᾶσιν , all things, Luke probably alludes to that part of his Gospel ( Luk 9:51 to Luk 18:14 ), by which the tradition, as we have it set forth in our first two synoptics, is enriched with a great number of facts and new discourses, and with the account of a long course of evangelization probably omitted, until Luke gave it, in the public narration. 3. He sought to confer on the Gospel history that exactness and precision which tradition naturally fails to have, after being handed about for some time from mouth to mouth. We know how quickly, in similar narratives, characteristic traits are effaced, and the facts transposed. Diligent and scrupulous care is required afterwards to replace the stones of the edifice in their right position, and give them their exact form and sharpness of edge. Now the third Gospel is distinguished, as we shall see, by the constant effort to trace the continued progressive development of the work of Jesus, to show the connection of the facts, to place each discourse in its historical setting, and to exhibit its exact purport.
By means of this information bearing upon the three points indicated, the author hopes he shall be qualified to draw a consecutive picture, reproducing the actual course of events: καθεξῆς γράψαι , to write in order. It is impossible in this connection to understand the phrase in order in the sense of a systematic classification, as Ebrard prefers; here the term must stand for a chronological order.
The term καθεξῆς is not found in the New Testament except in Luke.
Ver. 4. And now, what is the aim of the work thus conceived? To strengthen the faith of Theophilus and his readers in the reality of this extraordinary history.
On Theophilus, see the Introduction, see sec. 3.
The epithet κράτιστος is applied several times, in the writings of Luke, to high Roman officials, such as Felix and Festus: Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3; Acts 26:25. It is frequently met with in medals of the time. Luke wishes to show his friend and patron, that he is not unmindful of the exalted rank he occupies. But in his opinion, one mention suffices. He does not deem it necessary to repeat this somewhat ceremonious form at the beginning of the book of the Acts.
The work executed on the plan indicated is to give Theophilus the means of ascertaining and verifying ( ἐπιγινώσκειν ) the irrefragable certainty ( ἀσφάλειαν ) of the instruction which he had already received. The construction of this last phrase has been understood in three ways. The most complicated is to understand a second περί· τὴν ἀσφάλειαν περὶ τῶν λόγων περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης ; the second and more simple, adopted by Bleek, is to make περί depend not on ἀσφάλειαν , but on κατηχήθης : τὴν ἀσφάλειαν τῶν λόγων περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης . But the example κατηχήθησαν περί σου ( Act 21:21 ), which Bleek quotes, is not analogous; for there the object of περί is personal: “they are informed of thee. ” The simplest construction is this: τὴν ἀσφάλειαν περὶ τῶν λόγων οὓς κατηχήθης , certitude touching the instruction which...Comp. for this form κατηχεῖσθαί τι , Acts 18:25, Galatians 6:6.
The term κατηχεῖν , to cause a sound to penetrate into the ears, and thereby also a fact, an idea, into the mind, may simply mean that intelligence of the great events of which Luke speaks had reached Theophilus by public report (Acts 21:21; Act 21:24 ); or it may denote instruction properly so called, as Romans 2:18, Acts 18:25, Galatians 6:6; neither the expressions nor the context appear to me to offer sufficient reasons to decide which. Perhaps the truth lies between these two extreme opinions. Theophilus might have talked with Christian evangelists without receiving such catechetical instruction, in the strict sense of the term, as was often given when a church was founded (Thiersch, Versuch, p. 122 et seq.); and then have applied to Luke with a view to obtain through his labours something more complete.
The word ἀσφάλειαν is relegated to the end, to express with greater force the idea of the irrefragable certainty of the facts of the Gospel.
It is a very nice question whether the term λόγοι , which we have translated instruction, here refers solely to the historical contents of the Gospel, or also to the religious meaning of the facts, as that comes out of the subsequent narrative. In the former case, Luke would simply mean that the certainty of each particular fact was established by its relation to the whole, which could not well be invented. An extraordinary fact, which, presented separately, appears impossible, becomes natural and rational when it takes its place in a well-certified sequence of facts to which it belongs. In strictness, this meaning might be sufficient. But when we try to identify ourselves completely with the author's mind, do we not see, in this instruction of which he speaks, something more than a simple narrative of facts? Does not the passage in 1Co 15:1-4 show that, in apostolic instruction, religious comment was inseparable from the historical text? Was it not with a view to faith that facts were related in the preaching of the gospel? and does not faith, in order to appropriate them, require an exposition of their meaning and importance? The instruction already received by Theophilus refers, then, without doubt to the Gospel history, but not as isolated from its religious interpretation; and since we have to do here with a reader belonging to a circle of Christians of heathen origin, the signification given to this history could be none other than that twofold principle of the universality and free grace of salvation which constituted the substance of what Paul calls his gospel. Luke's object, then, was to relate the Christian fact in such a way as to show that, from its very starting-point, the work and preaching of Jesus Himself had had no other meaning. This was the only way of making evangelical instruction, as formulated by St. Paul, rest on an immoveable basis. As a consequence, this apostle ceased to appear an innovator, and became the faithful expositor of the teaching of Jesus. To write a Gospel with this view, was to introduce beneath the vast ecclesiastical edifice raised by Paul, the only foundation which could in the end prevent it from falling. For whatever there is in the church that does not emanate from Jesus, holds a usurped and consequently a transitory place. This would be true even of the spiritualism of St. Paul, if it did not proceed from Jesus Christ. Certainly it does not therefore follow, that the acts and words of Jesus which Luke relates, and in which the universalist tendency of the Gospel is manifested, were invented or modified by him in the interest of this tendency. Is it not important for him, on the contrary, to prove to his readers that this tendency was not infused into the Gospel by Paul, but is a legitimate deduction from the work and teaching of Jesus Christ? The essential truth of this claim will be placed beyond all suspicion when we come to prove, on the one hand, that the author has in no way tried to mutilate the narrative by suppressing those facts which might yield a different tendency from that which he desired to justify; on the other, that the tendency which he favours is inseparable from the course of the facts themselves.
If we have correctly apprehended the meaning of the last words of the prologue, we must expect to find in the third Gospel the counterpart of the first. As that is A Treatise on the right of Jesus to the Messianic sovereignty of Israel, this is A Treatise on the right of the heathen to share in the Messianic kingdom founded by Jesus. In regard to the earliest writings on the subject of the Gospel history, we may draw from this preface four important results: 1. The common source from which the earliest written narratives of the history of the ministry of Jesus proceeded was the oral testimony of the apostles, the διδαχή τῶν ἀποστόλων , which is spoken of in Act 2:42 as the daily food dispensed by them to the rising Church. 2. The work of committing this apostolic tradition to writing began early, not later than the period of transition from the first to the second Christian generation; and it was attempted by numerous authors at the same time. Nothing in the text of Luke authorizes us to think, with Gieseler, that this was done only amongst the Greeks. From the earliest times, the art of writing prevailed amongst the Jews; children even were not ignorant of it ( Jdg 8:14 ). 3. In composing his Gospel, Luke possessed the apostolic tradition, not merely in the oral form in which it circulated in the churches, but also reduced to writing in a considerable number of these early works; and these constituted two distinct sources. 4. But he did not content himself with these two means of information; he made use, in addition, of personal investigations designed to complete, correct, and arrange the materials which he derived from these two sources.
Having obtained these definite results, it only remains to see whether they contain the elements required for the solution of the problem of the origin of our synoptics, and of the composition of our Gospel in particular. We shall examine them for this purpose at the conclusion of the work.
1. The trial: Luke 1:5-7. For 400 years direct communications between the Lord and His people had ceased. To the lengthened seed-time of the patriarchal, Mosaic, and prophetic periods, had succeeded a season of harvest. A fresh seed-time, the second and last phase of divine revelation, was about to open; this time God would address Himself to the whole world. But when God begins a new work, He does not scornfully break with the instrument by which the past work has been effected. As it is from the seclusion of a convent that in the middle ages He will take the reformer of the Church, so it is from the loins of an Israelitish priest that He now causes to come forth the man who is to introduce the world to the renovation prepared for it. The temple itself, the centre of the theocracy, becomes the cradle of the new covenant, of the worship in spirit and in truth. There is, then, a divine suitability in the choice both of the actors and theatre of the scene which is about to take place.
The days of Herod ( Luk 1:5 ) designate the time of this prince's reign. This fact agrees with Mat 2:1 et seq., where the birth of Jesus is also placed in the reign of Herod. It may be inferred from Mat 2:19 that this birth happened quite at the end of this reign. According to Josephus, the death of Herod must have taken place in the spring of the year 750 U.C. Jesus, therefore, must have been born at latest in 749, or quite at the beginning of 750. It follows from this, that in the fifth century our era was fixed at least four years too late.
The title of King of Judea had been decreed to Herod by the Senate on the recommendation of Antony and Octavius. The course of Abia was the eighth of the twenty-four courses or ephemeriae into which, from David's time, the college of priests had been divided ( 1Ch 24:10 ). Each of these classes did duty for eight days, from one Sabbath to another, once every six months ( 2Ki 11:9 ). ᾿Εφημερία , properly daily service; thence: in rotation, returning on a fixed day; thence: lastly, the group of persons subject to this rotation. As we know that the day on which the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed was the ninth of the fifth month of the year 823 U.C., that is to say, the 4th of August of the year 70 of our era; and as, according to the Talmud, it was the first ephemeria which was on duty that day, we may reckon, calculating backwards, that in the year which must have preceded that in which Jesus was born, that is to say, probably in 748, the ephemeria of Abia was on duty in the week from the 17th to the 23d of April, and in that from the 3d to the 9th of October. Therefore John the Baptist would be born nine months after one of these two dates, and Jesus six months later, consequently in the month of July 749, or in the month of January 750. In this calculation, however, of the time of year to which the births of John and Jesus should be assigned, everything depends on the determination of the year of the birth of Jesus. But this is a question which is not yet decided with any certainty.
The Hebraistic colouring of the style is seen particularly: 1 st, in the expression ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ( בִּימֵי ); 2 dly, in the connection of propositions by means of the particle καί , instead of the Greek syntactical construction by means of relative pronouns and conjunctions; 3 dly, in the employment of the verb ἐγένετο in the sense of וַיַהִי . The subject of ἐγένετο is not, as is generally thought, the word ἱερεύς , but rather the verb ἦν , which must be understood in the three following propositions (comp. Luke 1:8, ἐγένετο ἔλαχε ).
The Alex. reading γυνὴ αὐτῷ , which is more uncouth and Hebraistic than ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ , is probably the true reading.
The term righteous ( Luk 1:6 ) indicates general conformity of conduct to the divine precepts; this quality does not absolutely exclude sin (comp. Luk 1:18-20 ). It simply supposes that the man humbly acknowledges his sin, strives to make amends for it, and, aided from on high, struggles against it.
The Byz. reading ἐνώπιον , in the presence, under the eyes of, appears preferable to the Alexandrian reading ἐναντίον , in the face of, before. God and man cannot be represented as being face to face in this passage, where God's judgment on man is in question (see at Luk 1:8 ). ᾿Ενώπιον answers to לִפְנֵי , and expresses the inward reality of this righteousness.
The two terms ἐντολαί and δικαιώματα , commandments and ordinances, have been distinguished in different ways. The former appears to us to refer to the more general principles of the moral law to the Decalogue, for example; the latter, to the multitude of particular Levitical ordinances. Δικαίωμα properly is, what God has declared righteous.
As the expression before God brings out the inward truth of this righteousness, so the following, walking in..., indicates its perfect fidelity in practice. The term blameless no more excludes sin here than Philippians 3:6. The wellknown description in Romans 7:0 explains the sense in which this word must be taken. The germ of concupiscence may exist in the heart, even under the covering of the most complete external obedience.
Ver. 7. In the heart of this truly theocratic family, so worthy of the divine blessing, a grievous want was felt. To have no children was a trial the more deeply felt in Israel, that barrenness was regarded by the Jews as a mark of divine displeasure, according to Genesis 2:0 Καθότι does not signify because that exactly, but in accordance with this, that. It is one of those terms which, in the New Testament, only occur in Luke's writings (Luke 19:9, and four times in the Acts). If, therefore, as Bleek thinks, Luke had found these narratives already composed in Greek, he must nevertheless admit that he has modified their style. The last proposition cannot, it appears, depend on καθότι , seeing that; for it would not be logical to say, “ They had no children...seeing that they were both well stricken in years.” So, many make these last words an independent sentence. The position, however, of the verb ἦσαν at the end, tends rather to make this phrase depend on καθότι . To do this, it suffices to supply a thought: They had no children, and they retained but little hope of having any, seeing that...” The expression προβεβηκότες ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῶν is purely Hebraistic (Genesis 18:11; Genesis 24:1; Joshua 13:1; 1 Kings 1:1 בּוֹאבַּיָּמִים ).
