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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Luke 1

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 1:1. Forasmuch as, a good translation of the full sounding Greek word (found only here in the N. T.).

Many. This cannot refer to the Apocryphal Gospels which were written later; nor to hostile or incorrect accounts, but, as the next verse shows, to such sketches of the great facts of salvation as had already been drawn up by Christians, in various places, from the testimony of eye-witnesses. Many such were doubtless in existence then, but being more or less fragmentary would not be preserved. Luke may have used some of these in compiling his narrative, but to what extent it is useless to inquire. Even in the first two chapters, where the influence of Hebrew documents is most probable, the peculiarities of Luke’s own style may be noticed. It is barely possible, but not at all probable, that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are included here. See the “Introduction to the Gospels”, § 9 The Synoptic Gospels, in the Matthew Book Comments.

Have taken in hand. This indicates the difficulty and importance of the task, not necessarily the failure of these persons to fulfil it. Luke felt their labors to be insufficient not from incorrectness, but from the fragmentary character of their narratives.

To draw up a narrative, etc. Not mere sayings, but sketches which aimed at completeness and order.

Those matters. The great facts of the life of Christ formed the substance of preaching in the Apostolic times.

Are fully established. The word has reference to the entire acceptance of the facts as fully established, hence ‘surely believed’ is partially correct. Some prefer the meaning: ‘have Seen fulfilled among us.’ This would point to the facts of the Gospel history either as completed in the Apostolic age, or as fulfilling the purpose and promise of God. In any case the facts were both established and accepted, since in an age when writing was not so common as now, many undertook to arrange these facts in a written narrative.


Verses 1-4

This PREFACE is a model of brevity, simplicity, and modesty, as well as of purity and dignity of style. It does not contain expressions of Hebrew origin, and, like most prefaces, it is formal and highly finished. It differs from the Introduction to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-5), which is more doctrinal, each preface being strictly characteristic of the Gospel which follows. Luke, who depicts most fully the Son of Man, appearing indeed in Israel, but for the benefit of the whole race of man, brings out here the human side in the origin of the sacred writings. This preface claims truthfulness for the narrative which follows, on the ground of the authors patient investigation (Luke 1:3), and presents itself as a certain foundation (Luke 1:4) for faith in the facts of the Saviour’s birth, life, death, and resurrection.


Verse 2

Luke 1:2. They delivered them, or, ‘handed them down.’ The oral instruction of the Apostles is here referred to. From this (see Luke 1:4) the writ-ten accounts of the ‘many ‘were drawn up. Oral tradition came first, but this preface plainly implies its insufficiency.

From the beginning, i.e., from the baptism of John (see Mark 1:1; Acts 1:21; John 15:27).

Eye-witnesses. The Apostles, perhaps the Seventy also. This implies that Luke was not a disciple during the lifetime of our Lord.

Became ministers. The same persons who had been ‘eye-witnesses.’

The word, i.e., the word of the gospel, the preached word. Certainly not ‘the Word,’ the Logos, for John only uses this term. Hence ‘of the word’ is scarcely to be joined with ‘eye-witnesses.’


Verse 3

Luke 1:3. To me also. He thus places himself in the ranks of the ‘many,’ but in what follows indicates his superior qualification for the work. He does not claim, but certainly does not disclaim, inspiration. Some old Latin manuscripts add here: et spiritui sancto, ‘and to the Holy Spirit;’ but how could the Holy Spirit be said to make historical researches?

Having traced down, etc. The inspired writers were moved by the Holy Spirit, not as passive machines, but as rational and responsible persons, who exercised their memory, judgment, and used all means of information, under divine guidance.

From the first. This extends further back than ‘the beginning’ (Luke 1:2). We may therefore expect full statements about the early events. Luke could find many still alive from whom these facts would be learned, and that he had met James, ‘the Lord’s brother,’ is evident from Acts 21:17. All these statements are about matters occurring in the same family circle (Mary, Elisabeth, etc.).

In order. Luke lays claim to chronological accuracy in his Gospel, though his narrative in this respect plainly falls behind that of Mark. The comparison is, however, with the fragmentary sketches, referred to in Luke 1:1. He claims at all events systematic arrangement.

Most excellent. An official term, like our word ‘honorable,’ not referring to moral character. (Comp. Acts 23:6; Acts 24:3; Acts 26:25; in all three cases applied to an immoral heathen governor.)

Theophilus. Evidently a man of mark and a Christian (Luke 1:4), but otherwise unknown. It has been inferred from Acts 23:8, that he was not a Jew, and from chapters 27, 28, that he lived in Italy, since those chapters assume an acquaintance with localities near Rome. The name means ‘lover of God,’ and this had led some to the unsupported fancy, that the name was a feigned one, to designate believers. Ambrose: ‘It you are a lover of God, a Theophilus, it is written to thee;’ Ford: ‘The name Theophilus imports the temper of mind which God will bless in the Scripture student.’


Verse 4

Luke 1:4. Know, as the result of acquaintance with the accurate account now sent him.

The certainty. The emphatic word; certainty as the result of positive, accurate statements of truth. From faith to knowledge, from knowledge to still firmer faith.

Concerning the things, Greek ‘words,’ i.e., the statements of living, divine-human facts of salvation which centre in the Person of Christ. Christianity is a religion that is everlasting, for facts cannot be altered; universal, for facts appeal to all; mighty, for facts are stronger than arguments.

Wherein thou wast instructed. Theophilus had been regularly instructed in regard to the main truths of Christianity. The history of our Lord formed the basis of this instruction, but the Epistles of Paul, some of which were written before this Gospel, show that the meaning of the facts was plainly taught Christian instruction is religious, not purely historical. Our word ‘catechise’ is derived from the term here used.


Verse 5

Luke 1:5. In the days of Herod. See on Matthew 2:1.

A certain priest. Not the high-priest

Zacharias, i.e., ‘the Lord remembers.’

