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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 1

 

 

Introduction

Luke 1:5 to Luke 2:52. Narratives of the Infancy of Jesus.—This section has outstanding peculiarities of style and diction as compared with Luke 1:1-4, and the rest of the Gospel. It has therefore been surmised that the writer has here incorporated an Aramaic (possibly Greek) source-document, or that he consciously wrote in an archaic style imitative of the Septuagint. Either of these suggestions may be combined with a third, that the section is a subsequent insertion, due to some one other than the author of the rest of the book. Harnack favours the archaizing theory, but Moffatt prefers to regard the section as the translation of an early Palestinian Aramaic document in which Luke has inserted items like Luke 1:34 f. and Luke 2:1. Stanton takes an intermediate view: Luke has obtained part of his material, especially the hymns, from some source, and skilfully woven it into his narrative.


Verses 1-4

Luke 1:1-4. Preface.—The writer, influenced by the attempts of others to record the primitive tradition of Christianity as it was handed down by the first generation of disciples, essays the same task, and having taken pains to collect, examine, sift, and arrange the contents of the written and oral tradition, presents the result to Theophilus, a Roman official of some standing, who needed fuller acquaintance with the historic basis of the oral teaching about Christianity which he had received. The preface is written in rather elaborate Greek, is modelled on the conventional lines of ancient literature, and displays some acquaintance with medical phraseology, especially that of Galen.

Luke 1:2. from the beginning, i.e. of the public ministry of Jesus, the Baptism.—ministers of the Word: servants of the spoken gospel.

Luke 1:3. all things: his work is to be complete in scope.—from the very first, from the Birth. If, however, we regard Luke 1:5 to Luke 2:52 as a later addition, it may mean from the Baptism.—in order, not necessarily chronological but at least logical, an order in which the events and sayings are given an appropriate setting.—Theophilus, possibly here a generic name, but more probably to be taken as that of an individual, a literary patron of the Evangelist's. The apocryphal Acts make him a Roman administrator of high rank at Caesarea, and the father of the centurion Cornelius. Luke may have been his freedman.


Verses 5-25

Luke 1:5-25. Prediction of the Birth of John the Baptist.—Lk. alone gives the story, which perhaps existed independently. and had been preserved in Baptist circles like that of Acts 19:1-6. Its Jewish character and form are evident: there are many reminiscences of OT incidents and language. In the days of Herod the Great (i.e. before Luke 1:4 B.C.) there lived in Judæa (Luke 1:39*) a priest named Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth. She was of Aaronic descent (cf. Exodus 6:23, Elisheba), and both were folk of exemplary piety. They were now, like Abraham and Sarah, advanced in life but childless. Zacharias belonged to that one of the divisions of the priesthood which was known as the class or course of Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10). Each course in turn was responsible for a week's service in the Temple. It fell to Zacharias one day to burn incense, and, contrary to the custom, he was doing this alone. As he stood at the altar an angel (Gabriel) appeared, dispelled his natural fear, and announced the fulfilment of a hope (Luke 1:18) which had long been abandoned. Elisabeth is to bear a son John ("Yahweh is gracious"), who shall bring joy to many besides his parents. From his birth he is to be endowed with the Spirit, he is to live an ascetic life (cf. Judges 13:5, Jeremiah 1:5), and reconcile his fellow-countrymen to Yahweh, their God. In him the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:5 f.*) is to be fulfilled; he is to prepare Israel for the coming and the kingdom of God. Zacharias asks a token (cf. Genesis 15:8; Genesis 17:17), and is told that he shall be dumb (for his incredulity) and probably deaf (Luke 6:2) until the prediction is fulfilled (cf. Daniel 10:14 f.). The angel departs; Zacharias, though physically handicapped, fulfils his week's service and goes home. His wife finds that the angelic prediction is in course of fulfilment, and rejoices that the stigma of barrenness (Genesis 30:23) has been removed from her.


Verses 26-38

Luke 1:26-38. Prediction of the Birth of Jesus.—Lk. alone gives this narrative. Three or four months before the birth of Elisabeth's child, Gabriel comes to Nazareth and announces to Mary, a virgin betrothed to one Joseph, a descendant of David, that she stands high in Yahweh's favour. After dispelling her fear he announces that she shall bear a son Jesus (= Joshua, "saviour") who shall be called Son of the Most High (i.e. God), and fulfil the popular Messianic expectation. Mary displays some astonishment at the thought of bearing any child, and Gabriel gives further details. The Holy Spirit, the power of God, is to beget the child, and (mg.) "the holy thing which is to be born shall be called the Son of God"; the term is here used in the ordinary sense, not Messianic as in Luke 1:32. The angel tells Mary about Elisabeth her kinswoman, and says that nothing is impossible with God. Mary accepts her destiny, and the angel departs.