First Narrative: Announcement of the Birth of John the Baptist, Luke 1:5-25 .
The first words of the narrative bring us back from the midst of Greece, whither we were transported by the prologue, into a completely Jewish world. The very style changes its character. From the fifth verse it is so saturated with Aramaisms, that the contrast with the four preceding verses resulting from it obliges us to admit, either that the author artificially modifies his language in order to adapt it to his subject, and so produces an imitation, a refinement of method scarcely probable, or that he is dealing with ancient documents, the Aramaic colouring of which he endeavours to preserve as faithfully as possible. This second supposition alone appears admissible. But it may assume two forms. Either the author simply copies a Greek document which already had the Hebraistic character with which we are struck; or the document in his hands is in the Aramean tongue, and he translates it into Greek. Bleek maintains the first view. We shall examine, at the seventy-eighth verse of chap. 1, his principal proof. As all the most characteristic peculiarities of Luke's style are found in these two chapters, the second alternative is by this circumstance rendered more probable.
But in this case it is asked, Why Luke, translating from the Aramean, did not reproduce his document in purer Greek, as he was perfectly competent to do; comp. Luke 1:1-4. And he is blamed for his servility as a translator.
It is exactly as if M. de Barante were blamed for preserving with all possible fidelity, in his history of the Dukes of Burgundy, the style of the ancient chronicles from which the contents of his narrative are drawn; or M. Augustin Thierry, for “having kept as near as he possibly could to the language of the ancient historians.” So far from deserving the blame of his critics, Luke has shown himself a man of exquisite taste, in that he has preserved throughout his narrative all the flavour of the documents he uses, and has availed himself of the incomparable flexibility of the Greek language to reproduce in all their purity of substance and form, and give, as it were, a tracing of the precious documents which had fallen into his hands.
This first narrative describes: 1. The trial of Zacharias and Elizabeth ( Luk 1:5-7 ). 2. The promise of deliverance ( Luk 1:8-22 ). 3. The accomplishment of this promise ( Luk 1:23-25 ).
FIRST PART: THE NARRATIVES OF THE INFANCY, Luk 1:5 to Luke 2:52
Both the first and the third Gospel open with a cycle of narratives relating to the birth and childhood of Jesus. These narratives do not appear to have formed part of the tradition bequeathed to the Church by the apostles ( Luk 1:2 ). At least, neither the Gospel of Mark, the document which appears to correspond most nearly with the type of the primitive preaching, nor the oldest example we have of this early preaching, Peter's discourse in the house of Cornelius ( Act 10:37-48 ), go further back than the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. The reason, doubtless, for this is, that edification was the sole aim of apostolic preaching. It was intended to lay the foundation of the faith; and in order to do this, the apostles had only to testify concerning what they had themselves seen and heard during the time they had been with Jesus (John 15:27; Act 1:21-22 ).
But these facts with which their preaching commenced supposed antecedent circumstances. Actual events of such an extraordinary nature could not have happened without preparation. This Jesus, whom Mark himself designates from the outset ( Luk 1:1 ) as the Son of God, could not have fallen from heaven as a full-grown man of thirty years of age. Just as a botanist, when he admires a new flower, will not rest until he has dug it up by the roots, while an ordinary observer will be satisfied with seeing its blossom; so among believers, among the Greeks especially, there must have been thoughtful minds
Luke and Theophilus are representatives of such who felt the need of supplying what the narratives of the official witnesses of the ministry of Jesus were deficient in respecting the origin of this history.
The historical interest itself awakened by faith must have tended to dissipate the obscurity which enveloped the first appearance of a being so exceptional as He who was the subject of the evangelical tradition. In proportion as the first enthusiasm of faith gave place, at the transition period between the first and the second generation of Christians, to careful reflection, this need would be felt with growing intensity. Luke felt constrained to satisfy it in his first two chapters. It is evident that the contents of this Gospel of the Infancy proceed neither from apostolic tradition ( Luk 1:2 ), nor from any of the numerous writings to which allusion is made ( Luk 1:1 ), but that they are derived from special information which Luke had obtained. It is to these two chapters especially that Luke alludes in the third verse of the prologue ( ἄνωθεν , from the beginning).
A similar need must have been felt, probably at the same time, in the Jewish-Christian world; only it arose out of another principle. There was no demand there for the satisfaction of the historic sense. In those circles, interest in the Messianic question prevailed over all others. They wanted to know whether from the beginning the child, as well as afterwards the grown man, had not been divinely pointed out as the Messiah. The first two chapters of St. Matthew are plainly intended to meet this need.
In this way we obtain a natural explanation of the extension of the Gospel history to the first commencement of the life of Jesus, and just in those different directions which are to be observed in our two Gospels.
But does not this imply consequences somewhat unfavourable to the truth of the narratives comprised in these two cycles, Luke 2:0. and Matthew 1-2? It is admitted: 1. That these narratives of the infancy lack the guarantee of apostolic testimony. 2. That the wants which we have pointed out might easily call into activity the Christian imagination, and, in the absence of positive history, seek their satisfaction in legend. These narratives are actually regarded in this light, not only by Strauss or Baur, but even by such men as Meyer, Weizsäcker, and Keim, who do not generally avow themselves partisans of the mythical interpretation. What in their view renders these narratives suspicious is their poetical character, and the marvels with which they abound (a great number of angelic appearances and of prophetic songs); the complete silence of the other New Testament writings respecting the miraculous birth (there is no mention of it in Paul, or even in John); certain facts of the subsequent history (the unbelief of the brethren of Jesus and of His own mother) which appear incompatible with the miraculous circumstances of this birth; contradictions between Matthew and Luke on several important points; and lastly, historical errors in Luke's narrative, which may be proved by comparing it with the facts of Jewish and Roman history.
We can only examine these various reasons as we pursue in detail the study of the text. As to the way in which the wants we have indicated were satisfied, we would observe: 1. That it is natural to suppose, since the matter in question was regarded as sacred both by the writers and the Church, that the more simple and reverential process of historical investigation would be employed before having recourse to fiction. It is only at a later stage, when the results obtained by this means are no longer sufficient to satisfy curiosity and a corrupted faith, that invention comes in to the aid of history. The apocryphal Gospels, which made their appearance as early as the end of the first century, indicate the time when this change was in operation. Luke, if we may trust his preface, belongs to the first period, that of investigation. 2. It is evident that Luke himself, on the authority of information which he had obtained, believed in the reality of the facts which he relates in his first two chapters as firmly as in that of all the rest of the Gospel history. His narrative bears numerous marks of its strictly historical character: the course of Abia, the city of Galilee named Nazareth, the city of the hill-country of Juda, where dwelt the parents of John the Baptist, the census of Cyrenius, the eighty-four years' widowhood of Anna the prophetess, the physical and moral growth of Jesus as a child and young man, His return to Nazareth and settlement there all these details leave us no room to doubt the completely historical sense which the author himself attached to these narratives. If, then, this part lacks the authority of apostolic testimony, it is guaranteed by the religious convictions of the author, and by his personal assurance of the value of the oral or written sources whence he derived his knowledge of these facts.
The Gospel of the Infancy in Luke comprises seven narratives:
1. The announcement of the birth of the forerunner, Luke 1:5-25; Luke 2:0. The announcement of the birth of Jesus, Luke 1:26-38; Luke 3:0. The visit of Mary to Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-56. These three narratives form the first cycle.
4. The birth of the forerunner, Luke 1:57-80; Luke 5:0. The birth of Jesus, Luke 2:1-20; Luke 6:0. The circumcision and presentation of Jesus, Luke 2:21-40. These three narratives form a second cycle.
7. The first journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, Luke 2:41-52. This seventh narrative is, as it were, the crown of the two preceding cycles.
2. The promise of deliverance: Luke 1:8-22. This portion comprises: 1. Luke 1:8-17; Luke 1:8-17, The promise itself; 2. Luke 1:18-22; Luke 1:18-22, The manner in which it was received.
1. The narrative of the promise includes: the appearance ( Luk 1:8-12 ), and the message ( Luk 1:13-17 ), of the angel.
The appearance of the angel: Luke 1:8-12. The incense had to be offered, according to the law ( Exo 30:7-8 ), every morning and evening. There was public prayer three times a day: at nine in the morning ( Act 2:15 ?), at noon ( Act 10:9 ), and at three in the afternoon (Acts 3:1; Act 10:30 ). The first and last of these acts of public prayer coincided with the offering of incense (Jos. Antiq. 14.4. 3).
In the construction ἐγένετο ἔλαχε , the subject of the first verb is the act indicated by the second. ῎Εναντι , in the face of, before, is suitable here; for the officiating priest enacts a part in the front of the Divinity. The words, according to the custom of the priest's office ( Luk 1:8 ), may be referred either to the established rotation of the courses ( Luk 1:8 ), or to the use of the lot with a view to the assignment of each day's functions. In both cases, the extraordinary use of the lot would be worthy of mention. The reference of these words to what precedes appears to us more natural; we regard them as a simple amplification of ἐν τῇ τάξει : “the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest's office.”
On the use of the lot Oosterzee rightly observes that it proceeded from this, that nothing in the service of the sanctuary was to be left to man's arbitrary decision. The function of offering incense, which gave the priest the right to enter the holy place, was regarded as the most honourable of all. Further, according to the Talmud, the priest who had obtained it was not permitted to draw the lot a second time in the same week. Εἰσελθών , having entered; there was the honour! This fact was at the same time the condition of the whole scene that followed. And that is certainly the reason why this detail, which is correctly understood by itself, is so particularly mentioned. Meyer and Bleek, not apprehending this design, find here an inaccuracy of expression, and maintain that with the infinitive θυμιάσαι the author passes by anticipation from the notion of the fact to its historical realization. This is unnecessary; εἰσελθών is a pluperfect in reference to θυμιάσαι : “It fell to him to offer incense after having entered. ” The term ναός , temple, designates the buildings properly so called, in opposition to the different courts; and the complement κυρίου , of the Lord, expresses its character in virtue of which the Lord was about to manifest Himself in this house.
The 10th verse mentions a circumstance which brings out the solemnity of the time, as the preceding circumstance brought out the solemnity of the place. The prayer of the people assembled in the court accompanied the offering of incense. There was a close connection between these two acts. The one was the typical, ideal, and therefore perfectly pure prayer; the other the real prayer, which was inevitably imperfect and defiled. The former covered the latter with its sanctity; the latter communicated to the former its reality and life. Thus they were the complement of each other. Hence their obligatory simultaneousness and their mutual connection are forcibly expressed by the dative τῇ ὥρᾳ . The reading which puts τοῦ λαοῦ between ἦν and προσευχόμενον , expresses better the essential idea of the proposition contained in this participle.
Ver. 11. Here, with the appearance of the angel, begins the marvellous character of the story which lays it open to the suspicion of criticism. And if, indeed, the Christian dispensation were nothing more than the natural development of the human consciousness, advancing by its own laws, we should necessarily and unhesitatingly reject as fictitious this supernatural element, and at the same time everything else in the Gospel of a similar character. But if Christianity was an entirely new beginning (Verny) in history, the second and final creation of man, it was natural that an interposition on so grand a scale should be accompanied by a series of particular interpositions. It was even necessary. For how were the representatives of the ancient order of things, who had to co-operate in the new work, to be initiated into it, and their attachment won to it, except by this means?
According to the Scripture, we are surrounded by angels (2 Kings 6:17; Psa 34:8 ), whom God employs to watch over us; but in our ordinary condition we want the sense necessary to perceive their presence. For that, a condition of peculiar receptivity is required. This condition existed in Zacharias at this time. It had been created in him by the solemnity of the place, by the sacredness of the function he was about to perform, by his lively sympathy with all this people who were imploring Heaven for national deliverance, and, last of all, by the experience of his own domestic trial, the feeling of which was to be painfully revived by the favour about to be shown him. Under the influence of all these circumstances combined, that internal sense which puts man in contact with the higher world was awakened in him. But the necessity of this inward predisposition in no way proves that the vision of Zacharias was merely the result of a high state of moral excitement. Several particulars in the narrative make this explanation inadmissible, particularly these two: the difficulty with which Zacharias puts faith in the promise made to him, and the physical chastisement which is inflicted on him for his unbelief. These facts, in any case, render a simple psychological explanation impossible, and oblige the denier of the objectivity of the appearance to throw himself upon the mythical interpretation.
The term ἄγγελος κυρίου , angel of the Lord, may be regarded as a kind of proper name, and we may translate the angel of the Lord, notwithstanding the absence of the article. But since, when once this personage is introduced, the word angel is preceded by the article ( Luk 1:13 ), it is more natural to translate here an angel.