Of the course of Abijah. The eighth of the twenty-four classes, into which the descendants of Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, were divided (1 Chronicles 24). Each of these ministered in the temple for one week, from the days of Solomon until the destruction of the first temple, and from the restoration of the courses by Judas Maccabæus until the final destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. In the latter period the names and order of the courses were preserved, but not the descent. At the destruction of the temple by the Romans, the course in waiting was that of Jehoiarib (the first), and date was the 9th day of the Jewish month Ab. But these data do not determine the ‘date of the occurrence before us, since each course must serve at least twice in a year, and ‘after those days’ (Luke 1:24) is indefinite.

Elisabeth, i.e., ‘God’s oath.’ The wife of Aaron bore the same name (Exodus 6:23 : ‘Elisheba’).


Verses 5-25

Chaps. 1 and 2 forming the first part of the Gospel, narrate ‘the miraculous birth and normal development of the Son of Man.’ Chap. 1 tells of events preceding the birth of Christ, namely, the announcement of the birth of John (Luke 1:5-25); the announcement of the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38); the visit of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56); the birth of John (Luke 1:57-80). Both chapters are Hebraistic in style, and hence have been supposed by many to be mainly translations from some document originally existing in the dialect of Palestine. On the poetical compositions, see below. The objections to this part of the narrative have arisen mainly from prejudice against the remarkable facts it states. Yet the wonderful Person of the historical Christ, is the best and only satisfactory explanation of these remarkable antecedents. All

other explanations leave the historical problem greater than ever.


Verse 6

Luke 1:6. Righteous before God. Not outwardly, but really, pious.

Commandments and ordinances. The former probably refers to special commandments, the latter, as its derivation hints, to that by which God defines what is ‘righteous’ for men.

Blameless. The full sense may be thus expressed: ‘walking,’ etc.—so that they were ‘blameless.’ They were ‘saints’ after the Old Testament pattern. The promise made to Abraham (Genesis 22:18) was about to be fulfilled, and the first revelation was made to one of the Abrahamic character.


Verse 7

Luke 1:7. Well stricken in years (Greek, ‘advanced in their days’). A translation in quaint old English of the Hebrew phrase used in Genesis 18:11. See that passage, which presents the similar case of Abraham and Sarah.


Verse 8

Luke 1:8. Served as priest, is more simple than the paraphrase of the E. V. The words used here and in Luke 1:9 are not the same.

In the order of his course, i.e., during the week his course served in the temple.


Verse 9

Luke 1:9. According to the custom of the priesthood. To be joined with what follows, not with what precedes. The ‘custom’ was to assign by lot for each day the various parts of the service to the priests of the course on duty for the week. The most honorable office, which fell to Zacharias on this occasion, was allotted to the same person but once, i.e., for one day during the week of service.

To enter into the temple of the Lord, i.e., ‘the holy place.’ Beyond this only the high-priest could go.

And burn incense. At the time of the morning and of the evening sacrifice. The sacrifice was offered on the great altar of burnt-offering, which stood outside in the court of the priests. One priest took fire from this altar to the altar of incense, and then left the priest, whose duty it was to bum incense, alone in the holy place; the latter (Zacharias in this case), at a signal from the priest presiding at the sacrifice, kindled the incense.


Verse 10

Luke 1:10. Were praying. The smoke of the incense was symbolical of acceptable prayer rising to God; comp. Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4. It was the custom to pray without, i.e.:, in the courts of the men and women, at the hour of incense, i.e., while it was burnt. This was probably at the time of the morning sacrifice, as the allotment seems to have just occurred. Josephus tells of a vision to John Hyrcanus, the high-priest, while offering incense.


Verse 11

Luke 1:11. Appeared to him. An actual angelic appearance. The pious priest, engaged in this high duty, alone in the holiest spot into which he could enter, at the most sacred moment, would be in a state of religious susceptibility; but the revelation itself came from without, from a personal spirit sent by God. The presence of angels in the place dedicated to God, even at such a time of corruption, is suggestive.

On the right side of the altar of incense. Probably on the right of Zacharias: the right side (comp. Matthew 25:33), indicative of a blessing, was in this case the north side of the altar, where the table of the shew-bread stood. ‘The temple, so often the scene of the manifestation of the glory of the Lord, becomes again the centre, whence the first rays of light secretly break through the darkness.’


Verse 12

Luke 1:12. Fear fell upon him. This fear was natural, for angelic revelations had not occurred for centuries.


Verse 13

Luke 1:13. For thy prayer is heard. The doubt of Zacharias (Luke 1:18) indicates that he had ceased to pray for a son. The prayer was doubtless a Messianic one, even if he still cherished some hope of a son in his old age. The answer includes both the public and private blessing. The Messiah will appear in his days, and the forerunner promised of old (Malachi 4) shall be his son.

John, ‘God graciously gave.’ Comp. 2 Kings 25:23; 2 Chronicles 17:15; 2 Chronicles 23:1; 2 Chronicles 28:12; Nehemiah 6:18; Nehemiah 12:13; where the Hebrew name occurs in different forms. See on Matthew 1:1.


Verse 14

Luke 1:14. Many, etc. The promise was not for the father alone; hence the prayer was probably general.


Verse 15

Luke 1:15. He shall be great in the sight of the Lord. Spiritual, not temporal, greatness is promised.

Neither wine nor strong drink. ‘Sikera,’ the Greek word here used, refers to liquors of an intoxicating character, not prepared from grapes. He was to be a Nazarite (see Numbers 6). Such vows were not unusual in New Testament times (see Acts 21:24). John ranks with Isaac, as a son begotten in old age; with Samson and Samuel, as granted to the barren in answer to prayer, and as a Nazarite (comp. 13:5;1 Samuel 1:12).

Filled with the Holy Ghost, not with wine (comp. Ephesians 5:18).

Even from his mother’s womb. ‘From his very birth,’ hence the Holy Spirit may work in and on infants.


Verse 16

Luke 1:16. To the Lord their God. Not to Christ, but to God. A prediction of John’s ministry, as preparatory and reformatory,—the baptism of repentance. See on Matthew 3:1.


