Luke 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers




Late Dean of Wells.




I. The writer.—But one person bearing the name of Luke, or, in its Greek form, Lucas, appears in the New Testament; and of him the direct notices are few and meagre. He is named as being with St. Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome, and is described as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). He is still with him, stress being laid on his being the only friend who remained, when the Apostle’s work was drawing to its close (2Timothy 4:11). Beyond these facts all is inference or conjecture. Both conjecture and inference are, however, in this case, full of interest, present many unexpected coincidences, and, by the convergence of many different lines of circumstantial evidence, raise the probabilities which attach to each taken separately into something not far from certainty as to their collective result.

The name itself is suggestive. It does not appear as such in any classical writer, or on any Greek or Latin inscription. Its form, however, shows that it is a contraction from Lucanus, as Apollos is from Apollonius, or Silas from Silvanus, and not, as some have thought, another form of Lucius.[10] This name, again in its turn, was not a common one, and we naturally ask what associations were connected with it. Its most probable etymology points to its being derived from the region of southern Italy known as Lucania. Lucas, or Lucanus, would be a natural name for a slave or freedman, having no family name as his own, who had come, or whose father had come, from that region. Assuming, for the present. St. Luke’s authorship of the Acts, we find in the supposition that this was the origin of his name an explanation of the obvious familiarity with Italian topography shown in his mention of Puteoli, Appii Forum, and the Three Taverns, in Acts 28:13-15. The name Lucanus, was, however, borne at this time by a writer, M. Annæus Lucanus, who stands high in the list of Latin poets, as the author of the Pharsalia, an epic which takes as its subject the great struggle for power between Julius Cæsar and Pompeius. As he was born, not in Italy, but in Spain (at Corduba, the modern Cordova), the name with him must have had another than a local significance. Was there any link of association connecting the two men who bore a name which was, as we have seen, far from a common one? We are here in a region of conjecture; but on the assumption that there was some such link, we have a probable explanation (1) of the favour shown to St. Luke’s friend and companion, the great Apostle of the Gentiles. by the uncle of the poet, J. Annæus Gallio, the Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:14-17), and (2) of the early tradition of a friendship between St. Paul and another uncle, the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, issuing in the correspondence of fourteen letters, which, in the time of Jerome (de Vir. Illust. c. 12) and Augustine (Epist. cliii. 14), was read with interest, and often quoted as a fragment of Apostolic literature. The letters that are now extant under that name are, in the judgment of well nigh all critics, spurious; but the fact that a writer in the third or fourth century thought it worth while to compose such a correspondence, implies that he was able to take for granted a general belief in the friendship which it pre-supposes; and the many coincidences of thought and language between the Apostle and the Philosopher (as seen, e.g., in the “Essay on St. Paul and Seneca,” in Dr. Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians) are at least striking enough to suggest, if not intercourse, at least some derivation from a common source. Seneca was, it must be remembered, officially connected with the Court of Nero during St. Paul’s imprisonment; and when the fame of the prisoner and of his doctrine was spread through the whole Prætorium (Philippians 1:13), and congregations of disciples were to be found even among the slaves of the Imperial household (Philippians 4:22), it was not likely that a man in his position should remain ignorant of the teacher whose influence was spreading so widely. If the friend and companion of the prisoner bore the same name as the nephew of the philosopher, that coincidence would help to attract attention. If, as the coincidence itself suggests, there had been any previous connection between the two, we have an hypothesis into which all the facts of the case fit in with an almost surprising symmetry. The poet Lucan, we may note, was born A.D. 39. The date of St. Luke’s birth we have no materials for fixing, but the impression left by the facts of the case is that he was about the same age as St. Paul,[11] and therefore older than the poet by thirty or forty years. Was the one named after the other? And does this imply a connection of the whole family with the beloved physician? This, it is obvious, would give an additional support to the superstructure of inferences already raised.[12]

[10] It follows from this that the Evangelist cannot be identified, as some have thought, with Lucius of Cyrene, who is mentioned as prominent among the prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1), or the Lucius who is named as a kinsman of St. Paul’s (Romans 16:21). If that identification had been possible, the traditional fame of Cyrene for its School of Medicine (Herod. iii. 131), would have had a special interest in connection with St. Luke’s calling.