The entrance to the temple facing the east, Zacharias, on entering, had on his right the table of shew-bread, placed on the north side; on his left the candelabrum, placed on the south side; and before him the golden altar, which occupied the end of the Holy Place, in front of the veil that hung between this part of the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. The expression, on the right side of the altar, must be explained according to the point of view of Zacharias; the angel stood, therefore, between the altar and the shew-bread table. The fear of Zacharias proceeds from the consciousness of sin, which is immediately awakened in the human mind when a supernatural manifestation puts it in direct contact with the divine world. The expression φόβος ἐπέπεσεν is a Hebraism ( Gen 15:12 ).
Was it morning or evening? Meyer concludes, from the connection between the entrance of Zacharias into the temple and the drawing of the lot ( Luk 1:9 ), that it was morning. This proof is not very conclusive. Nevertheless, the supposition of Meyer is in itself the most probable.
The message of the angel: Luke 1:13-17. “ But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John 14:0. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. ”
The angel begins by reassuring Zacharias ( Luk 1:13 ); then he describes the person of the son of Zacharias ( Luk 1:14-15 ), and his mission ( Luk 1:16-17 ).
In the 13th verse the angel tells Zacharias that he has not come on an errand of judgment, but of favour; comp. Daniel 10:12.
The prayer of Zacharias to which the angel alludes would be, in the opinion of many, an entreaty for the advent of the Messiah. This, it is said, is the only solicitude worthy of a priest in such a place and at such a time. But the preceding context ( Luk 1:7 ) is in no way favourable to this explanation, nor is that which follows (Luke 1:13 b ); for the sense of the καί is most certainly this: “ And so thy wife Elizabeth...” Further, the two personal pronouns, σοῦ and σοί , “ thy wife shall bear thee,” as also the σοί , “ thou shalt have ( Luk 1:14 ), prove positively the entirely personal character of the prayer and its answer. The objection that, according to Luke 1:7, he could no longer expect to have a child, and consequently could not pray with this design, exaggerates the meaning of this word.
The phrase καλεῖν ὄνομα is a Hebraism; it signifies, properly, to call any one by his name. The name ᾿Ιωάννης , John, is composed of יהוה , H3378 and חָנַן , H2858: Jehovah shows grace. It is not the character of the preaching of this person which is expressed by this name; it belongs to the entire epoch of which his appearance is the signal.
The 14th verse describes the joy which his birth will occasion; it will extend beyond the narrow limits of the family circle, and be spread over a large part of the nation. There is an evident rising towards a climax in this part of the message: 1st, a Song of Song of Solomon 2:0 d, a son great before God; 3d, the forerunner of the Messiah. ᾿Αγαλλίασις expresses the transports which a lively emotion of joy produces. The beginning of the fulfilment of this promise is related, Luke 1:64-66. The reading γενέσει is certainly preferable to γεννήσει , which is perhaps borrowed from the use of the verb γεννᾶν ( Luk 1:13 ).
The ardour of this private and public joy is justified in the 15th verse by the eminent qualities which this child will possess ( γάρ ). The only greatness which can rejoice the heart of such a man as Zacharias is a greatness which the Lord Himself recognises as such: great before the Lord. This greatness is evidently that which results from personal holiness and the moral authority accompanying it.
The two και following may be paraphrased by: and in fact.
The child is ranked beforehand amongst that class of specially consecrated men, who may be called the heroes of theocratic religion, the Nazarites. The ordinance respecting the kind of life to be led by these men is found in Numbers 6:1-21. The vow of the Nazarite was either temporary or for life. The Old Testament offers us two examples of this second form: Samson ( Jdg 13:5-7 ) and Samuel ( 1Sa 1:11 ). It was a kind of voluntary lay priesthood. By abstaining from all the comforts and conveniences of civilised life, such as wine, the bath, and cutting the hair, and in this way approaching the state of nature, the Nazarite presented himself to the world as a man filled with a lofty thought, which absorbed all his interest, as the bearer of a word of God which was hidden in his heart (Lange). Σικέρα denotes all kinds of fermented drink extracted from fruit, except that derived from the grape. In place of this means of sensual excitement, John will have a more healthful stimulant, the source of all pure exaltation, the Holy Spirit. The same contrast occurs in Ephesians 5:18: “ Be not drunk with wine..., but be filled with the Spirit. ” And in his case this state will begin from his mother's womb: ἔτι , even, is not put for ἤδη , already; this word signifies, whilst he is yet in his mother's womb. The fact related ( Luk 1:41-44 ) is the beginning of the accomplishment of this promise, but it in no way exhausts its meaning.
Vers. 16, 17. The mission of the child; it is described ( Luk 1:16 ) in a general and abstract way: he will bring back, turn; this is the הֵשִׁיב of the Old Testament. This expression implies that the people are sunk in estrangement from God.
The 17th verse specifies and developes this mission. The pronoun αὐτός , he, brings out prominently the person of John with a view to connect him with the person of the Lord, who is to follow him ( αὐτοῦ ). The relation between these two personages thus set forth is expressed by the two prepositions, πρό , before (in the verb), and ἐνώπιον , under the eyes of; he who precedes walks under the eyes of him that comes after him. The Alex. reading προσελεύσεται has no meaning.
The pronoun αὐτοῦ (before him) has been referred by some directly to the person of the Messiah. An attempt is made to justify this meaning, by saying that this personage is always present to the mind of the Israelite when he says “ he. ” But this meaning is evidently forced; the pronoun him can only refer to the principal word of the preceding verse: the Lord their God. The prophecy ( Mal 3:1 ), of which this passage is an exact reproduction, explains it: “ Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in. ” According to these words, therefore, in the eyes of the prophet the Messiah is no other than Jehovah Himself. For it is Jehovah who speaks in this prophecy. It is He who causes Himself to be preceded in His appearance as the Messiah by a forerunner who receives ( Luk 4:5 ) the name of Elijah, and who is to prepare His way. It is He who, under the names of Adonaï (the Lord), and the Angel of the covenant, comes to take possession of His temple. From the Old as well as the New Testament point of view, the coming of the Messiah is therefore the supreme theophany. Apart from this way of regarding them, the words of Malachi and those of the angel in our 17th verse are inexplicable. See an αὐτοῦ very similar to this in the strictly analogous passage, John 12:41 (comp. with Isaiah 6:0).
It appears from several passages in the Gospels that the people, with their learned men, expected, before the coming of the Messiah, a personal appearance of Elijah, or of some other prophet like him, probably both (John 1:21-22; Matthew 16:14; Matthew 17:10; Mat 27:47 ). The angel spiritualizes this grossly literal hope: “Thy son shall be another Elijah.” The Spirit designates the divine breath in general; and the term power, which is added to it, indicates the special character of the Spirit's influence in John, as formerly in Elijah. The preposition ἐν , in, makes the Holy Spirit the element into which the ministry of John is to strike its roots.
The picture of the effect produced by this ministry is also borrowed from Malachi, who had said: “ He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. ” The LXX., and, after their example, many modern interpreters, have applied this description to the re-establishment of domestic peace in Israel. But nothing either in the ministry of Elijah or of John the Baptist had any special aim in this direction. Besides, such a result has no direct connection with the preparation for the work of the Messiah, and bears no proportion to the threat which follows in the prophetic word: “ Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. ” Lastly, the thought, “ and the heart of the children to their fathers,” taken in this sense, could not have substituted for it in the discourse of the angel, “ and the rebellious to the wisdom of the just,” unless we suppose that in every Israelitish family the children are necessarily rebellious and their parents just. Some explain it thus: “He will bring back to God all together, both the hearts of the fathers and those of the children;” but this does violence to the expression employed. Calvin and others give the word heart the sense of feeling: “He will bring back the pious feeling of the fathers [faithful to God] to the present generation [the disobedient children], and turn the latter to the wisdom of the former.” But can “ to turn their hearts towards ” mean “to awaken dispositions in”? For this sense εἰς would have been necessary instead of ἐπί ( τέκνα ); besides, we cannot give the verb ἐπιστρέψαι such a different sense from ἐπιστρέψει in Luke 1:16. The true sense of these words, it seems to me, may be gathered from other prophetic passages, such as these: Isaiah 29:22, “ Jacob shall no more be ashamed, neither shall his face wax pale, when he seeth his children become the work of my hands. ” Isaiah 63:16, “ Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not; Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer! ” Abraham and Jacob, in the place of their rest, had blushed at the sight of their guilty descendants, and turned away their faces from them; but now they would turn again towards them with satisfaction in consequence of the change produced by the ministry of John. The words of Jesus ( Joh 8:56 ), “ Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad,” proves that there is a reality underlying these poetic images. With this meaning the modification introduced into the second member of the phrase is easily explained. The children who will turn towards their fathers (Malachi), are the Jews of the time of the Messiah, the chilaren of the obedient, who return to the wisdom of the pious patriarchs (Luke). Is not this modification made with a view to enlarge the application of this promise? The expression, the rebellious, may, in fact, comprehend not only the Jews, but also the heathen. The term ἀπειθεῖς , rebellious, is applied by Paul (Romans 11:0) to both equally. Φρόνησις δικαίων , the wisdom of the just, denotes that healthy appreciation of things which is the privilege of upright hearts.
The preposition of rest, ἐν , is joined to a verb of motion, ἐπιστρέψαι , to express the fact that this wisdom is a state in which men remain when once they have entered it.
It will be John's mission, then, to reconstitute the moral unity of the people by restoring the broken relation between the patriarchs and their descendants. The withered branches will be quickened into new life by sap proceeding from the trunk. This restoration of the unity of the elect people will be their true preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
Some interpreters have proposed to make ἀπειθεῖς the object of ἑτοιμάσαι , and this last a second infinitive of purpose, parallel to ἐπιστρέψαι : “And to prepare, by the wisdom of the just, the rebellious, as a people made ready for the Lord.” It is thought that in this way a tautology is avoided between the two words ἑτοιμάσαι , to prepare, and κατεσκευασμένον , made ready, disposed. But these two terms have distinct meanings. The first bears on the relation of John to the people; the second on the relation of the people to the Messiah. John prepares the people in such a way that they are disposed to receive the Messiah.
Of course it is the ideal task of the forerunner that is described here. In reality this plan will succeed only in so far as the people shall consent to surrender themselves to the divine action.
Is it probable that after the ministry of Jesus, when the unbelief of the people was already an historical fact, a later writer would have thought of giving such an optimist colouring to the discourse of the angel?
Vers. 18-20. “ And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering, said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. ”
Abraham, Gideon, and Hezekiah had asked for signs (Genesis 15:0; Judges 6:0; 2 Kings 20:0) without being blamed. God had of Himself granted one to Moses (Exodus 4:0), and offered one to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:0). Why, if this was lawful in all these cases, was it not so in this? There is a maxim of human law which says, Si duo faciunt idem, non est idem. There are different degrees of responsibility, either according to the degree of development of the individual or of the age, or according to the character of the divine manifestation. God alone can determine these degrees. It appears from the 19th verse that the appearance of the being who spoke to Zacharias ought of itself to have been a sufficient sign. In any case this difference from the similar accounts in the Old Testament proves that our narrative was not artificially drawn up in imitation of them. The sign requested is designated by the preposition κατά , according to, as the norm of knowledge. The γάρ , for, refers to this idea understood: I have need of such a sign. Yet Zacharias prayed for this very thing which now, when promised by God, appears impossible to him. It is an inconsistency, but one in keeping with the laws of our moral nature. The narrative, Acts 12:0, in which we see the church of Jerusalem praying for the deliverance of Peter, and refusing to believe it when granted, presents a similar case.
In order to make Zacharias feel the seriousness of his fault, the angel ( Luk 1:19 ) refers to two things: his dignity as a divine messenger, and the nature of his message. ᾿Εγώ , I, coming first, brings his person into prominence. But he immediately adds, that stand, in the presence of God, to show that it is not he who is offended, but God who has sent him.
The name Gabriel is composed of גָּבַר , H1504 and אֵל , H446: vir Dei, the mighty messenger of God. The Bible knows of only two heavenly personages who are invested with a name, Gabriel (Daniel 8:16; Dan 9:21 ) and Michael (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev 12:7 ). This latter name ( מִי , H4769) signifies, who is like God? Here the critic asks sarcastically whether Hebrew is spoken in heaven? But these names are evidently symbolical; they convey to us the character and functions of these personalities. When we speak to any one, it is naturally with a view to be understood. When heaven communicates with earth, it is obliged to borrow the language of earth. According to the name given him, Gabriel is the mighty servant of God employed to promote His work here below. It is in this capacity that he appears to Daniel, when he comes to announce to him the restoration of Jerusalem; it is he also who promises Mary the birth of the Saviour. In all these circumstances he appears as the heavenly evangelist. The part of Gabriel is positive; that of Michael is negative. Michael is, as his name indicates, the destroyer of every one who dares to equal, that is, to oppose God. Such is his mission in Daniel, where he contends against the powers hostile to Israel; such also is it in Jude and in the Apocalypse, where he fights, as the champion of God, against Satan, the author of idolatry: Gabriel builds up, Michael overthrows. The former is the forerunner of Jehovah the Saviour, the latter of Jehovah the Judge. Do not these two heavenly personages remind us of the two angels who accompanied Jehovah (Genesis 18:0) when He came to announce to Abraham, on the one hand, the birth of Isaac, and, on the other, the destruction of Sodom? Biblical angelology makes mention of no other persons belonging to the upper world. But this wise sobriety did not satisfy later Judaism; it knew besides an angel Uriel, who gives good counsel, and an angel Raphael, who works bodily cures. The Persian angelology is richer still. It reckons no less than seven superior spirits or amschaspands. How, then, can it be maintained that the Jewish angelology is a Persian importation? History does not advance from the complicated to the simple. Besides, the narrative, Genesis 18:0, in which the two archangels appear, is prior to the contact of Israel with the Persian religion. Lastly, the idea represented by these two personages is essentially Jewish. These two notions, of a work of grace personified in Gabriel, and of a work of judgment personified in Michael, have their roots in the depths of Jewish monotheism.