Verse 17

Luke 1:17. Before him in his presence. ‘Go before’ implies the coming of the Messiah, but ‘in his presence’ refers to ‘the Lord their God.’

In the spirit and power of Elijah. An evident allusion to Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6. See on Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:11.

To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. Parental affection had grown cold amidst the moral corruption; the reformer would strengthen these ties. This is better than the explanation: ‘to restore to the children the devout disposition of their fathers.’ True reformation strengthens family ties. This is the principle, prophesied by the last Old Testament prophet, announced by an angel in the first ray of light ushering in the New Dispensation, fulfilled in John’s ministry, in the whole history of Christianity. Whatever weakens family ties cannot be ‘reform.’

And the disobedient; immoral, in contrast with ‘just.’

To the wisdom of the just. Lit, ‘in the wisdom.’ This is the sphere in which the results will occur: some take ‘in’ as meaning ‘by,’ but this is less usual.

To make ready for the Lord, i.e., for God. A preparation for the coming of the Messiah is undoubtedly meant, but the thought of God’s appearing when the Messiah appeared underlies the prediction.

A prepared people. Not the people of Israel, but a people prepared out of Israel.


Verse 18

Luke 1:18. Whereby shall I know this? What is the sign according to which I may know this. Comp. Abraham’s question, Genesis 15:8, but notice that in Abraham’s case faith was strong (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:19), while here the unbelief of Zacharias appears in the sign given him and in what follows: For I am an old man. Levites could serve up to the age of fifty years (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 8:24); but there was no such limitation in the case of priests.


Verse 19

Luke 1:19. I am Gabriel; comp. Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21. ‘Man of God.’

That stand in the presence of God. One of the chief angels (archangels) nearest to God. According to Tob_12:15, there were seven such. Comp. Revelation 8:2. The Rabbins say, that the names of the angels were brought from Babylon by the Jews, but this does not prove that the belief in them, or in their rank, was derived from heathenism. Comp. Joshua 5:13-15. The name was known to Zacharias from the book of Daniel, and is announced by Gabriel to assert his authority.

To bring thee these glad tidings. The message was a gospel message.


Verse 20

Luke 1:20. Thou shalt be silent. The next clause tells why.

And not able to speak. ‘Dumb’ (E. V.) seems equivalent to ‘not able to speak;’ but the effect is mentioned first, then the cause. This dumbness was miraculous.

Because thou didst not believe. The sign was also a punishment, and a deserved one. Abraham and Sarah went unpunished in a similar case. But Abraham had faith, and Sarah’s subsequent troubles may have been punitive. As the coming of the Messiah drew nigh, the demand for faith was greater; the great condition of the new covenant was thus emphasized. The punishment doubtless became a healing medicine for the soul of Zacharias, thus constrained to silent reflection.

Which shall be, etc. An assertion of the truthfulness of angelic messages in general, and a justification of the punishment of the priest’s unbelief when an angel spoke to him in the holy place.


Verse 21

Luke 1:21. Were waiting for Zacharias, etc. They would wait, not for him to pronounce the blessing, for this was the office of the other priest, who carried the fire into the holy place (see Luke 1:9); but because it was usual.

Marvelled, etc. Their wonder was both at and during his unusual stay. The brief stay of the priest is said to have been occasioned by ‘the fear that the people who were without might imagine that any vengeance had been inflicted on him for some informality;—as he was considered the representative of the people’ (Alford).


Verse 22

Luke 1:22. They perceived. They probably asked why he had remained so long, and at once found that he was both deaf (Luke 1:62) and dumb, as the word ‘speechless’ implies. From this they inferred that he had seen a vision in the temple, which was confirmed by Zacharias himself; for he (on his part, in response) was making signs to them, doubtless trying to hint what had happened. ‘When the voice of the preacher (Isaiah 40) is announced, the priesthood of the Old Testament becomes silent’ (Chemnitz), or can, at best, only make signs.


Verse 23

Luke 1:23. When the days of his ministration were fulfilled. He continued to serve until the week of service expired. He did not feel himself absolved from his duty by his affliction.


Verse 24

Luke 1:24. And after these days. Probably immediately after.

Hid herself five months, i.e., the first five months of her pregnancy.


Verse 25

Luke 1:25. Thus hath the Lord, etc. This suggests the reason she hid herself. Since God had graciously removed her barrenness, she would leave it to Him to make this mercy manifest to others, and thus to take away her reproach among men. But she doubtless thus sought greater opportunity for devotion. The connection between her retirement and John’s solitary life cannot be altogether overlooked. The views that she hid herself from shame, or to avoid defilement, or as a measure of bodily precaution, or to wait until it was certain, or from unbelief, are incorrect. In comparing this story with the similar one of Abraham and Sarah, we must emphasize the difference. In the O. T. narrative, it is the man who is strong in faith, the woman who is weak; here the reverse is true. In the case of Mary this becomes still more prominent. The blessing on women, especially as mothers, appears thus early in the story of the ‘seed of the woman.’ (Comp. Genesis 3:15.)


Verse 26

Luke 1:26. In the sixth month. Not of the year, but of Elisabeth’s pregnancy.

Nazareth. The home of both Mary and Joseph, before the birth of Jesus. Matthew (Matthew 2:23) speaks of their residence there, after the return from Egypt.


Verses 26-38

The occurrence here narrated is called the Annunciation, ushering in the Miraculous Conception of Christ. The account of Matthew presupposes such a miraculous conception (Matthew 1:18-25). There, however, Joseph is the more prominent person; here Mary. Luke may have derived his account from her. The view of Mary’s character and position, prevalent in the Roman and Greek churches, does not rest upon Luke’s narrative. That unscriptural view found its final expression (1854) in the Papal dogma of the Immaculate Conception (i.e., that Mary herself was conceived without sin), a theory opposed by every statement concerning her, found in the four Gospels, by her own testimony in addressing God as her ‘Saviour’ (chap. Luke 1:47), and by the Scripture doctrine of universal depravity. Equally false are all theories which deny that our Lord was ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost.’ The statements of Luke cannot be disproved. The invention of such a story is more unaccountable than its truth. ‘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’ (Godet). Those who feel their needs aright will crave just such a supernatural occurrence as this to justify their full dependence on the Saviour.