[11] St. Paul, e.g., never speaks of him as he does of younger disciples, like Timothy or Titus, as his “child,” or “son, in the faith.”

[12] ‘Lucan, as has been said above, was born at Cordova. Now, it is remarkable that when St. Paul was planning an extended journey with St. Luke as his companion, Spain, and not Rome, was to be its ultimate goal (Romans 15:28). That country had a large element of Jews in its population in the third and fourth centuries, and it is probable that they had settled there, as in Cyrene and Carthage, from an early period of the Dispersion. Cordova, as one of the chief seats of Roman culture, was certain to attract them, and we find it at a later period one of the chief seats of mediæval Rabbinism, with a fame already traditional. Another point of some interest still remains to be noticed. The poet was a fellow-pupil with Persius, under one of the great Stoic teachers of the time, L. Annæus Cornutus (the name is that of the gens of Seneca and Gallio), and Persius, as we have seen (Note on Mark 6), had at least some points of contact with the Herods.

The incidental mention of St. Luke’s name in Colossians 4:14, places us on more solid ground. He is emphatically distinguished from “those of the circumcision”—Mark and others who are named in Colossians 4:10-11. He was, i.e., a Gentile by birth, and this fact, it is obvious, is important on all the questions affecting his relations with the Apostle of the Gentiles, and the aim and characteristic features of his writings.

The fact that he was “a physician” suggests other inferences. That profession in the early days of the Empire was filled almost exclusively by freedmen, or the sons of freedmen (the Libertini of Acts 6:9), who, shut out more or less completely from military or official life, were led to devote themselves to science, or art, or literature. The well-known list of the members of the household of the Empress Livia, the wife of Augustus, compiled from the Columbarium,[13] a sepulchre which was opened at Rome in A.D. 1726, presents many examples of names with the word medicus attached to them; among them may be noted that of Tyrannus, the name which appears in Acts 19:9 as the owner of the “school” or lecture-room at Ephesus, in which St. Paul received his disciples. Where, we ask, was one who made choice of that profession likely to seek for his education? The answer to that question leads us into yet a new region of coincidences. On the one hand, the town of Crotona, in Southern Italy, had a reputation of some centuries standing for its School of Medicine (Herod. iii. 131), and this would fall in with the hypothesis of the Evangelist’s Lucanian origin. On the other, of all the medical schools of the time, there were none that stood higher in reputation than that of Tarsus, and few that stood so high. The leading physicians of the time, Aretæus the Cappadocian, Dioscorides of Anazarba in Cilicia, Athenæus of the Cilician Attaleia, could hardly have received their training elsewhere. Within a few miles of Tarsus, at Ægæ, on the coast of Cilicia, was a great Temple of Æsculapius, which, as resorted to by sick persons from all countries who came to consult the priests of the Temple (the Asclepiadæ, i.e., the guild or brotherhood of Æsculapius), offered the nearest analogue to a modern hospital, as a place for observation and practice. If Tarsus were thus the place, or one of the places, to which Luke went to gain his professional knowledge and experience, we have again what explains many of the facts, more or less perplexing, in the Apostolic history. There is no record of St. Paul’s first meeting with him, or of his conversion to the faith. If, with almost all interpreters of repute, we see in the sudden use of the first person plural in Acts 16:10 a proof of companionship then beginning between the writer of the book and the Apostle whose labours he narrates, the naturalness with which it comes in must be admitted as primâ facie evidence of previous acquaintance. But there were other names at that time connected with Tarsus which have an interest for the Christian student. All that we read in the Acts suggests the thought that the Cypriot Jew, the Levite, Joses Barnabas, the Son of Consolation, received his education at Tarsus, and there learnt to love and honour the tent-maker Rabbi, for the reality of whose conversion he was the first to vouch (Acts 9:27), to whom he turned when his work pressed hard on him, as the fellow-labourer most like-minded with himself (Acts 11:25), the separation from whom, when they parted, brought with it a bitterness which is hardly intelligible, except on the assumption of a previous affection that was now wounded to the quick (Acts 15:39). Not altogether, again, without some points of contact with St. Luke, is the fact that the great geographer Strabo, a native of Cappadocia, whose full description of Tarsus (Geogr. xiii. p. 627) is obviously based upon personal observation, may have visited that city about A.D. 17, and on the supposition, either of actual contact, or of the attention called to his writings among the students of what we may well call the University of Tarsus, we may legitimately trace his influence as working indirectly in the uniform accuracy of all the incidental geographical notices that occur in St. Luke’s Gospel and in the Acts. (See the Notes on those books.) At Tarsus also, at or about the same period, was to be seen another conspicuous character of the time, the great wonder-working impostor, Apollonius of Tyana, whose life was afterwards published as a counterfeit and rival parallel to that of Christ, and in whom St. Luke might have seen the great prototype of all the “workers with curious arts,” with their books of charms and incantations, whom he describes as yielding to the mightier power of St. Paul (Acts 19:11-12).

