I. THE PROLOGUE#The Gospel according to Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospels to begin with a literary prologue. Making use of a formal, literary construction and vocabulary, the author writes the prologue in imitation of Hellenistic Greek writers and, in so doing, relates his story about Jesus to contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature. Luke is not only interested in the words and deeds of Jesus, but also in the larger context of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. As a second- or third-generation Christian, Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution to this developing tradition is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly manner, and intended to provide Theophilus (“friend of God,” literally) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received.
1Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us,#a. [1:1–4] Acts 1:1; 1 Cor 15:3. 2just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,#b. [1:2] 24:48; Jn 15:27; Acts 1:21–22. 3I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
II. THE INFANCY NARRATIVE#Like the Gospel according to Matthew, this gospel opens with an infancy narrative, a collection of stories about the birth and childhood of Jesus. The narrative uses early Christian traditions about the birth of Jesus, traditions about the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, and canticles such as the Magnificat (Lk 1:46–55) and Benedictus (Lk 1:67–79), composed of phrases drawn from the Greek Old Testament. It is largely, however, the composition of Luke who writes in imitation of Old Testament birth stories, combining historical and legendary details, literary ornamentation and interpretation of scripture, to answer in advance the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The focus of the narrative, therefore, is primarily christological. In this section Luke announces many of the themes that will become prominent in the rest of the gospel: the centrality of Jerusalem and the temple, the journey motif, the universality of salvation, joy and peace, concern for the lowly, the importance of women, the presentation of Jesus as savior, Spirit-guided revelation and prophecy, and the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The account presents parallel scenes (diptychs) of angelic announcements of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and of the birth, circumcision, and presentation of John and Jesus. In this parallelism, the ascendency of Jesus over John is stressed: John is prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76); Jesus is Son of the Most High (Lk 1:32). John is great in the sight of the Lord (Lk 1:15); Jesus will be Great (a LXX attribute, used absolutely, of God) (Lk 1:32). John will go before the Lord (Lk 1:16–17); Jesus will be Lord (Lk 1:43; 2:11).
Announcement of the Birth of John.
5In the days of Herod, King of Judea,#In the days of Herod, King of Judea: Luke relates the story of salvation history to events in contemporary world history. Here and in Lk 3:1–2 he connects his narrative with events in Palestinian history; in Lk 2:1–2 and Lk 3:1 he casts the Jesus story in the light of events of Roman history. Herod the Great, the son of the Idumean Antipater, was declared “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C., but became the undisputed ruler of Palestine only in 37 B.C. He continued as king until his death in 4 B.C. Priestly division of Abijah: a reference to the eighth of the twenty-four divisions of priests who, for a week at a time, twice a year, served in the Jerusalem temple. there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.#c. [1:5] 1 Chr 24:10. 6Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. 7But they had no child,#They had no child: though childlessness was looked upon in contemporaneous Judaism as a curse or punishment for sin, it is intended here to present Elizabeth in a situation similar to that of some of the great mothers of important Old Testament figures: Sarah (Gn 15:3; 16:1); Rebekah (Gn 25:21); Rachel (Gn 29:31; 30:1); the mother of Samson and wife of Manoah (Jgs 13:2–3); Hannah (1 Sm 1:2). because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.#d. [1:7] Gn 18:11; Jgs 13:2–5; 1 Sm 1:5–6. 8Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, 9according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.#e. [1:9] Ex 30:7. 10Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, 11the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. 12Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. 13But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid,#Do not be afraid: a stereotyped Old Testament phrase spoken to reassure the recipient of a heavenly vision (Gn 15:1; Jos 1:9; Dn 10:12, 19 and elsewhere in Lk 1:30; 2:10). You shall name him John: the name means “Yahweh has shown favor,” an indication of John’s role in salvation history. Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.#f. [1:13] 1:57, 60, 63; Mt 1:20–21. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.#He will drink neither wine nor strong drink: like Samson (Jgs 13:4–5) and Samuel (1 Sm 1:11 LXX and 4QSama), John is to be consecrated by Nazirite vow and set apart for the Lord’s service. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,#g. [1:15] 7:33; Nm 6:1–21; Jgs 13:4; 1 Sm 1:11 LXX. 16and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah#He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah: John is to be the messenger sent before Yahweh, as described in Mal 3:1–2. He is cast, moreover, in the role of the Old Testament fiery reformer, the prophet Elijah, who according to Mal 4:6 (Mal 3:24) is sent before “the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”#h. [1:17] Sir 48:10; Mal 3:1; 3:23–24; Mt 11:14; 17:11–13. 18Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel,#I am Gabriel: “the angel of the Lord” is identified as Gabriel, the angel who in Dn 9:20–25 announces the seventy weeks of years and the coming of an anointed one, a prince. By alluding to Old Testament themes in Lk 1:17, 19 such as the coming of the day of the Lord and the dawning of the messianic era, Luke is presenting his interpretation of the significance of the births of John and Jesus. who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.#i. [1:19] Dn 8:16; 9:21. 20But now you will be speechless and unable to talk#You will be speechless and unable to talk: Zechariah’s becoming mute is the sign given in response to his question in v 18. When Mary asks a similar question in Lk 1:34, unlike Zechariah who was punished for his doubt, she, in spite of her doubt, is praised and reassured (Lk 1:35–37). until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”#j. [1:20] 1:45.
21Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. 23Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. 24After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, 25“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”#k. [1:25] Gn 30:23.
Announcement of the Birth of Jesus.
#The announcement to Mary of the birth of Jesus is parallel to the announcement to Zechariah of the birth of John. In both the angel Gabriel appears to the parent who is troubled by the vision (Lk 1:11–12, 26–29) and then told by the angel not to fear (Lk 1:13, 30). After the announcement is made (Lk 1:14–17, 31–33) the parent objects (Lk 1:18, 34) and a sign is given to confirm the announcement (Lk 1:20, 36). The particular focus of the announcement of the birth of Jesus is on his identity as Son of David (Lk 1:32–33) and Son of God (Lk 1:32, 35). 26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.#l. [1:27] 2:5; Mt 1:16, 18. 28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”#m. [1:28] Jgs 6:12; Ru 2:4; Jdt 13:18. 29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31#n. [1:31] Gn 16:11; Jgs 13:3; Is 7:14; Mt 1:21–23. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32#o. [1:32–33] 2 Sm 7:12, 13, 16; Is 9:7. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,#Son of the Most High: cf. Lk 1:76 where John is described as “prophet of the Most High.” “Most High” is a title for God commonly used by Luke (Lk 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17). and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”#p. [1:33] Dn 2:44; 7:14; Mi 4:7; Mt 28:18. 34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”#Mary’s questioning response is a denial of sexual relations and is used by Luke to lead to the angel’s declaration about the Spirit’s role in the conception of this child (Lk 1:35). According to Luke, the virginal conception of Jesus takes place through the holy Spirit, the power of God, and therefore Jesus has a unique relationship to Yahweh: he is Son of God. 35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.#q. [1:35] Mt 1:20. 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived#The sign given to Mary in confirmation of the angel’s announcement to her is the pregnancy of her aged relative Elizabeth. If a woman past the childbearing age could become pregnant, why, the angel implies, should there be doubt about Mary’s pregnancy, for nothing will be impossible for God. a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37for nothing will be impossible for God.”#r. [1:37] Gn 18:14; Jer 32:27; Mt 19:26. 38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth.
39During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,#s. [1:41] 1:15; Gn 25:22 LXX. 42cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.#t. [1:42] 11:27–28; Jgs 5:24; Jdt 13:18; Dt 28:4. 43And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord#Even before his birth, Jesus is identified in Luke as the Lord. should come to me? 44For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed are you who believed#Blessed are you who believed: Luke portrays Mary as a believer whose faith stands in contrast to the disbelief of Zechariah (Lk 1:20). Mary’s role as believer in the infancy narrative should be seen in connection with the explicit mention of her presence among “those who believed” after the resurrection at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:14). that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”#u. [1:45] 1:20.
The Canticle of Mary.
46#v. [1:46–55] 1 Sm 2:1–10. And Mary said:#Although Mary is praised for being the mother of the Lord and because of her belief, she reacts as the servant in a psalm of praise, the Magnificat. Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story. Even if not composed by Luke, it fits in well with themes found elsewhere in Luke: joy and exultation in the Lord; the lowly being singled out for God’s favor; the reversal of human fortunes; the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The loose connection between the hymn and the context is further seen in the fact that a few Old Latin manuscripts identify the speaker of the hymn as Elizabeth, even though the overwhelming textual evidence makes Mary the speaker.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;#w. [1:46] Ps 35:9; Is 61:10; Heb 3:18.