Verse 27

Luke 1:27. Comp. Matthew 1:18.

Of the house of David. These words refer to Joseph alone, in this instance; but that Mary was also ‘of the house of David,’ seems to be implied in Luke 1:32, and has been the general belief of Christians. Comp, the genealogy in chap. 3.


Verse 28

Luke 1:28. And Hebrews, i.e., the angel, as the later manuscripts (followed in the E. V.) insert. To refer it to any human being, makes sheer non-sense of the account.

Came in. This was not a dream, ‘but a visit in open day. Although, of course, in a quiet hour of retirement as more befitting and satisfactory under the circumstances.’

Thou that art highly favored, or, ‘endued with grace,’ one on whom grace or favor has been conferred and abides. See on Ephesians 1:6. Hence it does not refer to any external beauty of Mary, nor does it mean ‘full of grace (Vulgate and Roman Catholic versions).’ She is here presented ‘not as the mother of grace, but as the daughter of grace.’

The Lord is with thee. This might mean’s ‘The Lord be with thee;’ an angelic benediction. But it is more probably a declaration of the Divine presence and blessing as already with her. The rest of the verse is to be rejected; comp. Luke 1:42, from which it was taken. The first part of the Ave Maria, the famous Roman Catholic prayer to the Virgin, is formed by this verse: ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’ The second is taken from Luke 1:42 : ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’ These Scripture passages were first used as a standing form of prayer in the thirteenth century. At the beginning of the sixteenth century (1508), just before the Reformation, a third part was added, which contains a direct invocation: ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.’ The concluding words (in italics) were, however, a still later addition.


Verse 29

Luke 1:29. Greatly troubled; not at the sight of the angel, but at the saying. This is further indicated by the clause: What manner of salutation this might be. Had she been born without sin, she would have been sufficiently conscious of her fellowship with a holy God, to understand such a salutation at once.


Verse 30

Luke 1:30. Favor, or, ‘grace.’ This verse also opposes the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.


Verse 31

Luke 1:31. See on Matthew 1:21.


Verse 32

Luke 1:32. He shall be great. Not ‘shall become’ so. What follows is an explanation to Mary of this greatness, but a full explanation was scarcely possible.

Shall be called. Shall be, and also, shall one day be publicly recognized as what He really is: the son of the Most High, i.e., God (comp. Luke 1:35). Mary would probably understand this in the light of the familiar Old Testament passages: 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; Psalms 89:27. She did not fully comprehend it Stupendous spiritual truth is rarely comprehended at once, and had the proper divinity of her Son been definitely known by her, neither she nor Joseph would have been in a position to bring up the child. Chap. Luke 2:48-51, confirms this.

The throne of his father David. The Messiahship is now distinctly made known. Comp, especially Psalms 132:11 : ‘Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne,’ which foretells a physical descent from David. As Mary takes no exception to this part of the angel’s prediction, it is natural to conclude that she was also of the house of David. Her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) indicates the same thing. See notes there, and on the genealogy, chap. Luke 3:23-38.


Verse 33

Luke 1:33. Over the house of Jacob for ever, etc. This prediction echoes the Messianic prophecies already mentioned. Mary no doubt understood it literally, in accordance with the national expectations.

Of his kingdom there shall be no end. This, however, hints at the universal spiritual reign of the Messiah. But the literal sense is also correct ‘Salvation is really of the Jews, and will one day return to Israel.’


Verse 34

Luke 1:34. How shall this be? Not as Zacharias (Luke 1:18): ‘Whereby shall I know this?’ She simply expresses the natural objection of which she was conscious in her pure virgin heart.

Seeing I know not a man. This question implies the exclusion of any human father. The instincts of maidenly purity combined with strong faith to show her the negative side of the mystery of the miraculous conception, even if her question called for a revelation of the positive side. It is altogether improper to understand this clause as implying a vow of perpetual virginity, or the purpose of such a vow, as many Romanist interpreters hold. The words do not mean this, and her betrothal excludes it.


Verse 35

Luke 1:35. Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Trinity. Comp. Matthew 1:18.

The power of the Most High. The Holy Spirit is here represented as ‘power,’ not strictly ‘the power’ (as if He were not a Person, but merely the power of God). Some distinguish between the two expressions, but they explain each other; the Holy Spirit is the creative power of God (Genesis 1:2).

Overshadow thee. The figure is probably taken from a cloud. The two clauses represent, the latter figuratively, the former without a figure, ‘the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit, in bringing to pass that which ordinarily occurs only through conjugal intercourse.’ ‘No more is here to be attributed to the Spirit, than what is necessary to cause the Virgin to perform the actions of a mother’ (Pearson).

Therefore also. For this reason, but not for this one only, as ‘also’ indicates. The words ‘of thee,’ are to be rejected.

That holy thing which is begotten. The reference is to the unborn babe, which when born, shall be called the Son of God. Others translate the passage: ‘That which is to be born (or, is begotten) shall be called holy, the Son of God.’ But the son of Mary was to be called ‘Son of God,’ not because holy, but because begotten by the power of the Most High. This proves the right to the title, but the right itself rests on higher grounds, as is hinted by the word ‘also.’ Comp. John 1:1-14. Although the creative Holy Spirit is here introduced, the Holy Spirit is never spoken of as begetting the Son, or as His Father. The early Church engaged in exhaustive discussions on these points. The result is a statement in the Nicene Creed, as clear as the mysterious nature of the subject allows.


Verse 36

Luke 1:36. Thy kinswoman. How close the relationship was does not appear. It does not follow from this that Mary was also of the tribe of Levi, for intermarriage was allowed (comp. Exodus 6:23; 17:7; Numbers 36 refers to the case of heiresses).

She also. The case of Elisabeth, presenting a slight analogy because of her old age, is adduced as a confirmation of the angel’s words, the more appropriately because of the relationship.


Verse 37

Luke 1:37. For, indicates that what was told of Elisabeth had occurred through the power of God.