[13] The word means literally a “dove-cote,” and was applied to the sepulchre as consisting mainly of what we should call “pigeon-holes,” in each of which stood a small bin containing the ashes of the dead.

St. Luke’s character as a physician may be considered from three distinct points of view, each of which has a special interest of its own. (1) As influencing his style and language; (2) as affecting his personal relations with St. Paul; and (3) as giving him opportunities for acquiring the knowledge which we find in the books commonly ascribed to him. Each of these call for a special, though brief, notice.

(1) The differences of style in St. Luke’s Gospel as compared with the two that precede it, the proofs of a higher culture, the more rhythmical structure of his sentences, which are traceable even by the merely English reader, in such passages, e.g., as Luke 1:1-4, are in the Greek original conspicuous throughout, the only exceptions being the portions of his Gospel which, like Luke 1, from Luke 1:5, and Luke 2, are apparently translations from a lost Hebrew or Aramaic document. The use of technical phraseology is, in like manner, traceable in his mention of the “fevers (the word is plural in the Greek), and dysentery,” of which Publius was healed at Melita (Acts 28:8); in the “feet” (not the common πόδες, podes, but the more precise βάσεις, baseis) “and ankle bones” of Acts 3:7; in the “scales” that fell from St. Paul’s eyes (Acts 9:18); in the “trance,” or, more literally, ecstasy, connected with St. Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-10), as brought on by the Apostle’s exposure to the noontide sun after long-continued fasting; in the special adjective used for “eaten of worms,” in Acts 12:23; in his notice of the “virtue,” or healing power, that flowed forth from our Lord’s body (Luke 8:46); and of the sweat in “clots,” or drops like as of blood, that issued from it in the Agony of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44).

(2) It is noticeable in tracing the connection of St. Paul and St. Luke, that on each occasion when the one joins the other for a time, it is after the Apostle had suffered in a more than common degree from the bodily infirmities that oppressed him. When they met at Troas, it was after he had been detained in Galatia by “the infirmity of his flesh” (Galatians 4:13). When the one joins the other in the voyage to Jerusalem, it is after St. Paul had had “the sentence of death” in himself, had been “dying daily,” had been “delivered from so great a death,” had been carrying about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus (2Corinthians 1:9; 2Corinthians 4:10-12; 2Corinthians 4:16). From that time St. Luke seems scarcely to have left his friend, except, perhaps, for short intervals; and the way in which St. Paul speaks of him as the beloved physician,” makes it almost a matter of certainty that it was by his ministrations as a physician that he had made himself “beloved.” The constant companionship of one with St. Luke’s knowledge and special culture was sure, sooner or later, to affect St. Paul’s thoughts and language, and traces of this influence are to be found in many of the Epistles. Most of these are naturally more manifest in the Greek than in the English words; but we may note as examples the frequent use of the ideal of “health “as the standard of life and teaching, as seen in the phrases “sound,” or better, healthy, “doctrine” (ὑγιαινούσῃ) of 1Timothy 1:10; 1Timothy 6:3, 2Timothy 1:13; and in the “doting,” or better, diseased of 1Timothy 6:4; in the spread of error being like that of a gangrene or cancer (2Timothy 2:17); in the word for “puffed up,” which implies the delirium of a fever of the typhus type (τυφωθεὶς, typhôtheis) in 1Timothy 3:6; 1Timothy 6:4, 2Timothy 3:4; in the conscience seared, or better, cauterised, till it has become callous (1Timothy 4:2); in the malady of “itching ears” (2Timothy 4:3); in the “bodily exercise” or training (literally, the training of the gymnasium) that profiteth little (1Timothy 4:8); in the precept which enjoined on Timothy, as a means of keeping his mind in a state of equilibrium and purity, uncontaminated by the evil with which his office brought him into contact, to “drink no longer water” only, but “to use a little wine, for his stomach’s sake and his often infirmities” (1Timothy 5:23); in the judgment that a reckless disregard of the body is of no value as a remedy against what is technically called fulness (not “satisfying”) of the flesh (Colossians 2:23). These words are, in almost all cases, characteristic of the Greek of Hippocrates and other medical writers, and the same may be said of the Greek words used by St. Paul for “dung” (σκύβαλα—skyhala, Philippians 3:8), for “occasion” (ἀφορμὴνaphormè, 1Timothy 5:14), for “gazing” or “looking earnestly” (ἀτενιζων, 2Corinthians 3:7-13 : the word is used twelve times by St. Luke, and by him only), for “charge” (1Timothy 1:3; 1Timothy 1:18), for “contention” (i.e., paroxysm) in Acts 15:39.