The term to stand before God indicates a permanent function ( Isa 6:2 ). This messenger is one of the servants of God nearest His throne. This superior dignity necessarily rests on a higher degree of holiness. We may compare 1 Kings 17:1, where Elijah says, “ The Lord before whom 1 stand. ” Jesus expresses Himself in a similar manner (Matthew 18:0) respecting the guardian angels of the little ones: “ Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. ”
Such a being deserves to be taken at his word; how much more when he is the bearer of a message which is to fulfil the desires of him to whom he is sent, and answer his earnest supplication (Luke 1:19 b )!
The chastisement inflicted on Zacharias ( Luk 1:20 ) is at the same time to serve as a sign to him. ᾿Ιδού , behold, indicates the unexpected character of this dispensation. Σιωπιῶν , not speaking, denotes simply the fact; μὴ δυνάμενος , not being able to speak, discloses its cause; this silence will not be voluntary. Οἵτινες , which, as such, that is to say, as being the words of such a being as I am. It may seem that with the future shall be fulfilled, the preposition ἐν is required, and not εἰς . But εἰς indicates that the performance of the promise will begin immediately in order to its completion at the appointed time; comp. Romans 6:22, εἰς ἁγιασμόν . Καιρός , their season, refers not only to the time ( χρόνος ), but to the entire circumstances in which this fulfilment will take place.
There is not a word in this speech of the angel which is not at once simple and worthy of the mouth into which it is put. It is not after this fashion that man makes heaven speak when he is inventing; only read the apocryphal writings!
2. vers. 18-22 relate the manner in which the promise is received; and first, the objection of Zacharias ( Luk 1:18 ); next, his punishment ( Luk 1:19-20 ); lastly, the effect produced upon the people by this latter circumstance.
Vers. 21 and 22. According to the Talmud, the high priest did not remain long in the Holy of Holies on the great day of atonement. Much more would this be true of the priest officiating daily in the Holy Place. The analytical form ᾖν προσδοκῶν depicts the lengthened expectation and uneasiness which began to take possession of the people. The text indicates that the event which had just taken place was made known in two ways: on the one hand, by the silence of Zacharias; on the other, by signs by which he himself ( αὐτός ) indicated its cause. The analytical form ἦν διανεύων denotes the frequent repetition of the same signs, and the imperfect διέμενεν , he remained dumb, depicts the increasing surprise produced by his continuing in this state.
3. The accomplishment of the promise: Luke 1:23-25. The subject of ἐγένετο , it came to pass, is all that follows to the end of Luke 1:25. Comp. a similar ἐγένετο , Acts 9:3.
The active form περιέκρυβεν ἑαυτήν , literally, she kept herself concealed, expresses a more energetic action than that designated by the middle περιεκρύψατο . Elizabeth isolated herself intentionally, rendering herself invisible to her neighbours. Her conduct has been explained in many ways. Origen and Ambrose thought that it was the result of a kind of false modesty. Paulus supposed that Elizabeth wished to obtain assurance of the reality of her happiness before speaking about it. According to De Wette, this retreat was nothing more than a precaution for her health. It was dictated, according to Bleek and Oosterzee, by a desire for meditation and by sentiments of humble gratitude. Of all these explanations, the last certainly appears the best. But it in no way accounts for the term for five months, so particularly mentioned. Further, how from this point of view are we to explain the singular expression, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me? The full meaning of this word thus is necessarily weakened by applying it in a general way to the greatness of the blessing conferred on Elizabeth, whilst this expression naturally establishes a connection between the practice she pursues towards herself from this time, and God's method of dealing with her. What is this connection? Does she not mean, “I will treat myself as God has treated my reproach. He has taken it away from me; I will therefore withdraw myself from the sight of men, so long as I run any risk of still bearing it, when I am in reality delivered from it?” Restored by God, she feels that she owes it to herself, as well as to Him who has honoured her in this way, to expose herself no more to the scornful regards of men until she can appear before them evidently honoured by the proofs of the divine favour. In this way the term five months, which she fixes for her seclusion, becomes perfectly intelligible. For it is after the fifth month that the condition of a pregnant woman becomes apparent. Therefore it is not until then that she can appear again in society, as what she really is, restored. In this conduct and declaration there is a mixture of womanly pride and humble gratitude which makes them a very exquisite expression of maternal feeling for one in such a position. We should like to know what later narrator would have invented such a delicate touch as this. But the authenticity of this single detail implies the authenticity of the whole of the preceding narrative. ῞Οτι must be taken here in the sense of because; Elizabeth wants to justify whatever is unusual in the course of conduct she has just adopted. ᾿Επεῖδεν ἀφελεῖν , “He has regarded me in a manner that takes away;” he has cast on me one of those efficacious looks which, as the Psalmist says, are deliverance itself.
On barrenness as a reproach, comp. Genesis 30:23, where, after the birth of her first-born, Rachel cries, “ God has taken away my reproach. ”
This saying of Elizabeth's discloses all the humiliations which the pious Israelite had endured from her neighbours during these long years of barrenness. This also comes out indirectly from Luke 1:36, in which the angel makes use of the expression, “Her who was called barren. ” This epithet had become a kind of sobriquet for her in the mouth of the people of the place.
1. The appearance of the angel: Luke 1:26-29. From the temple the narrative transports us to the house of a young Israelitish woman. We leave the sphere of official station to enter into the seclusion of private life. Mary probably was in prayer. Her chamber is a sanctuary; such, henceforth, will be the true temple.
The date, the sixth month, refers to that given in Luke 1:24. It was the time when Elizabeth had just left her retirement; all that takes place in the visitation of Mary is in connection with this circumstance. The government ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ , by God, or, as some Alex. read, ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ , on the part of God, indicates a difference between this message and that in Luke 1:19. God interposes more directly; it is a question here of His own Son. The received reading ὑπο , by, seems to me for this reason more in accordance with the spirit of the context than the Alex. reading, which lays less emphasis on the divine origin of the message.
The most usual form of the name of the town in the documents is Nazareth: it is admitted here by Tischendorf in his eighth edition. He accords, however, some probability to the form Nazara, which is the reading of Luk 4:16 in the principal Alexandrians. In Luke 3:23, the MSS. only vary between Nazareth and Nazaret. Keim, in his History of Jesus, has decided for Nazara. He gives his reasons, i. p. 319 et seq.: 1. The derived adjectives Ναζωραῖος , Ναζαρηνός are most readily explained from this form. 2. The form Nazareth could easily come from Nazara, as Ramath from Rama (by the addition of the Aramean article). The forms Nazareth and Nazaret may also be explained as forms derived from that. 3. The phrase ἀπὸ Ναζάρων , in Eusebius, supposes the nominative Nazara. 4. It is the form preserved in the existing Arabic name en-Nezirah. Still it would be possible, even though the true name was Nazara, that Luke might have been accustomed to use the form Nazareth; Tischendorf thinks that this may be inferred from Acts 10:38, where א . B. C. D. E. read Nazareth.
The etymology of this name is probably ‡ ֵנצֶר , H5916 (whence the feminine form נצרת ), a shoot or scion; this is the form used in the Talmud. The Fathers accordingly perceived in this name an allusion to the scion of David in the prophets. Burckhardt the traveller explains it more simply by the numerous shrubs which clothe the ground. Hitzig has proposed another etymology: נוצרה , the guardian, the name referring either to some pagan divinity, the protectress of the locality, as this scholar thinks, or, as Keim supposes, to the town itself, on account of its commanding the defile of the valley.
Nazareth, with a population at the present day of 3000 inhabitants, is about three days' journey north of Jerusalem, and about eight leagues west of Tiberias. It is only a short distance from Tabor. It is reached from the valley of Jezreel through a mountain gorge running from S. to N., and opening out into a pleasant basin of some twenty minutes in length by ten in width. A chain of hills shuts in the valley on its northern side. Nazareth occupies its lower slopes, and rises in smiling terraces above the valley. From the summit of the ridge which encloses this basin on the north there is a splendid view. This valley was in Israel just what Israel was in the midst of the earth a place at once secluded and open, a solitary retreat and a high post of observation, inviting meditation and at the same time affording opportunity for far-reaching views in all directions, consequently admirably adapted for an education of which God reserved to Himself the initiative, and which man could not touch without spoiling it.
The explanation, a town of Galilee, is evidently intended for Gentile readers; it is added by the translator to the Jewish document that lay before him.
Do the words, of the house of David, Luke 1:27, refer to Joseph or Mary? Grammatically, it appears to us that the form of the following sentence rather favours the former alternative. For if this clause applied, in the writer's mind, to Mary, he would have continued his narrative in this form: “and her name was...,” rather than in this: “and the young girl's name was...” But does it follow from this that Mary was not, in Luke's opinion, a descendant of David? By no means. Luke 1:32; Luk 1:69 have no sense unless the author regarded Mary herself as a daughter of this king. See Luke 3:23.
The term χαριτοῦν τινα , to make any one the object of one's favour, is applied to believers in general ( Eph 1:6 ). There is no thought here of outward graces, as the translation full of grace would imply. The angel, having designated Mary by this expression as the special object of divine favour, justifies this address by the words which follow: The Lord with thee. Supply is, and not be; it is not a wish. The heavenly visitant speaks as one knowing how matters stood. The words, “Blessed art thou among women,” are not genuine; they are taken from Luke 1:42, where they are not wanting in any document.
The impression made on Mary, Luke 1:29, is not that of fear; it is a troubled feeling, very natural in a young girl who is suddenly made aware of the unexpected presence of a strange person. The T. R. indicates two causes of trouble: “And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying. ” By the omission of ἰδοῦσα , when she saw, the Alexs. leave only one remaining. But this very simplification casts suspicion on their reading. The two ancient Syriac and Latin translations here agree with the T. R. The meaning is, that trouble was joined to the surprise caused by the sight of the angel, as soon as his words had confirmed the reality of his presence. Ποταπός denotes properly the origin ( ποῦ τὸ ἀπό ). But this term applies also to the contents and value, as is the case here. What was the meaning the import of...Having thus prepared Mary, the angel proceeds with the message he has brought.
Second Narrative: Announcement of the Birth of Jesus, Luke 1:26-38
The birth of John the Baptist, like that of Isaac, was due to a higher power; but it did not certainly transcend the limits of the natural order. It is otherwise with the birth of Jesus; it has the character of a creative act. In importance it constitutes the counterpart, not of the birth of Isaac, but of the appearance of the first man; Jesus is the second Adam. This birth is the beginning of the world to come. If this character of the appearance of Jesus be denied, the whole of the subsequent narrative remains unintelligible and inadmissible. Directly it is conceded, all the rest accords with it.
But the creative character of this birth does not destroy the connection between the old and the new era. We have just seen how, in the birth of the greatest representative of the old covenant, God remained faithful to the theocratic past, by making the Israelitish priesthood the cradle of this child. He acts in the same way when the Head of renewed humanity, the Lord of the world to come, is to make His appearance; He causes Him to come forth as a scion from the stock of the ancient royalty of Israel. Further, God has respect in this work to the conditions of the human past generally. While creating in Him a new humanity, He is careful to preserve the link which unites Him to the ancient humanity. Just as in the first creation He did not create man's body out of nothing, but formed it out of the dust of the already existing earth, of which Adam was to become the lord; so, at the appearance of the second Adam, He did not properly create His body; He took it from the womb of a human mother, so as to maintain the organic connection which must exist between the Head of the new humanity and that natural humanity which it is His mission to raise to the height of His own stature.
This narrative records: 1. The appearance of the angel ( Luk 1:26-29 ); 2. His message ( Luk 1:30-33 ); 3. The manner in which his message is received ( Luk 1:34-38 ).