No word from God shall be without power. This affirms, not only God’s almightiness, but even more fully His absolute faithfulness to His promises, the thought most necessary for Mary. The denial of what is miraculous is the denial of both almightiness and faithfulness.


Verse 38

Luke 1:38. The handmaid, or, ‘bondmaid.’ The humble title she gives herself forms a striking contrast to the fulsome ones given to her by her adorers. Rightly considered, however, this brings out the beauty of her character.

Be it unto me. In humble faith she assents; and so it was unto her according to the angel’s word. ‘The heart of Mary is now filled with the Holy Spirit, who can also prepare her body to be the temple of the God-man,’ From this moment, rather than from the words of the angel (Luke 1:35), we date the miraculous conception of our Lord.


Verse 39

Luke 1:39. In these days. Mary returned after three months (Luke 1:56), yet before the birth of John (Luke 1:57). Her visit must therefore have been less than a month after the Annunciation.

With haste, implies that she started at the first opportunity. Hence the improbability that her marriage with Joseph intervened. The purpose of the journey was to find the confirmation indicated by the words of the angel, and to congratulate her kinswoman. The latter would not in itself be a sufficient reason for a betrothed wife to travel alone, or for a newly married bride to leave her husband.

Into the hill-country, of Judea.

Into a city of Judah, a city of the tribe of Judah. The more usual form in the New Testament is ‘Judea,’ but in Matthew 2:6, the same word occurs twice with the same meaning in a quotation from the Old Testament (comp. Joshua 21:11), where ‘the hill-country of Judah’ is spoken of. Hence the possibility that this is translated from some Hebrew document. Jerusalem is not meant, for that was the city, and Zacharias did not live at Jerusalem (Luke 1:23; Luke 1:65). Most think it was Hebron, which was given to the sons of Aaron in the hill-country of Judah (Joshua 19:11), but this cannot certainly be inferred. Thomson (Land and Book) accepts ’Ain Karim, the traditional birth-place of John the Baptist. (See cut.) The view that the name of the place is here given, namely, ‘Juttah’ (Joshua 21:16), is a conjecture to which there are positive objections.


Verses 39-56

ON THE HARMONY with the account in Matthew. Views: 1. That the events recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 took place before the visit to Elisabeth. It is urged that a betrothed virgin would not be permitted to travel alone. Objections: This restriction is doubtful; ‘with haste’ (Luke 1:39) gives no time for so many intervening events; had Joseph been already convinced, the journey would have been unnecessary, since the purpose of it was to receive the confirmation pointed out by the angel (Luke 1:36). 2. That the discovery was made before (perhaps by Mary’s own statement), and the revelation to Joseph after this visit. Objections: It is unlikely that he would be left in doubt so long; his state of mind was such (Matthew 1:19) that while he would not have driven her away, he would scarcely have permitted her to go, had he known of her condition. 3. That the discovery and revelation took place after the visit. This is open to no serious objection. The discovery must have taken place shortly after her return, and it is probable she then told of the angelic visit Joseph’s state of perplexity, cleared up by special revelation, was the result. Matthew distinctly asserts the conception by the Holy Ghost, of which Luke speaks with more detail.


Verse 40

Luke 1:40. The unnamed city in ‘the hill-country’ was the home of Zacharias and Elisabeth.


Verse 41

Luke 1:41. The salutation of Mary, i.e., Mary’s salutation as she entered. It does not mean the salutation of the angel Gabriel now told to Elisabeth by Mary.

The babe leaped in her womb. Possibly for the first time. This movement of the babe was evidently regarded by the Evangelist and by Elisabeth, as something extraordinary, as a recognition of the unborn Messiah on the part of the unborn babe (Luke 1:44).

Filled with the Holy Ghost. The order suggests that the movement of the babe came first, and that this influence of the Holy Spirit coming upon Elisabeth enabled her to recognize its meaning. Others think that Elisabeth was first influenced, and that the movement of the babe was sympathetic and almost simultaneous. The whole occurrence transcends ordinary rules. The promise respecting John (Luke 1:15) implies that the unborn infant would be the first to recognize the Lord (even before His birth).


Verse 42

Luke 1:42. Blessed art thou among women. Blessed by God, beyond other women, rather than blessed by other women, although the latter followed as a consequence (chap. Luke 11:27).

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Elisabeth had heard nothing of Mary’s situation, so far as we know, but speaks of it by inspiration.

Luke 1:43, Whence is this to me? Utterance of humility.

The mother of my Lord, i.e., the Messiah. This recognition was through inspiration. The designation ‘mother of God,’ which came into general use in the fifth century, is not found in the Bible.


Verse 44

Luke 1:44. For. She recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord, in consequence of the leaping of her own unborn babe, for joy. If the movement of the child was in sympathy with the mother, then Elisabeth gives a proof of the greatness of Mary’s unborn child, and a reason for her humble question in Luke 1:43. As if she would say: why is such a privilege accorded to me, so great that it affects with exultation my unborn Babe!


Verse 45

Luke 1:45. For there shall be, or, ‘believed that there shall be,’ etc. The former rendering introduces an encouragement for Mary’s faith, tells of the blessing of entire fulfilment which will be given to her faith,—an idea in keeping with these first dawnings of the New Dispensation. The latter refers more to the promise as already fulfilled. Elisabeth, without hearing Mary’s story, knows of the angelic message. ‘Elizabeth, while extolling the blessedness of Mary on account of her faith and obedience, was undoubtedly reflecting with compassion on the condition of Zacharias, whose unbelief had been reproved with loss of speech, while the believing Mary was entering her house with joyful salutations.’ Van Ooster-zee.