(3) It is obvious that in the East, then as now, the calling of a physician was a passport to many social regions into which it was otherwise difficult to find access. A physician of experience arriving in this or that city, would be likely to become acquainted, not with the poor only, but with men of official rank and women of the higher class. How far, and in what special way this helped St. Luke to obtain the information which he wanted for his Gospel, will call for inquiry further on. Here it will be enough to note that such channels of information were sure to be opened to him.

If, on the data that have been given, it is reasonable to suppose that St. Paul and St. Luke had met at Tarsus, it is almost a matter of certainty that their friendship was continued at Antioch. Here the tradition, given by Eusebius (Hist. iii. 4), that St. Luke was a resident in the latter city, agrees with the natural inference from the prominence which he gives to the Christian society there as the mother of all the Gentile churches (Acts 11:19-30), from his knowledge of the names of its pastors and teachers (Acts 13:1-3), from the fulness with which he relates the early stages of the great controversy with the Judaisers (Acts 15:1-3; Acts 15:22-35). From Antioch. however, accepting as before the natural conclusion from the change of pronouns, he must have gone to Troas (Acts 16:10), and probably begun or continued there his labours in the gospel, which in a later time won St. Paul’s glowing praise (2Corinthians 8:18).[14] Thence he went with St. Paul to Philippi, and, as far as we can judge, remained there during the whole period of the Apostle’s work at Corinth and Ephesus, the friend and guide of Lydia and Euodias, and Syntyche and other women who laboured with him in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3), until after a visit to Corinth (2Corinthians 8:18), he joined him again, and the Apostle returned from his winter sojourn in that city at Philippi, was with him once more at Troas, sailed with him to Miletus, and so to Tyre and Ptolemais and Cæsarea, went up with him to Jerusalem, and remained with him or near him during his two years’ imprisonment under Felix or Festus (Acts 20-26). Then came the voyage to Italy, narrated with the graphic precision of an eye-witness, and throughout in the first person plural (Acts 27:1-44); then the shipwreck at Melita, and the arrival in Italy, and the two years (broken, perhaps, if we assume Luke, as seems probable, to be the “true yoke-fellow” of Philippians 4:3, by a short visit to Philippi) of the first imprisonment at Rome (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). Then came the last unrecorded missionary journey of St. Paul in Spain, Asia, Macedonia, Achaia,[15] during which St. Luke probably continued with him; and then we find him, the last clear glimpse we get, still at the side of his friend and master, when all others were proving time-serving and faithless (2Timothy 4:10). Beyond this we have nothing definite. Tradition, not earlier than the fourth century (Epiphanius, Hœr, 51), says that he preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedonia; that he was a painter as well as physician, and was specially famous for seven portraits of the Virgin; that he lived to the age of eighty-four; that he was crucified at Elæa on an olive tree, in the Peloponnesus; or, according to another story, died a natural death in Bithynia. His bones are related to have been brought to Constantinople from Patras in Achaia by order of the Emperor Constantine, and to have been deposited in the Church of the Apostles.