2. The message of the angel: Luke 1:30-33. “ And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. 31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. 32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: 33. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. ”
By long continuance, Mary's trouble would have degenerated into fear. The angel prevents this painful impression: “Fear not.” The term εὗρες χάριν , thou hast found favour, reproduces the idea of κεχαριτωμένη ; this expression belongs to the Greek of the LXX. The angel proceeds to enumerate the striking proofs of this assertion, the marks of divine favour: 1 st, a Song of Song of Solomon 2:0 d, His name, a sign of blessing; 3 d, His personal superiority; 4 th, His divine title; lastly, His future and eternal sovereignty. ᾿Ιδού , behold, expresses the unexpected character of the fact announced. ᾿Ιησοῦς , Jesus, is the Greek form of יַשׁוּעָה , H3802, Jeschovah, which was gradually substituted for the older and fuller form יַהוֹשֻׁעַ , H3397, Jehoschovah, of which the meaning is, Jehovah saves. The same command is given by the angel to Joseph, Matthew 1:21, with this comment: “ For He shall save His people from their sins. ” Criticism sees here the proof of two different and contradictory traditions. But if the reality of these two divine messages is admitted, there is nothing surprising in their agreement on this point. As to the two traditions, we leave them until we come to the general considerations at the end of chap. 2
The personal quality of this son: He shall be great first of all, in holiness; this is true greatness in the judgment of Heaven; then, and as a consequence, in power and influence.
His title: Son of the Highest. This title corresponds with His real nature. For the expression, He shall be called, signifies here, universally recognised as such, and that because He is such in fact. This title has been regarded as a simple synonym for that of Messiah. But the passages cited in proof, Mat 26:63 and John 1:50, prove precisely the contrary: the first, because had the title Son of God signified nothing more in the view of the Sanhedrim than that of Messiah, there would have been no blasphemy in assuming it, even falsely; the second, because it would be idle to put two titles together between which there was no difference. On the other hand, the Trinitarian sense should not be here applied to the term Son of God. The notion of the preexistence of Jesus Christ, as the eternal Son of God, is quite foreign to the context. Mary could not have comprehended it; and on the supposition that she had comprehended or even caught a glimpse of it, so far from being sustained by it in her work as a mother, she would have been rendered incapable of performing it. The notion here expressed by the title Son of God is solely that of a personal and mysterious relation between this child and the Divine Being. The angel explains more clearly the meaning of this term in Luke 1:35.
Lastly, the dignity and mission of this child: He is to fulfil the office of Messiah. The expressions are borrowed from the prophetic descriptions, 2 Samuel 7:12-13, Isaiah 9:5-7. The throne of David should not be taken here as the emblem of the throne of God, nor the house of Jacob as a figurative designation of the Church. These expressions in the mouth of the angel keep their natural and literal sense. It is, indeed, the theocratic royalty and the Israelitish people, neither more nor less, that are in question here; Mary could have understood these expressions in no other way. It is true that, for the promise to be realized in this sense, Israel must have consented to welcome Jesus as their Messiah. In that case, the transformed theocracy would have opened its bosom to the heathen; and the empire of Israel would have assumed, by the very fact of this incorporation, the character of a universal monarchy. The unbelief of Israel foiled this plan, and subverted the regular course of history; so that at the present day the fulfilment of these promises is still postponed to the future. But is it likely, after the failure of the ministry of Jesus amongst this people, that about the beginning of the second century, when the fall of Jerusalem had already taken place, any writer would have made an angel prophesy what is expressed here? This picture of the Messianic work could have been produced at no other epoch than that to which this narrative refers it at the transition period between the old and new covenants. Besides, would it have been possible, at any later period, to reproduce, with such artless simplicity and freshness, the hopes of these early days?
3. The manner in which the message was received: Luke 1:34-38. 34. “ Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36. And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37. For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. ”
Mary's question does not express doubt: it simply asks for an explanation, and this very request implies faith. Her question is the legitimate expression of the astonishment of a pure conscience.
We observe in the angel's reply the parallelism which among the Hebrews is always the expression of exalted feeling and the mark of the poetic style. The angel touches upon the most sacred of mysteries, and his speech becomes a song. Are the terms come upon, overshadow, borrowed, as Bleek thinks, from the image of a bird covering her eggs or brooding over her young? Comp. Genesis 1:3. It appears to us rather that these expressions allude to the cloud which covered the camp of the Israelites in the desert. In Luke 9:34, as here, the evangelist describes the approach of this mysterious cloud by the term ἐπισκιάζειν .
The Holy Ghost denotes here the divine power, the life-giving breath which calls into developed existence the germ of a human personality slumbering in Mary's womb. This germ is the link which unites Jesus to human nature, and makes Him a member of the race He comes to save. Thus in this birth the miracle of the first creation is repeated on a scale of greater power. Two elements concurred in the formation of man: a body taken from the ground, and the divine breath. With these two elements correspond here the germ derived from the womb of Mary, and the Holy Ghost who fertilizes it. The absolute purity of this birth results, on the one hand, from the perfect holiness of the divine principle which is its efficient cause; on the other, from the absence of every impure motion in her who becomes a mother under the power of such a principle.
By the word also (“therefore also ”) the angel alludes to his preceding words: He shall be called the Son of the Highest. We might paraphrase it: “And it is precisely for this reason that I said to thee, that...” We have then here, from the mouth of the angel himself, an authentic explanation of the term Son of God in the former part of his message. After this explanation, Mary could only understand the title in this sense: a human being of whose existence God Himself is the immediate author. It does not convey the idea of pre-existence, but it implies more than the term Messiah, which only refers to His mission. The word ὑψίστου , of the Highest, also refers to the term υἱὸς ὑψίστου , Son of the Highest, Luke 1:32, and explains it. Bleek, following the Peschito, Tertullian, etc., makes ἅγιον the predicate of κληθήσεται , and υἱὸς Θεοῦ in apposition with ἅγιον : “Wherefore that which shall be born of thee shall be called holy, Son of God.” But with the predicate holy, the verb should have been, not “ shall be called,” but shall be. For holy is not a title. Besides, the connection with Luk 1:32 will not allow any other predicate to be given to shall be called than Son of God. The subject of the phrase is therefore the complex term τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον , the holy thing conceived in thee, and more especially ἅγιον , the holy; this adjective is taken as a substantive. As the adjective of γεννώμενον , taken substantively, it would of necessity be preceded by the article. The words ἐκ σοῦ are a gloss.
What is the connection between this miraculous birth of Jesus and His perfect holiness? The latter does not necessarily result from the former. For holiness is a fact of volition, not of nature. How could we assign any serious meaning to the moral struggles in the history of Jesus, the temptation, for example, if His perfect holiness was the necessary consequence of His miraculous birth? But it is not so. The miraculous birth was only the negative condition of the spotless holiness of Jesus. Entering into human life in this way, He was placed in the normal condition of man before his fall, and put in a position to fulfil the career originally set before man, in which he was to advance from innocence to holiness. He was simply freed from the obstacle which, owing to the way in which we are born, hinders us from accomplishing this task. But in order to change this possibility into a reality, Jesus had to exert every instant His own free will, and to devote Himself continually to the service of good and the fulfilment of the task assigned Him, namely, “the keeping of His Father's commandment.” His miraculous birth, therefore, in no way prevented this conflict from being real. It gave Him liberty not to sin, but did not take away from Him the liberty of sinning.
Mary did not ask for a sign; the angel gives her one of his own accord. This sign, it is clear, is in close connection with the promise just made to her. When she beholds in Elizabeth the realization of this promised sign, her faith will be thoroughly confirmed. ᾿Ιδὸύ , behold, expresses its unexpectedness. Καί before αὐτή , she also, brings out the analogy between the two facts thus brought together.
Mary's being related to Elizabeth in no way proves, as Schleiermacher thought, that Mary did not belong to the tribe of Judah. There was no law to oblige an Israelitish maiden to marry into her own tribe; Mary's father, even if he was of the tribe of Judah, might therefore have espoused a woman of the tribe of Levi. Could it be from this passage that Keim derives his assertion, that the priestly origin of Mary is indicated in Luke ( Luk 1:33 )? The dative γήρᾳ in the T. R. is only found in some MSS. All the other documents have γῆρει , from the form γῆρος .
In Luk 1:37 the angel refers the two events thus announced to the common cause which explains them both the boundless omnipotence of God. That is the rock of faith. ᾿Αδυνατεῖν signifies, properly, to be powerless. And Meyer maintains that this must be its meaning here, and that ῥῆμα is to be taken in its proper sense of word. In that case we should have to give the preference to the Alex. reading τοῦ Θεοῦ : “No word proceeding from God shall remain powerless.” But this meaning is far-fetched. Παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ cannot depend naturally either on ῥῆμα or ἀδυνατήσει . Mat 17:20 proves that the verb ἀδυνατεῖν also signifies, in the Hellenistic dialect, to be impossible. The sense therefore is, “Nothing shall be impossible.” Παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ , with God, indicates the sphere in which alone this word is true. As though the angel said, The impossible is not divine. ῾Ρῆμα , as דָּבָר , H1821, a thing, in so far as announced. In reference to this concise vigorous expression of biblical supernaturalism, Oosterzee says: “The laws of nature are not chains which the Divine Legislator has laid upon Himself; they are threads which He holds in His hand, and which He shortens or lengthens at will.”
God's message by the mouth of the angel was not a command. The part Mary had to fulfil made no demands on her. It only remained, therefore, for Mary to consent to the consequences of the divine offer. She gives this consent in a word at once simple and sublime, which involved the most extraordinary act of faith that a woman ever consented to accomplish. Mary accepts the sacrifice of that which is dearer to a young maiden than her very life, and thereby becomes pre-eminently the heroine of Israel, the ideal daughter of Zion, the perfect type of human receptivity in regard to the divine work. We see here what exquisite fruits the lengthened work of the Holy Spirit under the old covenant had produced in true Israelites. The word ἰδού , behold, does not here express surprise, but rather the offer of her entire being. Just as Abraham, when he answers God with, Behold, here I am (Genesis 22:0, Behold, I), Mary places herself at God's disposal. The evangelist shows his tact in the choice of the aorist γένοιτο . The present would have signified, “Let it happen to me this very instant!” The aorist leaves the choice of the time to God.
What exquisite delicacy this scene displays! What simplicity and majesty in the dialogue! Not one word too many, not one too few. A narrative so perfect could only have emanated from the holy sphere within which the mystery was accomplished. A later origin would inevitably have betrayed itself by some foreign element. Hear the Protevangelium of James, which dates from the first part of the second century: “Fear not, said the angel to Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Master of all things, and thou shalt conceive by His word. Having heard that, she doubted and said within herself: Shall I conceive of the Lord, of the living God, and shall I give birth as every woman gives birth? And the angel of the Lord said to her: No, not thus, Mary, for the power of God...,” etc.
1. The arrival of Mary: Luke 1:39-41.
The terms arose and with haste express a lively eagerness. This visit met what was in fact a deep need of Mary's soul. Since the message of the angel, Elizabeth had become for her what a mother is for her daughter in the most important moment of her life.
The words in those days comprise the time necessary for making preparations for the journey. The distance to be traversed being four days' journey, Mary could not travel so far alone.
The word ἡ ὀρεινή , the hill country, has sometimes received quite a special meaning, making it a kind of proper name, by which in popular language the mountainous plateau to the south of Jerusalem was designated; but no instance of a similar designation can be given either from the Old or the New Testament. It appears to me that in this expression, a city of Juda in the mountain, it is in no way necessary to give the term mountain the force of a proper name. The context makes it sufficiently clear that it is the mountain of Juda, in distinction from the plain of Juda, that is meant. Comp. Joshua 15:48, where ἡ ὀρεινή is employed precisely in this way by the LXX. According to Joshua 15:55; Joshua 21:16, there was in this country, to the south of Hebron, a city of the name of Jutha or Juttha; and according to the second passage (comp. Luk 1:13 ), this city was a priestly city. From this several writers (Reland, Winer, Renan) have concluded that the text of our Gospel has undergone an alteration, and that the word Juda is a corruption of Jutha. But no MS. supports this conjecture; and there is nothing in the context to require it. On the contrary, it is probable that, had Luke desired to indicate by name the city in which the parents of John the Baptist lived, he would have done it sooner. The most important priestly city of this country was Hebron, two leagues south of Bethlehem. And although, subsequent to the exile, the priests no longer made it a rule to reside exclusively in the towns that had been assigned to them at the beginning, it is very natural to look for the home of Zacharias at Hebron, the more so that Rabbinical tradition in the Talmud gives express testimony in favour of this opinion. Keim finds further support for it on this ground, that in the context πόλις ᾿Ιούδα can only signify the city of Juda, that is to say, the principal priestly city in Juda. But wrongly; the simplest and most natural translation is: a city of Juda.