Verse 46

Luke 1:46. And Mary said. The influence of the Holy Spirit is not asserted, but assumed in Mary’s case. ‘The angel’s visit was vouchsafed to Mary later than to Zacharias, yet her song of thanksgiving is uttered long before his: faith is already singing for joy, while unbelief is compelled to be silent.’ This song of Mary, called the MAGNIFICAT, from the first word of the old Latin version, is the unpremeditated outpouring of deep emotion, and may be divided into regular stanzas and lines. It is the last Psalm of the Old Testament’ and the first of the New. It is entirely Hebrew in its tone and language, and echoes the lyrics of the Old Testament. The mother of our Lord at such a time—especially in view of the effect produced on Elisabeth—would be doubtless inspired by the Holy Ghost to sing this song, so ‘full of ardent love and thankfulness;’ she, the daughter of David’s royal race, might well ‘become in an instant both poetess and prophetess,’ and representing at that moment the last generation of hoping Israel and ‘the hope of Israel’ itself, she was the very person to bring to the approaching Messiah the fragrance of the noblest flower of Hebrew lyric poetry. Objections have been raised against the genuineness of this and the songs of Zacharias (Benedictus) and Simeon (chap. Luke 2:29-32). But the utterance of such songs is not itself improbable on the lowest view of poetic inspiration, as it is called, while on the higher ground of biblical inspiration their utterance under these circumstances and by these persons becomes in itself highly probable. Because poetic they are not unhistorical. The hymns could not have been composed after the death of our Lord. They are Messianic rather than Christian; pointing to the period assigned them by Luke as the true date of their composition. The Magnificat recalls at once the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10, and also several passages in the Psalms (Psalms 31, 112, 126). ‘The grace of God (Luke 1:48), His omnipotence (Luke 1:49-51), His holiness (Luke 1:49; Luke 1:51; Luke 1:54), His justice (Luke 1:52-53), and especially His faithfulness (Luke 1:54-55), are here celebrated.’ It is divided into four stanzas, as indicated in our arrangement of the text.

My soul doth magnify the Lord. The ‘soul,’ when distinguished from the ‘spirit’ (Luke 1:47), is that part of our nature which forms the link between the spirit and the body, here expressing through the mouth the sentiment which previously existed in the ‘spirit.’


Verse 47

Luke 1:47. And my spirit hath rejoiced. The spirit is, according to Luther, ‘the highest, noblest part of man, by which he is enabled to apprehend incomprehensible, invisible, eternal things, and is in short the house, where faith and God’s word indwells.’ The exultation in spirit came first, and as a result her soul magnifies the Lord. ‘Soul’ and ‘spirit,’ taken together, include the whole inner being.

In God my Saviour. Not simply her ‘deliverer from degradation, as a daughter of David, but, in a higher sense, author of that salvation which god’s people expected’ (Alford). Her words must be taken in a full spiritual meaning. Implying her own need of a ‘Saviour,’ they oppose the papal dogma of the Immaculate Conception.


Verse 48

Luke 1:48. Hath looked upon; see chap. Luke 9:38.

The low estate. Not humility of mind, but humility of station, of external condition.

For, behold, from henceforth. In proof that the Lord had thus looked upon her low estate.

All generations shall call me blessed. Recognize the blessedness bestowed on her by God, as already declared by Elisabeth (Luke 1:48). Comp. the instance given in Luke 11:27, and the significant reply of our Lord, which accepts the blessedness of his mother and yet cautions against excesses in this direction.


Verse 49

Luke 1:49. And holy is his name. The song now becomes more general in its expressions. This rising from what is personal to general praise, is a characteristic of most of David’s Psalms.


Verse 50

Luke 1:50. This verse forms two lines of the second stanza.

And his mercy is unto generations and generations on them that fear him.

Unto generations and generations. This implies forever, but the prominent thought is the continuance of God’s mercy.

On them that fear him. The Old Testament description of the pious.


Verse 51

Luke 1:51. He hath shewed strength. The past tense in this and the following verses, is used prophetically, according to the common usage of sacred Hebrew poetry. What the Lord has done for her leads her to sing thus of what He will do, as certain and accomplished.

In the imagination, or ‘device.’ The original word does not necessarily imply something futile or fancied.

Their heart, the region where pride reigned.


Verse 52

Luke 1:52. Princes from their thrones, heathen usurpers. That Herod was thought of is very probable, but not Herod alone. Here, as in the royal war-songs of David, the singer thinks of all the mighty enemies of God’s chosen people.


Verse 53

Luke 1:53. He hath filled the hungry with good things. Neither exclusively temporal, nor exclusively spiritual in its meaning. It is hard to divide the two, and no doubt all God’s merciful providing was in the mind of Mary.


Verse 54

Luke 1:54. He hath holpen, i.e., helped, Israel his servant. This sums up what had before been described (Luke 1:51-53).


Verse 55

Luke 1:55. As he spake unto our fathers. This is parenthetical, for the original plainly shows that to Abraham and his seed, should be joined to the word ‘mercy,’ at the close of Luke 1:54. Yet God’s remembrance of His mercy is connected with His truthfulness to His promise. The promise: ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 22:18), indicates the universal character of God’s mercy.

For ever. This also should be connected with ‘mercy.’ God has helped Israel in order to remember His mercy forever.


Verse 56

Luke 1:56. And returned to her own house. This was before the birth of John. On her return, as we suppose, the events narrated in Matthew 1:18-24 took place. (See note at the beginning of this section.)


Verse 57

Luke 1:57. Fulfilled. Evidently after Mary’s departure.


Verses 57-80

The fulfilment of the angelic promise to Zacharias in the birth of John, the obedience of the parents in calling the child by the appointed name, and the removal of the dumbness of Zacharias at the time specified (Luke 1:20), with his prophetic yet priestly song of thanks-giving. On the Benedictus (as it is called from the first word in the Latin version), see Luke 1:67. Luke 1:80 sums up the story of John’s youth, giving a formal conclusion to this part of the narrative (comp. chap. Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52, where similar conclusions are found).


Verse 58

Luke 1:58. Kindred. The plural of the word used in Luke 1:36 to indicate the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth.

That the Lord, etc. Not ‘how;’ according to the hopes of Jewish matrons the birth of a son was the preeminent token of God’s mercy, and this remarkable case fully justified the expression here used, magnified his mercy toward her.