[14] There are, it is believed, no sufficient reasons for rejecting the reference of this passage to St. Luke. It is not meant that St. Paul speaks of his gospel as a book, but the physician was an Evangelist in the primitive as well as the later sense of the word, and no one was so likely to have been chosen by St. Paul to be one of the representatives of the Macedonian churches.

[15] The route of the Apostle may be inferred partly from his plans (Philippians 2:24; Philemon 1:22), partly from the reference to Asia in 2Timothy 1:15, Macedonia (1Timothy 1:3), Corinth (2Timothy 4:20). I have ventured to suggest Spain as also probable. It is hardly likely that St. Paul would have abandoned the strong desire which he expresses in Romans 15:24. And if there was, as has been shown to be probable, a personal connection between Luke and the family of Cordova, there would be fresh motives for his going there. Clement of Rome, it may be mentioned, speaks of him as having travelled to the furthest boundary of the West (Epist. ad Cor. C. 5), a phrase which would hardly have been used by a Roman writer of Rome itself. The tradition as to an evangelising journey into Spain became, as the years passed on, more and more definite, and was accepted by Epiphanius, Chrysostom. Jerome, and Theodoret.

II. The Authorship of the Gospel.—The two earliest witnesses to the existence of a Gospel recognised as written by St. Luke, are (1) Irenæus, and (2) the Muratorian Fragment. (See General Introduction on the Canon of the New Testament.) The former, dwelling on the necessity of there being neither more nor less than four Gospels, as there are four elements, four cardinal points, and the like, acknowledges St. Luke’s as one of the four. Pressing the analogy of the four symbolic figures of the Cherubim, he compares the Gospel which he names as Luke’s to the calf, as representing the priestly, sacrificial side of our Lord’s work. “As such,” he says, “it began with Zacharias burning incense in the Temple” (Adv. Hœr. ii.). In another passage he speaks of “Luke, the companion of Paul,” as having “written in a book the gospel which the latter preached” (Adv. Hœr. iii. 1). The Muratorian Fragment, which has suffered the loss of its first sentences, and so fails to give direct evidence as to St. Matthew and St. Mark, begins accordingly with St. Luke, mentioning, however, his Gospel as the third. What follows is interesting, though being, like the whole fragment, in the language of an obviously illiterate scribe, and presumably a translation from a Greek original, it is at once corrupt and obscure. The nearest approach to an intelligible rendering would be as follows:—“Luke the physician, after the ascension of Christ, when St. Paul had chosen him, as being zealous of what was just and right (juris studiosus), wrote in his own name, and as it seemed good to him (ex opinione, apparently with an implied reference to Luke 1:2). Yet he himself did not see the Lord in the flesh, and did what he did as he could best attain to it, and so he began his narrative from the birth of John.” The passage is every way important, as showing (1) the early identification of the writer of the third Gospel with Luke the physician; (2) the absence of any early tradition that he was one of the Seventy; (3) the fact that the first two chapters were part of the Gospel as known to the writer of the Fragment, or of the still older document which he translated. Papias, as far as the fragments of his writings that remain show, who names St. Matthew and St. Mark, is silent as to St. Luke. Justin, who does not name the writer of any Gospel, speaks of the “records of the Apostles, which are called Gospels,” as having been written either by Apostles themselves, or by those who followed them closely (using the same Greek word here as St. Luke uses in Luke 1:2), and cites in immediate connection with this the fact of the sweat that was as great drops of blood (Dial. 100 Tryph. c. 22). It seems all but certain from this that he had read the narrative of Luke 22:44 as we have it, and that he ascribed the authorship of it to a companion of the Apostles. So Tertullian, who recognises four Gospels, and four only, speaks of “John and Matthew as Apostles, of Luke and Mark as helpers of the Apostles (Cont. Marc. iv. 2); and Origen (in Euseb. Hist. Eccles. vi. 25) speaks of the Gospel according to St. Luke as being “cited and approved by Paul,” referring apparently to the expression “according to my Gospel” (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25; 2Timothy 1:8), and to “the brother whose praise is in the Gospel,” in 2Corinthians 8:18-19.