The detail, she entered into the house, serves to put the reader in sympathy with the emotion of Mary at the moment of her arrival. With her first glance at Elizabeth, she recognises the truth of the sign that had been given her by the angel, and at this sight the promise she had herself received acquires a startling reality. Often a very little thing suffices to make a divine thought, which had previously only been conceived as an idea, take distinct form and life within us. And the expression we have used is perhaps, in this case, more than a simple metaphor.
It is not surprising that the intense feeling produced in Mary by the sight of Elizabeth should have reacted immediately on the latter. The unexpected arrival of this young maiden at such a solemn moment for herself, the connection which she instantly divines between the miraculous blessing of which she had just been the object and this extraordinary visit, the affecting tones of the voice and holy elevation of this person, producing all the impression of some celestial apparition, naturally predisposed her to receive the illumination of the Spirit. The emotion which possesses her is communicated to the child whose life is as yet one with her own; and at the sudden leaping of this being, who she knows is compassed about by special blessing, the veil is rent. The Holy Spirit, the prophetic Spirit of the old covenant, seizes her, and she salutes Mary as the mother of the Messiah.
Third Narrative: Mary's Visit to Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-56 .
This narrative is, as it were, the synthesis of the two preceding. These two divinely favoured women meet and pour forth their hearts.
1. Arrival of Mary ( Luk 1:39-41 ); 2. Elizabeth's salutation ( Luk 1:42-45 ); 3. Song of Mary ( Luk 1:46-55 ). Luk 1:56 forms the historical conclusion.
2. The salutation of Elizabeth: Luke 1:42-45. “ And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. ”
The course of Elizabeth's thought is this: first of all, Mary and the Son of Mary ( Luk 1:42 ); next, Elizabeth herself and her son ( Luk 1:43-44 ); lastly, Mary and her happiness. The characteristic of all true action of the Holy Spirit is the annihilation of the proper individuality of the person who is the instrument of it, and the elevation of his personal feelings to the height of the divine word. This is precisely the character of Elizabeth's salutation; we shall find it the same in the song of Zacharias. Thus the truth of this word, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, is justified by this very fact. The reading of some Alexandrians, ἀνεβόησεν , would indicate a cry, instead of a simple breaking forth into speech. The reading κραυγῇ of three other Alex. would have the same meaning. They both savour of exaggeration. In any case, both could not be admitted together. We may translate, Blessed art thou, or Blessed be thou. The former translation is best; for exclamation is more in place here than a wish.
The superlative form, blessed among, is not unknown to classical Greek.
The expression, the fruit of thy womb, appears to imply that the fact of the incarnation was already accomplished; so also does the expression, the mother of my Lord ( Luk 1:43 ). ῞Ινα , in order that ( Luk 1:43 ), may keep its ordinary meaning: “What have I done in order that this blessing might come to me?” This ἵνα is used from the standpoint of the divine intention.
From Mary and her Son, her thought glances to herself and her own child. In calling Mary the mother of my Lord, she declares herself the servant of the Messiah, and consequently of His mother also.
Everything of a sublime character springs from a deeper source than the understanding. The leaping of John, a prelude of the work of his life, belongs to the unfathomable depths of instinctive life. Elizabeth sees in it a sign of the truth of the presentiment she felt as soon as she saw Mary.
At Luk 1:45 she reverts to Mary. The expression blessed is doubtless inspired by the contemplation of the calm happiness that irradiates the figure of the young mother. ῞Οτι cannot be taken here in the sense of because; for the word πιστεύσασα , she that believed, in order that it may have its full force, must not govern anything. “Blessed is she that, at the critical moment, could exercise faith (the aorist)!” De Wette, Bleek, Meyer, think that the proposition which follows should depend on πιστεύσασα : “she who believed that the things...would have their accomplishment.” The two former, because σοί would be necessary in place of αὐτῇ ; the third, because all that had been promised to Mary was already accomplished. But Elizabeth's thought loses itself in a kind of meditation, and her words, ceasing to be an apostrophe to Mary, become a hymn of faith. This accounts for the use of a pronoun of the third person. As to Meyer, he forgets that the accomplishment is only just begun, and is far from being completed. The glorification of the Messiah and of Israel still remains to be accomplished. Τελείωσις denotes this complete accomplishment. But how could Elizabeth speak of the kind of things which had been promised to Mary? What had passed between the angel and Zacharias had enlightened her respecting the similar things that must have taken place between heaven and Mary.
Vers. 46-48 a. The contrast between the tone of this canticle and Elizabeth's discourse forbids the admission of the reading of some Latin authorities which puts it in the mouth of the latter. It is, indeed, Mary's reply to the congratulations of Elizabeth.
Luke does not say that Mary was filled with the Spirit (comp. Luk 1:41 ). At this epoch of her life she dwelt habitually in a divine atmosphere, whilst the inspiration of Elizabeth was only momentary. Her first word, μεγαλύνει , magnifies, fully expresses this state of her soul. In what, indeed, does the magnifying of the Divine Being consist, if not in giving Him, by constant adoration (the verb is in the present tense), a larger place in one's own heart and in the hearts of men? The present, magnifies, is in contrast with the aorist, rejoiced, in the following sentence. Some would give the aorist here the sense which this tense sometimes has in Greek, that of a repetition of the act. It is more natural, however, to regard it as an allusion to a particular fact, which kindled in her a joy that was altogether peculiar. The seat of this emotion was her spirit πνεῦμα , spirit. When the human spirit is referred to in Scripture, the word indicates the deepest part of our humanity, the point of contact between man and God. The soul is the actual centre of human life, the principle of individuality, and the seat of those impressions which are of an essentially personal character. This soul communicates, through the two organs with which it is endowed, the spirit and the body, with two worlds, the one above, the other below it, with the divine world and the world of nature. Thus, while the expression, “ My soul doth magnify,” refers to the personal emotions of Mary, to her feelings as a woman and a mother, all which find an outlet in adoration, these words, “My spirit hath rejoiced,” appear to indicate the moment when, in the profoundest depths of her being, by the touch of the Divine Spirit, the promise of the angel was accomplished in her.
These two sentences contain yet a third contrast: The Lord whom she magnifies is the Master of the service to which she is absolutely devoted; the Saviour in whom she has rejoiced is that merciful God who has made her feel His restoring power, and who in her person has just saved fallen humanity. Further, it is this divine compassion which she celebrates in the following words, Luke 1:48. What did He find in her which supplied sufficient grounds for such a favour? One thing alone her low estate. Ταπείνωσις does not denote, as ταπεινότης does, the moral disposition of humility; Mary does not boast of her humility. It is rather, as the form of the word indicates, an act of which she had been the object, the humbling influence under which she had been brought by her social position, and by the whole circumstances which had reduced her a daughter of kings, to the rank of the poorest of the daughters of Israel.
Perhaps the interval between the moment of the incarnation, denoted by the aorists hath rejoiced, hath regarded, and that in which she thus celebrated it, was not very great. Was not that thrilling moment, when she entered the house of Zacharias, and beheld at a glance in the person of Elizabeth the fulfilment of the sign given her by the angel, the moment of supreme divine manifestation towards herself? The expression, Behold, henceforth, which commences the following strophe, thus becomes full of meaning.
3. The song of Mary: Luke 1:46-56. Elizabeth's salutation was full of excitement ( she spake out with a loud voice), but Mary's hymn breathes a sentiment of deep inward repose. The greater happiness is, the calmer it is. So Luke says simply, εἶπε , she said. A majesty truly regal reigns throughout this canticle. Mary describes first her actual impressions (Luke 1:46-48 a); thence she rises to the divine fact which is the cause of them (Luke 1:48-50; Luke 1:48-50); she next contemplates the development of the historical consequences contained in it ( Luk 1:51-53 ); lastly, she celebrates the moral necessity of this fact as the accomplishment of God's ancient promises to His people ( Luk 1:54-55 ).
The tone of the first strophe has a sweet and calm solemnity. It becomes more animated in the second, in which Mary contemplates the work of the Most High. It attains its full height and energy in the third, as Mary contemplates the immense revolution of which this work is the beginning and cause. Her song drops down and returns to its nest in the fourth, which is, as it were, the amen of the canticle.
This hymn is closely allied to that of the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:0), and contains several sentences taken from the book of Psalms. Is it, as some have maintained, destitute of all originality on this account? By no means. There is a very marked difference between Hannah's song of triumph and Mary's. Whilst Mary celebrates her happiness with deep humility and holy restraint, Hannah surrenders herself completely to the feeling of personal triumph; with her very first words she breaks forth into cries of indignation against her enemies. As to the borrowed biblical phrases, Mary gives to these consecrated words an entirely new meaning and a higher application. The prophets frequently deal in this way with the words of their predecessors. By this means these organs of the Spirit exhibit the continuity and progress of the divine work. Criticism asks whether Mary turned over the leaves of her Bible before she spoke. It forgets that every young Israelite knew by heart from childhood the songs of Hannah, Deborah, and David; that they sang them as they went up to the feasts at Jerusalem; and that the singing of psalms was the daily accompaniment of the morning and evening sacrifice, as well as one of the essential observances of the passover meal.
Vers. 46-55. “ And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48a. For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
48b. For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
50. And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
51. He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.
54. He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; 55. ( As He spake to our fathers), to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. ”
Vers. 48b-50. The greatness of her happiness appears in the renown which it will bring her; hence the γάρ , for. The word behold refers to the unexpected character of this dealing. Mary ascribes to God, as its author, the fact which she celebrates, and glorifies the three divine perfections displayed in it. And first the power. In calling God the Almighty, she appears to make direct allusion to the expression of the angel: the power of the Highest ( Luk 1:35 ). Here is an act in which is displayed, as in no other since the appearance of man, the creative power of God. The received reading μεγαλεῖα answers better than the reading of some Alex., μεγάλα , to the emphatic term נִפְלְאוֹת , which Luke doubtless read in his Hebrew document (comp. Act 2:11 ). But this omnipotence is not of a purely physical character; it is subservient to holiness. This is the second perfection which Mary celebrates. She felt herself, in this marvellous work, in immediate contact with supreme holiness; and she well knew that this perfection more than any other constitutes the essence of God: His name is holy. The name is the sign of an object in the mind which knows it. The name of God therefore denotes, not the Divine Being, but the more or less adequate reflection of Him in those intelligences which are in communion with Him. Hence we see how this name can be sanctified, rendered holy. The essential nature of God may be more clearly understood by His creatures, and more completely disengaged from those clouds which have hitherto obscured it in their minds. Thus Mary had received, in the experience she had just passed through, a new revelation of the holiness of the Divine Being.
This short sentence is not dependent on the ὅτι , because, which governs the preceding. For the καί , and, which follows, establishes a close connection between it and Luke 1:50, which, if subordinated to Luke 1:49, would be too drawn out.
This feature of holiness which Mary so forcibly expresses, is, in fact, that which distinguishes the incarnation from all the analogous facts of heathen mythologies.
The third divine perfection celebrated by Mary is mercy ( Luk 1:50 ). Mary has already sung its praise in Luk 1:48 in relation to herself. She speaks of it here in a more general way. By them that fear God, she intends more especially Zacharias and Elizabeth, there present before her; then all the members of her people who share with them this fundamental trait of Jewish piety, and who thus constitute the true Israel.
The received reading εἰς γενεὰς γενεῶν , from generation to generation, is a form of the superlative which is found in the expression to the age of the ages, the meaning of which is, “to the most remote generations.” The two other readings mentioned in the critical notes express continuity rather than remoteness in time. These words, “ on them that fear Him,” are the transition to the third strophe. For they implicitly contain the antithesis which comes out in the verses following.
Vers. 51-53. A much more strongly marked poetical parallelism characterizes this strophe. Mary here describes with a thrill of emotion, of which even her language partakes, the great Messianic revolution, the commencement of which she was beholding at that very time. In the choice God had made of two persons of such humble condition in life as herself and her cousin, she saw at a glance the great principle which would regulate the impending renewal of all things. It is to be a complete reversal of the human notions of greatness and meanness.
The poor and the hungry are evidently the Israelites fearing God of Luke 1:50. Such expressions cannot apply to Israel as a whole to the proud Pharisees and rich Sadducees, for example. The line of demarcation which she draws in these words passes, therefore, not between the Jews and Gentiles, but between the pious Israelites and all that exalt themselves against God, whether in or beyond Israel. The proud, the mighty, and the rich, denote Herod and his court, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as well as the foreign oppressors, Caesar and his armies, and all the powers of heathendom. The aorists of these three verses indicate, according to Bleek, the repetition of the act; so he translates them by the present. I rather think that to Mary's eyes the catastrophe presents itself as already consummated in the act which God had just accomplished. Does not this act contain the principle of the rejection of all that is exalted in the world, and of the choice of whatever in human estimation is brought low? All these divine acts which are about to follow, one after another, will only be a further application of the same principle. They are virtually contained in that which Mary celebrates. Consequently the aorists are properly translated by the past.