Verse 59

Luke 1:59. On the eighth day. The proper time for administering the rite of circumcision (see Genesis 21:4; Luke 2:21; comp. Philippians 3:5).

They were about to call. The custom of naming a child at circumcision seems to have had its origin in the change of names (Abram, Abraham; Sarai, Sarah) at the institution of the rite; Genesis 17:5; Genesis 17:15. Comp, also Genesis 21:3-4, as a proof that this was the custom from the first. It is said to be the usage in the East, even where circumcision is unknown, to name a child on the seventh or eighth day. Among the Greeks and Romans the name was given on the day of purification.

After the name of his father. Naming a child after the father or a relative (comp. Luke 1:61), was very common among the Greeks, and also among the Jews; but in earlier times a Jewish son rarely bore the name of his father.


Verse 60

Luke 1:60. Not so; but he shall be called John. Elisabeth may have been informed by Zacharias of the appointed name of the child. But possibly the name had been revealed to her also: (1) if she had known beforehand what the name should be, she would have told of it before the name Zacharias was formally suggested; (2) the wonder mentioned in Luke 1:63 seems to have arisen from the agreement of the parents on this point; which implies no previous communication between them on the subject.


Verse 62

Luke 1:62. They made signs to his father. From this it would appear that he was deaf also. Meyer conjectures that they made signs in order to spare the mother, when they referred the case to her husband. But this is a pure assumption. Besides, the punishment inflicted on Zacharias was designed to give him time for silent reflection—an end far better secured, if he were deaf also.


Verse 63

Luke 1:63. A writing tablet. A tablet smeared with wax, on which they wrote with a style (stylus), a sharp instrument adapted for the purpose, the usual mode in those days.

Saying. A Hebrew form of expression as applied to writing, but natural enough.

His name is John. Not ‘shall be;’ the declaration of the angel (Luke 1:13) had already settled that question. Bengel: ‘This first writing of the New Testament begins with grace’ (in allusion to the meaning of the name).

Marvelled. At this agreement of the father and the mother.


Verse 64

Luke 1:64. Immediately. According to the prediction (Luke 1:20), the whole prophecy (Luke 1:13), about which Zacharias doubted having now been fulfilled. That this was a miraculous restoration, follows from the character of the entire narrative.—The word loosed is properly supplied in the E. V.

Blessing God. ‘His first use of his recovered faculty is not to utter a complaint, but a doxology: a proof that the cure had taken place in his soul also.’


Verse 65

Luke 1:65. Fear. The first effect produced by events which betoken what is supernatural (comp, chap. Luke 1:12; Luke 1:29; Luke 2:9; Luke 5:8; Mark 4:41; Acts 2:43).

All these sayings, i.e., the story of what had happened at the circumcision of the child, possibly including the whole series of remarkable events in regard to John.

Throughout all the hill-country of Judea, in which the home of Zacharias was situated (Luke 1:39).


Verse 66

Luke 1:66. What then shall this child be? ‘What then,’ i.e., in view of these remarkable circumstances,—a connection of thought not fully brought out in the E. V.

For, or, ‘for indeed.’ This is a remark of the Evangelist, justifying what was said.

The hand, etc. This common Old Testament figure means that the power of the Lord was present with him. Luke uses the same phrase in Acts 11:21; Acts 13:11, and the same figure in a number of cases.


Verse 67

Luke 1:67. Was filled with the Holy Ghost. The song which follows is thus declared to have been inspired. The time seems to have been the circumcision of the child, and these were the words in which Zacharias was ‘blessing God’ (Luke 1:64).

Prophesied. It was in the fullest sense a prophetic song, as well as a song of praise.

The BENEDICTUS presents, therefore, not only the faith of a pious Jewish priest, not only the result of the long months of silent reflection to which Zacharias had been subjected, but also these as guided, moved, and uttered under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Without inspiration the pious priest would doubtless have adopted the same tone, the same Old Testament phraseology, but his words could not have been prophetic of the coming of the Messiah nor of the part to be taken by his own son. Such an entire absence of erroneous Messianic expectations was scarcely possible in the case of even a pious Jew at that time, without the influence of the Holy Spirit guarding from error. Alford: ‘That such a song should be inconsistent with dogmatic truth, is impossible; that it should unfold it minutely, is in the highest degree improbable.’ But it must not be limited in its meaning to temporal prosperity, or even to the temporal greatness of the Messiah’s kingdom. Taking it as an expression of religious feeling, we discover the hopes of the human educator of John the Baptist, and thus obtain a hint of the real views of John himself and of the character of his ministry. The hymn may be divided into five stanzas (of three lines each, though some make more). As is natural, the song of Zacharias is more national in its character, the song of Mary more individual. The Benedictus is more priestly, the Magnificat more royal.


Verse 68

Luke 1:68. Blessed. Latin: Benedictus, hence the name.

For he hath visited, etc. The past tenses throughout are used because the eye of prophecy regards these certain future events as having already taken place.

Wrought redemption. This sums up the benefits bestowed by the Messiah, regarding them from the priestly point of view. It is very unlikely, that a priest would apply such a word to political deliverance alone.

His people. Comp, the previous clause: ‘the God of Israel.’


Verse 69

Luke 1:69. A horn of salvation for us. This well-known figure of the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:10; Psalms 132:17), alluding to the horns of beasts as their formidable weapon of defence, points out here a strong, powerful defender, to rise in the house of his servant David. An allusion to the horns of the altar is unlikely.

Luke 1:70 is parenthetical.

By the month of his holy prophets. The same thought which was expressed by Mary (Luke 1:55). They believed that God had made special promises respecting the coming of Christ (Messianic prophecies), that this application of prophecy was not something added to their meaning, but their real meaning.—Of old. This is more literal and more correct than the E. V. The expression implies that the promise of the Messiah was from ‘the beginning.’


Verse 71

Luke 1:71. Salvation from our enemies. The word ‘salvation ‘is taken up again from Luke 1:69, the intervening verse being parenthetical (like the first clause of Luke 1:55, which expresses the same thought). That political deliverance was in the mind of Zacharias cannot be doubted, but certainly not that alone. ‘But he chiefly prizes this political liberation as the means to a higher end, the reformation of Divine worship; Luke 1:74-75.’ Van Oosterzee.