III. The sources of the Gospel.—The question, Where did the writer of this Gospel collect his information, is obviously one of special interest. In St. Matthew we have, accepting the traditional authorship, personal recollection as a groundwork, helped by the oral or written teaching previously current in the Church. In St. Mark (see Introduction to that Gospel), We have substantially the same oral or written teaching, modified by the personal recollections of St. Peter. St. Luke, on the other hand, disclaims the character of an eye-witness (Luke 1:2), and confesses that he is only a compiler, claiming simply the credit of having done his best to verify the facts which he narrates. St. Paul, to whom he specially devoted himself, was, as far as personal knowledge went, in the same position as himself. Where, then, taking the facts of St. Luke’s life, as given above, was it probable that he found his materials?

(1) At Antioch, if not before, the Evangelist would be likely to come in contact with not a few who had been “eye-witnesses and ministers of the word.” Those who were scattered after the persecution that began with the death of Stephen (Acts 11:19), and the prophets who came from Jerusalem with Agabus (Acts 11:28), the latter probably forming part of the company of the Seventy (see Note on Luke 10:1), must have included some, at least, of persons so qualified. There, too, he must have met with Manaen, the foster-brother of the Tetrarch, and may have derived from him much that he narrates as to the ministry of the Baptist (Luke 3:1-20), our Lord’s testimony to him (Luke 7:18-34), the relation between Herod and Pilate, and the part which the former took in the history of the Crucifixion (Luke 23:5-12), the estimate which our Lord had passed upon his character (Luke 13:32). That acquaintance served probably, in the nature of things, to introduce him to a knowledge of the other members of the Herodian family, of whom we learn so much from him, and, of the Evangelists, from him only (Luke 3:1; Acts 12:1-25; Acts 25:13; Acts 26:32).

(2) During the years of St. Luke’s work at Troas and Philippi, there were, we may presume, but few such opportunities; but when he accompanied St. Paul on his last journey to Jerusalem, they must have been multiplied indefinitely. Mnason of Cyprus, the old disciple (a disciple from the beginning, as the word signifies, Acts 21:16), must have had much to tell him. During St. Paul’s stay at Cæsarea there was ample time for him to become acquainted with the current oral, or, as his own words imply, written teaching of the churches of Palestine, which formed the groundwork of what is common to him and the first two Gospels, as well as with the many facts that connect themselves with that city in the narrative of the Acts. We cannot, however, think of a man of St. Luke’s culture bent upon writing a history, because he was not satisfied with the “many” fragmentary records that he found already in circulation, resting at Cæsarea during the two years of St. Paul’s imprisonment without pushing his inquiries further. We may think of him accordingly as journeying in regions where he knew our Lord had worked, most of which lay within two or three days’ easy journey, while yet there was little record of His ministry there, and so collecting such facts as the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17), the appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), the full record, peculiar to this Gospel, of His ministry and teaching in Peræa.

(3) The profession of St. Luke as a physician, probably also the character that he had acquired as the guide and adviser of the sisterhood at Philippi (see Notes on that Epistle), would naturally give him access to a whole circle of eye-witnesses who were not so likely to come within the range of St. Matthew and St. Mark. He alone mentions the company of devout women who followed Jesus during part, at least, of His ministry (Luke 8:2-3), and as he gives the names of the chief members of the company, it is natural to infer that he was personally acquainted with them. So far as they were sharers in the feelings of other women, we may believe, with hardly the shadow of a doubt, that they would dwell especially on all that connected itself with the childhood and youth of the Lord whom they had loved with such devout tenderness, that the bereaved mother whom St. John had taken to his own home (John 19:27)—sometimes, perhaps, in Galilee, sometimes in Jerusalem—would be the centre of their reverential love. From them, therefore, as those who would be sure to treasure up such a record, St. Luke may well have derived the narrative—obviously a translation from the Hebrew or Aramaic of Palestine—which forms the introduction to his Gospel (Luke 1, 2), and which is distinct in character and style from the rest of his Gospel. But informants such as these would be sure to treasure up also the special instances of our Lord’s tenderness and sympathy for women like themselves, and it is accordingly not more than a legitimate inference from the facts of human nature to trace to them such narratives as that of the woman that was a sinner (Luke 7:36-50), of the contrasted characters of the two sisters at Bethany (Luke 10:38-42), of the woman who cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee . . .” (Luke 11:27),[16] of the daughters of Jerusalem who met their Lord on His way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-29), of those, again, who had come up from Galilee and who stood afar off beholding His death upon the cross (Luke 23:49), and of their buying spices and ointment for His entombment (Luke 23:56).