The first proposition of Luk 1:51 applies to the righteous and wicked alike. Still the former of these two applications predominates ( Luk 1:50 ). The arm is the symbol of force. The expression ποιεῖν κράτος , to make strength, is a Hebraism, עשָׂה † ָחיִל ׃ ¢ ( ֹ Psa 118:15 ). The LXX. translate it by ποιεῖν δύναμιν . If it was Luke who translated the Hebrew document into Greek, it is evident that he kept his version independent of the LXX.
The favour God shows to the righteous has its necessary counterpart in the overthrow of the wicked. This is the connection of the second proposition. The expression ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ , proud in thought, answers to לֵב £ בּירֵי ¢ אַ ִ Psa 76:6 ); the LXX. translate this expression by ἀσύνετοι τῇ καρδίᾳ . The dative διανοίᾳ defines the adjective: “the proud in thought, who exalt themselves in their thoughts.” Mary represents all these as forming an opposing host to men that fear God; hence the expression scatter. With the reading διανοίας , ὑπερηφάνους is the epithet of the substantive, proud thoughts. This reading is evidently a mistake.
Ver. 52. From the moral contrast between the proud and the faithful, Mary passes to a contrast of their social position, the mighty and those of low degree. The former are those who reign without that spirit of humility which is inspired by the fear of Jehovah.
The third antithesis ( Luk 1:53 ), which is connected with the preceding, is that of suffering and prosperity. The hungry represent the class which toils for a living artisans, like Joseph and Mary; the rich are men gorged with wealth, Israelites or heathen, who, in the use they make of God's gifts, entirely forget their dependence and responsibility. The abundance which is to compensate the former certainly consists the contrast requires it of temporal enjoyments. But since this abundance is an effect of the divine blessing, it implies, as its condition, the possession of spiritual graces. For, from the Old Testament point of view, prosperity is only a snare, when it does not rest on the foundation of peace with God. And so also, the spoliation which is to befall the rich is without doubt the loss of their temporal advantages. But what makes this loss a real evil is, that it is the effect of a divine curse upon their pride.
The poetic beauty of these three verses is heightened by a crossing of the members of the three antitheses, which is substituted for the ordinary method of symmetrical parallelism. In the first contrast ( Luk 1:51 ), the righteous occupy the first place, the proud the second; in the second, on the contrary ( Luk 1:52 ), the mighty occupy the first place, so as to be in close connection with the proud of Luke 1:51, and the lowly the second; in the third ( Luk 1:53 ), the hungry come first, joining themselves with the lowly of Luke 1:52, and the rich form the second member. The mind passes in this way, as it were, on the crest of a wave, from like to like, and the taste is not offended, as it would have been by a symmetrical arrangement in which the homogeneous members of the contrast occurred every time in the same order.
Luke 1:54-55. Mary celebrates in this last strophe the faithfulness of God. That, in fact, is the foundation of the whole Messianic work. If the preceding strophe unveils to us the future developments of this work, this sends us back to its beginning in the remote past. Παῖς signifies here servant rather than son. It is an allusion to the title of Israel, servant of the Lord ( Isa 41:8 ). The Master sees His well-beloved servant crushed beneath the burden which his pitiless oppressors have imposed, and He takes it upon Himself (middle λαμβάνεσθαι ) in order to comfort him ( ἀντί ). This term, Israel His servant, seems at first sight to apply to the whole people; and doubtless it is this explanation that has led several interpreters to apply the expressions proud, mighty, rich, in the preceding verses, solely to foreign oppressors. If, as we have seen, the latter explanation cannot be maintained, we must conclude that by this Israel, the servant of God, Mary understands the God-fearing Israelites of the fiftieth verse, not as individuals, but as the true representatives of the nation itself. The faithful portion of the nation is identified in this expression with the nation as a whole, because it is its true substance; besides, Mary could not know beforehand how far this true Israel would correspond with the actual people. For her own part, she already sees in hope (aorist ἀντελάβετο ) the normal Israel transformed into the glorified Messianic nation. Would such a view as this have been possible when once the national unbelief had apparently foiled all these Messianic hopes?
There is nothing here to hinder the infinitive of the end, μνησθῆναι , from preserving its proper meaning. To remember His promises signifies, in order not to be unfaithful.
Erasmus, Calvin, and others regard the datives τῷ ᾿Αβραάμ and τῷ σπέρματι as governed by ἐλάλησε , in apposition with πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας : “As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed...” But this construction is forced and inadmissible. Besides, the last words, for ever, if referred to the verb He spake, would have no meaning. Therefore we must make the proposition, as He spake to our fathers, a parenthesis intended to recall the divine faithfulness, and refer the datives, to Abraham and to his seed, to the verb, to remember His mercy. It is the dative of favour, to remember towards Abraham and...For Abraham, as well as his race, enjoys the mercy which is shown to the latter (comp. Luk 1:17 ). The words for ever qualify the idea, not to forget His mercy. Divine forgetfulness will never cause the favour promised to Israel to cease. Would any poet have ever put such words into the mouth of Mary, when Jerusalem was in ruins and its people dispersed?
Ver. 56 is a historical conclusion.
Did the departure of Mary take place before the birth of John the Baptist? We might suppose so from the particle δέ and the aorist ἐπλήσθη ( Luk 1:57 ), which very naturally imply a historical succession. But, on the other hand, it would be hardly natural that Mary should leave at a time when the expected deliverance of Elizabeth was so near at hand. This verse, therefore, must be regarded as a historical anticipation, such as is frequently found in Luke. Comp. Luke 1:65, Luke 3:19-20, etc.
1. Birth of John: Luke 1:57-58.
These verses are like a pleasing picture of Jewish home-life. We see the neighbours and relations arriving one after the other, the former first, because they live nearest. Elizabeth, the happy mother, is the central figure of the scene; every one comes up to her in turn. ᾿Εμεγάλυνε μετ᾿ αὑτῆς , literally, He had magnified with her, is a Hebraistic expression ( הִגַדִּילעִם ; comp. 1Sa 12:24 in the LXX.). This use of μετά , with, comes from the fact that man is in such cases the material which concurs in the result of the divine action.
Fourth Narrative: Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist, Luke 1:57-80 .
Here opens the second cycle of the narratives of the infancy. This first narration comprises 1. The birth of John ( Luk 1:57-58 ); 2. The circumcision of the child ( Luk 1:59-66 ); 3. The song of Zacharias, with a short historical conclusion ( Luk 1:67-80 ).
2. Circumcision of John: Luke 1:59-66. As an Israelitish child by its birth became a member of the human family, so by circumcision, on the corresponding day of the following week, he was incorporated into the covenant (Genesis 17:0); and it was the custom on this occasion to give him his name. The subject of ἦλθον , came, is that of the preceding verse. It has been maintained that the text suggests something miraculous in the agreement of Elizabeth and Zacharias; as if, during the nine months which had just passed away, the father had not made to the mother a hundred times over the communication which he presently makes to all present ( Luk 1:63 )! How many times already, especially during Mary's stay in their house, must the names of John and Jesus have been mentioned!
It has been inferred from the words, they made signs to him ( Luk 1:62 ), that Zacharias became deaf as well as dumb. But the case of Zacharias cannot be assimilated to that of deaf mutes from their birth, in whom dumbness ordinarily results from deafness. The whole scene, on the contrary, implies that Zacharias had heard everything. The use of the language of signs proceeds simply from this, that we instinctively adopt this means of communication towards those who can speak in no other way:
Ver. 63. The word λέγων added to ἔγραψεν is a Hebraism ( וַיִּכְתֹּבלֵאמֹר , 2Ki 10:6 ), the meaning of which is, “deciding the question.”
The expression, his name is, points to a higher authority which has so determined it; and it is this circumstance, rather than the agreement between the father and mother a fact so easily explained which astonishes the persons present. Every one recalls on this occasion the strange events which had preceded the birth of the child.
Ver. 64. Zacharias, thus obedient, recovers his speech, of which his want of faith had deprived him. The verb ἀνεῴχθη , was opened, does not agree with the second subject, the tongue, for which the verb was loosed, taken from the preceding verb, must be supplied.
In the words, he spake and praised God, naturally it is on the word spake that the emphasis rests, in opposition to his previous dumbness. The last words are only an appendix, serving to introduce the song which follows. We must therefore refrain from translating, with Ostervald, “He spake by praising God.”
Ver. 65. At the sight of this miracle, surprise changes into fear. And this impression spreads abroad, with the report of these facts, throughout all the country. That is more especially the sense of the reading of א , which, however, from a critical point of view, it is impossible to adopt.
Ver. 66. They not merely told, they laid to heart; these were the first emotions of the Messianic era.
The Alex. reading, καὶ γάρ , for also the hand of the Lord was with him, although adopted by Tischendorf, appears to us untenable. Whether, in fact, this for be put in the mouth of the narrator, or be assigned to the persons who ask the preceding question, in either case these words, the hand of the Lord was with him, must refer to all the circumstances which have just been narrated, while, according to the natural sense of the imperfect ἦν , was, they apply to the entire childhood of John the Baptist. This for has been wrongly added, with a view of making this reflection the motive of the preceding question. The T. R. is supported by not only the majority of the Mjj., but more especially by the agreement of the Alexandrinus and of the Peschito, which is always a criterion worthy of attention.
The development of this child was effected with the marked concurrence of divine power. The hand, here as usually, is the emblem of force.
These last words form the first of those resting-points which we shall often meet with in the course of our Gospel, and which occur in the book of the Acts. It is a picture, drawn with a single stroke of the pen, of the entire childhood of John the Baptist. Comp. Luke 1:80, which describes, by a corresponding formula, his youth.
Vers. 67-75. “ And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, 69. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; 70. As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began; 71. That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72. To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, 73. The oath which He sware to our father Abraham, 74. That He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, 75. In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. ”
The aorists, hath raised up, hath delivered, imply a knowledge on Zacharias' part of the fact of the incarnation. The term visited refers to the absence of God during the four centuries in which the prophetic voice had been silent and heaven shut. The abstract expressions of the sixty-eighth verse are followed in Luk 1:69 by one more concrete. Zacharias is emboldened to designate the Messiah Himself. He calls Him a horn of salvation. This image of a horn is frequent in the Old Testament, where it had been already applied to the Messiah: I will raise up a horn to David ( Psa 132:16 ). The explanation must be found neither in the horns of the altar on which criminals sought to lay hold, nor in the horns with which they ornamented their helmets; the figure is taken from the horns of the bull, in which the power of this animal resides. It is a natural image among an agricultural people. The term ἤγειρε , hath raised up, is properly applied to an organic growth, like a horn. Just as the strength of the animal is concentrated in its horn, so all the delivering power granted to the family of David for the advantage of the people will be concentrated in the Messiah. This verse implies that Zacharias regarded Mary as a descendant of David.
In Luke 1:70, Zacharias sets forth the greatness of this appearing by referring to the numerous and ancient promises of which it is the subject. Whether with or without the article τῶν , ἁγίων ( holy) must in any case be taken as an adjective; and it is unnecessary to translate, of His saints of every age who have been prophets, which would imply that all the saints have prophesied. If τῶν is retained, the word simply serves as a point of support to the definitive term ἀπ᾿ αἰῶνος . The epithet holy characterizes the prophets as organs, not of a human and consequently profane word, but of a divine revelation. Holiness is the distinctive feature of all that emanates from God. We may judge, by the impression which the certain approach of Christ's advent would make on us, of the feeling which must have been produced in the hearts of these people by the thought, The Messiah is there; history, long suspended, resumes its march, and touches its goal.
In vers. 71-75, Zacharias describes the work of this Messiah.
The most natural explanation of σωτηρίαν , salvation, is to regard this word as in apposition with the term horn of salvation ( Luk 1:69 ). The notion of salvation is easily substituted for that of a Saviour.
The idea of salvation, brought out in this first word, is exhibited in its full meaning in Luke 1:74. The two terms, our enemies, and them that hate us, cannot be altogether synonymous. The former denotes the foreign heathen oppressors; the latter would embrace also the native tyrants, Herod and his party, so odious to true Israelites.
In granting this deliverance, God shows mercy ( Luk 1:72 ) not only to the living, but to the dead, who were waiting with the heartsickness of deferred hope for the accomplishment of the promises, and especially of the oaths of God. On this idea, see Luke 1:17; for the infinitive μνησθῆναι , Luke 1:54; for the turn of expression ποιεῖν μετά , Luke 1:58. ῞Ορκον ( Luk 1:73 ) is in apposition with διαθήκης . The accusative is occasioned by the pronoun ὅν . This attraction is the more easily accounted for, that μνᾶσθαι is construed in the LXX. with the accusative and the genitive indifferently.
The infinitive to grant expresses the long-expected end of the development of prophecy, a development which seems designed to typify this long period.