Luke 1:34 f. Many scholars regard these verses as an interpolation, either by Lk. into his source, or by a later editor into Lk. There is no MS. evidence to support this suggestion, though one Old Latin text (b) substitutes Luke 1:38 for Luke 1:34. For a full discussion see Moffatt, INT, p. 268f. Spitta would further omit Luke 1:36 f., and make Luke 1:37 follow Luke 1:33. In this case Mary's acceptance of the prediction is in contrast to Zacharias's scepticism. Besides, Elisabeth's case is hardly proof that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah, though as an argument from the less to the greater it may serve. The idea of Luke 1:35 and its terminology are not Hebraic; "spirit" in Heb. is feminine. But it is possible to take "overshadow" in its primary Gk. sense of hide or conceal. Pregnant women were regarded as peculiarly liable to the assaults of evil spirits (cf. Revelation 12:1-6). We may thus have here the idea of Satan lying in wait for the future Messiah (cf. Revelation 12:1-5); to avoid any molestation the Power of the Highest will conceal the mother till the danger is past. Or it may be simply that the child, while conceived in the usual way, was to receive a special pre-natal sanctity like John (Luke 1:15). Another difficulty in the ordinary acceptance of Luke 1:34 f. is the discrepancy with Luke 3:22, where the original reading is "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee."


Verses 39-56

Luke 1:39-56. Mary Visits Elisabeth. The Magnificat.—The passage links the two preceding incidents, and serves to show the inferiority of John the forerunner, to Jesus the Messiah. Mary (finding herself with child) proceeds to verify the sign. She seeks Elisabeth in a Judæan village (perhaps Ain Karim, six miles west of Jerusalem, where a ruin called Mar Zacharias is shown). Elisabeth's unborn babe recognises the mother of the Messiah, and Elisabeth herself knows of Mary's honour, and praises her belief (follow mg. in Luke 1:45). The Song of Mary which follows is full of OT reminiscences, especially the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). But it is something more than possible that it should be ascribed not to Mary but to Elisabeth. Some of the Old Latin texts (a, b, etc.; p. 601) read "Elisabeth" in Luke 1:46, and this is supported by Irenaeus, Niceta of Remesiana (the fourth-century author of the Te Deum), and perhaps by Cyril of Jerusalem. In the original text there was possibly no name, then some scribe inserted "Mary," because Luke 1:48 seemed appropriate to her. But it is just as suitable to Elisabeth ("low estate" is perhaps the humiliation of childlessness), and the "her" of Luke 1:56 most naturally means the person who has been singing. The Syriac versions saw this, and read "Mary remained with Elisabeth." Of course the name Mary (instead of "she") in Luke 1:56 may be simply due to the verse being at a distance from that in which the name is previously given, but both on external and internal evidence there is much in favour of the hypothesis which assigns the song to Elisabeth, and connects it with the birth of John rather than of Jesus. In Luke 1:54 the Sinaitic Syriac has "his son," which may have been original and was changed to "his servant" because only Jesus can be God's Son.


Verses 57-80

Luke 1:57-80. The Birth of John. The Benedictas.—In due course Elisabeth bore her son and received the congratulations of her friends. When the babe has been circumcised and named, his mother rejects the proposal to call him Zacharias and insists on John. The deaf and dumb father confirms his wife's wish, and his power of speech is restored. The whole incident made a great impression in the district, and people recognised that some great future was before the lad, for as he grew up (the last clause of Luke 1:66 is anti cipatory) he was seen to be Divinely guided and protected. Meanwhile Zacharias is inspired and utters a song-prophecy. Luke 1:68-75, in thoroughly Jewish tone, predicts the deliverance of Israel from the oppressor by a scion of the house of David, and the restoration of the theocracy. In Luke 1:76 ff. Zacharias passes to the destiny of his son, and draws on Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 (perhaps also on Mark 1:4). In view of the awkward connexion between Luke 1:78 and Luke 1:77 some have thought Luke 1:76 f. an interpolation. Luke 1:76 b recalls Luke 1:17 a.

Luke 1:78. dayspring from on high: the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, the dawn of the Messianic age.—dayspring: Gr. anatolè, the word used in Matthew 2:1 f., and translated "east"; Mt. gives the Star a warlike, Lk. a peaceful, significance (Exp., Dec. Luke 19:16, pp. 414f.).

Luke 1:80. During his youth and early manhood John spends much time in desert places—

"Amid dull hearts a prophet never grew,

The nurse of full-grown hearts is solitude."

Cf. Judges 13:24 f., 1 Samuel 2:26, Luke 2:40-52. Note the contrasts.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Luke 1:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/luke-1.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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