47my spirit rejoices in God my savior.#x. [1:47] Ti 3:4; Jude 25.
48For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.#y. [1:48] 11:27; 1 Sm 1:11; 2 Sm 16:12; 2 Kgs 14:26; Ps 113:7.
49The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.#z. [1:49] Dt 10:21; Ps 71:19; 111:9; 126:2–3.
50His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.#a. [1:50] Ps 89:2; 103:13, 17.
51He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.#b. [1:51] Ps 89:10; 118:15; Jer 32:17 (39:17 LXX).
52He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.#c. [1:52] 1 Sm 2:7; 2 Sm 22:28; Jb 5:11; 12:19; Ps 147:6; Sir 10:14; Jas 4:6; 1 Pt 5:5.
53The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.#d. [1:53] 1 Sm 2:5; Ps 107:9.
54He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,#e. [1:54] Ps 98:3; Is 41:8–9.
55according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”#f. [1:55] Gn 13:15; 17:7; 18:18; 22:17–18; Mi 7:20.
56Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Birth of John.
#The birth and circumcision of John above all emphasize John’s incorporation into the people of Israel by the sign of the covenant (Gn 17:1–12). The narrative of John’s circumcision also prepares the way for the subsequent description of the circumcision of Jesus in Lk 2:21. At the beginning of his two-volume work Luke shows those who play crucial roles in the inauguration of Christianity to be wholly a part of the people of Israel. At the end of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 21:20; 22:3; 23:6–9; 24:14–16; 26:2–8, 22–23) he will argue that Christianity is the direct descendant of Pharisaic Judaism. 57When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.#g. [1:58] 1:14. 59#The practice of Palestinian Judaism at this time was to name the child at birth; moreover, though naming a male child after the father is not completely unknown, the usual practice was to name the child after the grandfather (see Lk 1:61). The naming of the child John and Zechariah’s recovery from his loss of speech should be understood as fulfilling the angel’s announcement to Zechariah in Lk 1:13, 20. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise#h. [1:59] 2:21; Gn 17:10, 12; Lv 12:3. the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”#i. [1:60] 1:13. 61But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” 62So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. 63He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.#j. [1:64] 1:20. 65Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. 66All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The Canticle of Zechariah.
67Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
68#Like the canticle of Mary (Lk 1:46–55) the canticle of Zechariah is only loosely connected with its context. Apart from Lk 1:76–77, the hymn in speaking of a horn for our salvation (Lk 1:69) and the daybreak from on high (Lk 1:78) applies more closely to Jesus and his work than to John. Again like Mary’s canticle, it is largely composed of phrases taken from the Greek Old Testament and may have been a Jewish Christian hymn of praise that Luke adapted to fit the present context by inserting Lk 1:76–77 to give Zechariah’s reply to the question asked in Lk 1:66. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.#k. [1:68] 7:16; Ps 41:13; 72:18; 106:48; 111:9.
69#A horn for our salvation: the horn is a common Old Testament figure for strength (Ps 18:3; 75:5–6; 89:18; 112:9; 148:14). This description is applied to God in Ps 18:2 and is here transferred to Jesus. The connection of the phrase with the house of David gives the title messianic overtones and may indicate an allusion to a phrase in Hannah’s song of praise (1 Sm 2:10), “the horn of his anointed.” He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,#l. [1:69] Ps 18:3.
70even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
71salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,#m. [1:71] Ps 106:10.
72to show mercy to our fathers#n. [1:72–73] Gn 17:7; Lv 26:42; Ps 105:8–9; Mi 7:20.
and to be mindful of his holy covenant#o. [1:72] Ps 106:45–46.
73and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,#p. [1:73–74] Gn 22:16–17.
and to grant us that,
74rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
75in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.#q. [1:75] Ti 2:12.
76And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord#You will go before the Lord: here the Lord is most likely a reference to Jesus (contrast Lk 1:15–17 where Yahweh is meant) and John is presented as the precursor of Jesus. to prepare his ways,#r. [1:76] Is 40:3; Mal 3:1; Mt 3:3; 11:10.
77to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God#s. [1:78–79] Is 60:1–2.
by which the daybreak from on high#The daybreak from on high: three times in the LXX (Jer 23:5; Zec 3:8; 6:12), the Greek word used here for daybreak translates the Hebrew word for “scion, branch,” an Old Testament messianic title. will visit us#t. [1:78] Mal 3:20.
79to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.#u. [1:80] 2:40; Mt 3:1.