The article τοῦ characterizes the infinitive δοῦναι as the end desired and determined from the beginning. Grammatically, it depends on ὅρκον ; logically, on all that precedes.
In the following phrase, the relation of ῥυσθέντας to λατρεύειν should be observed: after having been delivered, to serve God: the end is perfect religious service; political deliverance is only a means to it. Perfect worship requires outward security. The Messiah is about to reign; no Antiochus Epiphanes or Pompey shall any more profane the sanctuary! We find here in all its purity the ideal salvation as it is described in the Old Testament, and as the son of Zacharias himself understood it to the very last. Its leading feature is the indissoluble union of the two deliverances, the religious and the political; it was a glorious theocracy founded on national holiness. This programme prevented John the Baptist from identifying himself with the course of the ministry of Jesus. How, after the unbelief of Israel had created a gulf between the expectation and the facts, could a later writer, attributing to Zacharias just what words he pleased, put into his mouth these fond hopes of earlier days?
῾Οσιότης , purity, and δικαιοσύνη , righteousness ( Luk 1:75 ), have been distinguished in several ways. Bleek and others refer the former of these terms to the inward disposition, the latter to the outward conduct. But righteousness, in the Scriptures, comprehends more than the outward act. Others apply the former to relations with God, the latter to relations with men. But righteousness also comprehends man's relations with God. It appears to us rather that purity, ὁσιότης , is a negative quality, the absence of stain; and righteousness, δικαιοσύνη , a positive quality, the presence of all those religious and moral virtues which render worship acceptable to God. Comp. Ephesians 4:24.
The authorities decide in favour of the excision of the words τῆς ζωῆς , although the French translation cannot dispense with them.
At the time of the captivity, the prophet-priest Ezekiel contemplated, under the image of a temple of perfect dimensions, the perfected theocracy (Ezekiel 40-48). Here the priest-prophet Zacharias contemplates the same ideal under the image of an uninterrupted and undefiled worship. The Holy Spirit adapts the form of His revelations to the habitual prepossessions of those who are to be the organs of them.
3. The song of Zacharias: Luke 1:67-80.
It might be supposed that Zacharias composed this song in view of the religious and moral progress of the child, or on the occasion of some special event in which the divine power within him was displayed during the course of his childhood. We are led, however, to another supposition by the connection between the first words of the song, Blessed be the Lord, and the expression which the evangelist has employed in Luke 1:64, “he spake, blessing God. ” This song, which was composed in the priest's mind during the time of his silence, broke solemnly from his lips the moment speech was restored to him, as the metal flows from the crucible in which it has been melted the moment that an outlet is made for it. At Luke 1:64, Luke is contented to indicate the place of the song, in order not to interrupt the narrative, and he has appended the song itself to his narrative, as possessing a value independent of the time when it was uttered.
We observe in the hymn of Zacharias the same order as in the salutation of Elizabeth. The theocratic sentiment breaks forth first: Zacharias gives thanks for the arrival of the times of the Messiah ( Luk 1:68-75 ). Then his paternal feeling comes out, as it were, in a parenthesis: the father expresses his joy at the glorious part assigned to his son in this great work ( Luk 1:76-77 ); lastly, thanksgiving for the Messianic salvation overflows and closes the song ( Luk 1:78-79 ).
The spiritual character of this passage appears even from this exposition. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone to subordinate even the legitimate emotions of paternal affection to the theocratic sentiment.
1 st. vers. 67-75.
Zacharias gives thanks, first of all, for the coming of the Messiah ( Luk 1:67-70 ); then for the deliverance which His presence is about to procure for Israel ( Luk 1:71-75 ).
2 d. Luke 1:76-77.
From the height to which he has just attained, Zacharias allows his glance to fall upon the little child at rest before him, and he assigns him his part in the work which has begun. Luk 1:76 refers to him personally, Luk 1:77 to his mission.
Vers. 76 and 77. “ And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins. ”
The reading καὶ σύ , and thou, connects, by an easy transition, the forerunner with the work of the Messiah. The Alex. reading καὶ σὺ δέ , but thou, brings out more strongly, too strongly, doubtless, this secondary personality; it has against it not only the sixteen other Mjj., but further, the Peschito, the Italic, Irenaeus, and Origen, and must therefore be rejected. The title of prophet of the Highest simply places John the Baptist in that choir of the prophets of whom Zacharias speaks in Luke 1:70; later on, Jesus will assign him a higher place.
In saying the Lord, Zacharias can only be thinking of the Messiah. This is proved by the πρό , before Him, in προπορεύσῃ , and the αὐτοῦ , His ways. But he could not designate Him by this name, unless, with Malachi, he recognised in His coming the appearing of Jehovah (comp. Luke 1:17; Luke 1:43, Luk 2:11 ). The second proposition is a combination of the two propositions, Isaiah 40:3 ( ἑτοιμάσαι ) and Malachi 3:1 ( προπορεύσῃ ), prophecies which are also found combined in Mark 1:2-3. The article τοῦ before δοῦναι , to give, indicates a purpose. This word, in fact, throws a vivid light on the aim of John the Baptist's ministry. Why was the ministry of the Messiah preceded by that of another divine messenger? Because the very notion of salvation was falsified in Israel, and had to be corrected before salvation could be realized. 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. If the notion of salvation had not been restored to its scriptural purity before being realized by the Messiah, not only would He have had to employ a large part of the time assigned to Him in accomplishing this indispensable task; but further, He would certainly have been accused of inventing a theory of salvation to suit His impotence to effect any other. There was needed, then, another person, divinely authorized, to remind the people that perdition consisted not in subjection to the Romans, but in divine condemnation; and that salvation, therefore, was not temporal emancipation, but the forgiveness of sins. To implant once more in the hearts of the people this notion of salvation, was indeed to prepare the way for Jesus, who was to accomplish this salvation, and no other. The last words, by the remission of their sins, depend directly on the word σωτηρίας , salvation: salvation by, that is to say, consisting in. The article τῆς is omitted before ἐν ἀφέσει , as is the case when the definitive forms, with the word on which it depends, merely one and the same notion.
The pronoun αὐτῶν refers to all the individuals comprehended under the collective idea of people. The authorities which read ἡμῶν are insufficient.
The words to His people show that Israel, although the people of God, were blind to the way of salvation. John the Baptist was to show to this people, who believed that all they needed was political restoration, that they were not less guilty than the heathen, and that they needed just as much divine pardon. This was precisely the meaning of the baptism to which he invited the Jews.
3 d. Luke 1:78-79.
After this episode, Zacharias returns to the principal subject of his song, and, in an admirable closing picture, describes the glory of Messiah's appearing, and of the salvation which He brings.
Vers. 78 and 79. “ Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet unto the way of peace. ”
Zacharias ascends to the highest source whence this stream of grace pours down upon our earth the divine mercy. This idea is naturally connected with that of pardon ( Luk 1:77 ), as is expressed by διά with the accusative, which means properly by reason of.
The bowels in Scripture are the seat of all the sympathetic emotions. Σπλάγχνα answers to א .
The future ἐπισκέψεται , will visit, in some Alex., is evidently a correction suggested by the consideration that Christ was not born at the time Zacharias was speaking. Yet even such instances as these do not disturb the faith of critics in the authority of Alexandrine MSS.!
All the images in the picture portrayed in Luk 1:78-79 appear to be borrowed from the following comparison:
A caravan misses its way and is lost in the desert; the unfortunate pilgrims, overtaken by night, are sitting down in the midst of this fearful darkness, expecting death. All at once a bright star rises in the horizon and lights up the plain; the travellers, taking courage at this sight, arise, and by the light of this star find the road which leads them to the end of their journey.
The substantive ἀνατολή , the rising, which by general consent is here translated the dawn, has two senses in the LXX. It is employed to translate the noun ֶצמַח , H7542, branch, by which Jeremiah and Zechariah designate the Messiah. This sense of the word ἀνατολή is unknown in profane Greek. The term is also used by the LXX. to express the rising of a heavenly body the rising of the moon, for instance; comp. Isaiah 60:19. This sense agrees with the meaning of the verb ἀνατέλλειν ; Isaiah 60:1, “ The glory of the Lord hath risen ( ἀνατέταλκεν ) upon thee; ” Malachi 4:2, “ The Sun of righteousness shall rise ( ἀνατελεῖ ) upon you. ” This is the meaning of the word ἀνατολή in good Greek. And it appears to us that this is its meaning here. It follows, indeed, from the use of the verb hath visited us, which may very well be said of a star, but not of a branch; and the same remark applies to the images that follow, to light and to direct ( Luk 1:79 ). Besides, the epithet from on high agrees much better with the figure of a star than with that of a plant that sprouts. The regimen from on high does not certainly quite agree with the verb to rise. But the term from on high is suggested by the idea of visiting which goes before: it is from the bosom of divine mercy that this star comes down, and it does not rise upon humanity until after it has descended and been made man. Bleek does not altogether reject this obvious meaning of ἀνατολή ; but he maintains that we should combine it with the sense of branch, by supposing a play of words turning upon the double image of a sprouting branch and a rising star; and as there is no Hebrew word which will bear this double meaning, he draws from this passage the serious critical consequence, that this song, and therefore all the others contained in these two chapters, were originally written, not in Aramaean, but in Greek, which of course deprives them of their authenticity. But this whole explanation is simply a play of Bleek's imagination. There is nothing in the text to indicate that the author intends any play upon words here; and, as we have seen, none of the images employed are compatible with the meaning of branch.
The expressions of Luk 1:79 are borrowed from Isaiah 9:1; Isaiah 60:2. Darkness is the emblem of alienation from God, and of the spiritual ignorance that accompanies it. This darkness is a shadow of death, because it leads to perdition, just as the darkening of sight in the dying is a prelude to the night of death. The term sit denotes a state of exhaustion and despair. The sudden shining forth of the star brings the whole caravan of travellers to their feet ( τοὺς πόδας ), and enables them to find their way.
The way of peace denotes the means of obtaining reconciliation with God, the chief of all temporal and spiritual blessings. Εἰρήνη , peace, answers to שָׁלוֹם , H8934, a word by which the Hebrew language designates the bountiful supply of whatever answers to human need full prosperity.
Ver. 80. The historical conclusion, Luke 1:80, corresponds with that in Luke 1:66. As the latter sketches with a stroke of the pen the childhood of John, so this gives a picture of his youth, and carries us forward to the time when he began his ministry. The term he grew refers to his physical development, and the expression following, waxed strong in spirit, to his spiritual development, that is to say, religious, moral, and intellectual. The predominant feature of this development was force, energy ( he grew strong in spirit). Luke, doubtless, means by this the power of the will over the instincts and inclinations of the body. The spirit is here certainly that of John himself; but when a man developes in a right way, it is only by communion with the Divine Spirit that his spirit unfolds, as the flower only blows when in contact with the light.
This spiritual development of John was due to no human influence. For the child lived in the deserts. Probably the desert of Judea is meant here, an inhabited country, whose deeply creviced soil affords an outlet to several streams that empty themselves into the Dead Sea. This country, abounding in caves, has always been the refuge of anchorites. In the time of John the Baptist there were probably Essenran monasteries there; for history says positively that these cenobites dwelt upon both shores of the Dead Sea. It has been inferred from this passage that John, during his sojourn in the desert, visited these sages, and profited by their teaching. This opinion is altogether opposed to the design of the text, which is to attribute to God alone the direction of the development of the forerunner. But more than this. If John was taught by the Essenes, it must be admitted that the only thing their instructions did for him was to lead him to take entirely opposite views on all points. The Essenes had renounced every Messianic expectation; the soul of John's life and ministry was the expectation of the Messiah and the preparation for His work. The Essenes made matter the seat of sin; John, by his energetic calls to conversion, shows plainly enough that he found it in the will. The Essenes withdrew from society, and gave themselves up to mystic contemplation; John, at the signal from on high, threw himself boldly into the midst of the people, and to the very last took a most active and courageous part in the affairs of his country. If, after all, any similarities are found between him and them, John's originality is too well established to attribute them to imitation; such similarities arise from the attempt they both made to effect a reform in degenerate Judaism. The relation of John to the Essenes is very similar to that of Luther to the mystics of the middle ages. On the part of the Essenes, as of the mystics, there is the human effort which attests the need; on the part of John, as well as of Luther, the divine work which satisfies it.
The abstract plural in the deserts proves that this observation is made with a moral and not a geographical aim.
The word ἀνάδειξις , showing, denotes the installation of a servant into his office, his official institution into his charge. The author of this act, unnamed but understood, is evidently God. It follows from Luke 3:2, and from John 1:31-33, that a direct communication from on high, perhaps a theophany, such as called Moses from the desert, was the signal for John to enter upon his work. But we have no account of this scene which took place between God and His messenger. Our evangelists only relate what they know.
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Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29