Verse 72

Luke 1:72. To show mercy toward our fathers. The word ‘promised’ was supplied in the E. V., because of the difficulty involved in the thought of showing mercy to those already dead. But the expression is poetic. The pious Jews of old had wept over the decay of their nation, and even though dead and living with God, the fulfilment of their hopes and wishes might be called showing mercy toward them.

And to remember his holy covenant, i.e., by the act of fulfilling what He had promised therein to show His mindfulness of it.


Verse 73

Luke 1:73. The oath. This explains the word ‘covenant’ in Luke 1:72. God’s covenant of mercy had been sealed by an oath. This ‘oath’ is found recorded in Genesis 22:16-18. The Abrahamic covenant becomes prominent as the coming of the Messiah draws near. Comp. Galatians 3.


Verse 74

Luke 1:74. To grant unto us. This gives the purpose both of the oath and the approaching fulfilment of it.

That we. This introduces what God purposed to grant.

Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, such as Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans, who had interfered with the Jews in their worship.

Should serve him. Since Zacharias was a priest, this probably refers to public religious worship, as the sign of truly serving God.

Without fear, the emphatic phrase of the sentence. It means: without fear of enemies; the fear of God, which is the Old Testament token of piety, is implied in the next verse.


Verse 75

Luke 1:75. In holiness and righteousness. ‘Holiness’ is consecration to God, ‘righteousness’ the manifestation of it; without the former, the latter would be unreal; both are necessary to true piety; even the ‘righteousness’ has respect to God rather than to men. Since this is the end which Zacharias expected to be subserved by deliverance ‘from the hand of our enemies,’ it is impossible that his song referred only to temporal blessings.

All our days. This extends the thought beyond the lives of individuals, to the national existence of Israel. Temporal prosperity is implied, but only as the result of the religious restoration just spoken of. Israel failed to be thus restored, and hence the prosperity did not come; but the prophecy will yet be fulfilled.


Verse 76

Luke 1:76. Yea and thou, child, in accordance with the great blessing already spoken. Zacharias, as a father, speaks o£ his son, as a prophet he foretells the career of the last and greatest of the prophets; but in a priest, singing of Messianic deliverance, paternal feeling takes a subordinate place. He introduces the position of his son only as relates to the coming of the Messiah.

For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord. Comp. Luke 1:17. ‘The Lord’ may refer to God, rather than to the Messiah. But in any case the glory of Jehovah was to appear in the advent of the Messiah, who was Himself ‘the Lord.’

To prepare his ways. Comp. on Matthew 3:3.


Verse 77

Luke 1:77. Knowledge of salvation. This was the end of the preparation just spoken of.

In the remission of their sins. The main idea is not that salvation consists in remission of sins, but the whole verse means: that they might know that Messianic salvation comes in and through the remission of their sins. John led to this knowledge by his preaching of repentance, awakening the consciousness of sin, and of needed remission.


Verse 78

Luke 1:78. Because of the tender mercy of our God. This is to be joined closely with Luke 1:77, giving the cause of the ‘remission.’

In which, i.e., in the exercise of this tender mercy.

The dayspring from on high. An allusion to the Messiah and His salvation, as prophesied in Malachi 4:2, the last prophecy of the Old Testament. The Messiah is figuratively presented by the word ‘Dayspring,’ the springing up of the light, of the sun (not of a plant, as some have supposed). To this the phrase ‘on high,’ is joined, because the Messiah comes from on high; the dayspring does not, and it seems impossible to preserve the figure throughout by any explanation.

Shall visit us. The future (sustained by the best authorities) is more distinctly prophetic of the speedy coming of the Messiah.


Verse 79

Luke 1:79. To give light. The purpose of the visiting. The figure contained in the word ‘day-spring,’ is carried out.

To them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. This describes the condition of Israel, and also of the world at large. They were ‘sitting,’ remaining, abiding, ‘in darkness,’ as opposed to the light of divine truth, ‘and the shadow of death’ (comp. Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16); in a darkness, in which death reigns, deprived of the light of spiritual life. Death is personified as casting a shadow. The Scriptural figure of darkness usually involves the two thoughts of spiritual ignorance and death, just as light includes the light of divine truth and life, the former being the sphere of the latter.

To guide our feet into the way of peace. This is the end of giving light, and thus of the visit of the dayspring. This figure suggests walking in the light (Ephesians 5:8),as opposed to ‘sitting in darkness.’ As the word ‘peace’ in the Old Testament is generally used to sum up divine blessings, a sense which receives even greater fulness in the New Testament (see on chap. Luke 2:14), it may be well said, that ‘the hymn concludes with a boundless prospect into the still partially hidden future.’


Verse 80

Luke 1:80. And the child grew, etc. A summing up of John’s development in body and spirit, during his youth.

In the deserts, i.e., the wilderness of Judah (see Matthew 3:1),which was not far from his home ‘in the hill-country’ (Luke 1:39; Luke 1:65). The Essenes,—a mystic and ascetic Jewish sect, dwelt in the same region, but there is not the slightest evidence that John came in contact with them. This retirement was combined with abstemiousness (Matthew 3:4).

Till the day of his manifestation unto Israel. The opening of his official life, when he announced himself as the forerunner of the Messiah. In the case of John, temporary retirement was followed by public usefulness, the one as the preparation for the other. The mistake of monastic life consists in making the retirement permanent, leading to idleness or selfish piety; but Protestants often overlook the need of such temporary withdrawal, to gain time for calm reflection, rest from conflicts and cares, as well as strength for future work, in communing with God.—This conclusion, together with the peculiar style of the narrative (from Luke 1:5 to the close of the chapter), has led to the theory that the whole was taken from some trustworthy document found by Luke. The Old Testament spirit and phraseology has led to the further conjecture, that it was originally written in Hebrew.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 1:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/luke-1.html. 1879-90.

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Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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