[16] It will be noted that our Lord’s words (Luke 23:29), “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave suck,” seem intended to remind those who heard them of the far-different benediction which one of them had once uttered.

On the whole, then, everything tends to the belief that St. Luke’s statement that he had carefully traced to their sources, as far as he could, the facts which he narrates, was no idle boast; that he had many and ample opportunities for doing so; and that he did this, as we have seen above, with the culture and discernment which his previous training was likely to have imparted. It is obvious, however, that coming, as he did, into the field of inquiry some thirty, or at least twenty, years or so after the events, many of the facts and sayings would reach him in a comparatively isolated form; and though there is an obvious and earnest endeavour to relate them, as he says, “in order,” it might not always be easy to ascertain what that order had actually been. And this is, in part at least, the probable explanation of the seeming dislocation of facts which we find on comparing his Gospel with those of St. Matthew and St. Mark. (See Notes on Matthew 8:1; Matthew 9:1.)

IV. The first readers of the Gospel.—St. Luke’s record differs in a very marked way from the other three in being addressed, or, as we should say, dedicated, to an individual. Who and what Theophilus was, we have but few data for conjecturing. The epithet “most excellent”—the same word as that used by Tertullus in addressing Felix (Acts 24:3)—implies social or official position of some dignity. The absence of that epithet in the dedication of the Acts indicates, perhaps, that the Evangelist had then come to be on terms of greater familiarity with him. The reference to Italian localities of minor importance, as places familiar to the reader as well as writer, in Acts 28:12-14, suggests the conclusion that he was of Latin, probably of Roman, origin; the fact that the Gospel was written for him in Greek, that he shared the culture which was then common to well nigh all educated Romans. He was a convert, accordingly, from the religion of Rome to that of Christ, though he may, of course, have passed through Judaism, as a schoolmaster leading him to Christ. The teaching which he had already received as a catechumen had embraced an outline of the facts recorded in the Gospel (Luke 1:3), and St. Luke wrote to raise the knowledge so gained to a standard of greater completeness. The name, it may be noted, was, like Timotheus, not an uncommon one. Among St. Luke’s contemporaries, it was borne by one of the Jewish high priests, the brother-in-law of Caiaphas (Jos. Ant. xviii. 4, § 3), who probably was responsible for St. Paul’s mission of persecution to Damascus, and by some official at Athens who was condemned for perjury by the Areopagus (Tacit. Ann. ii. 55). Beyond this all is conjecture, or tradition which dissolves into conjecture. He is said to have been, by this or that ecclesiastical writer, an Achæan, or an Alexandrian, or an Antiochian; he has been wildly identified by some modern critics, with one or other of the two persons thus named; it has been held by others that the name (= “one who loves God”) simply designated the ideal Christian reader whom St. Luke had in view.

It is, however, reasonable to infer that the Gospel, though dedicated to him, was meant for the wider circle of the class of which he was the representative, i.e., in other words, that it was meant to be especially a Gospel for the educated heathen. It will be seen in what follows, that this view is confirmed by its more prominent characteristics.

V. The characteristics of the Gospel.—(1) It has been said, not without some measure of truth, that one main purpose of the Acts of the Apostles was to reconcile the two parties in the Apostolic Church which tended to arrange themselves, with more or less of open antagonism, under the names of St. Peter and St. Paul, by showing that the two Apostles were substantially of one mind; that the former had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles (Acts 10:48), and had consented to the great charter of their freedom (Acts 15:7); that the latter had shown his reverence for the ceremonial law by twice taking on himself, wholly or in part, the vow of a Nazarite (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:26). Something of the same catholicity of purpose is to be found in the Gospel which bears St. Luke’s name. It was obviously natural that it should be so in the work of the friend of one who became as a Jew to Jews, and as a Greek to Greeks (1Corinthians 9:20). Thus we have the whole history of the first two chapters, and the genealogy in Luke 3, obviously meeting the tastes, in the first instance, of Jewish readers on the one side, and on the other the choice of narratives or teachings that specially bring out the width and universality of the love of God, the breaking down of the barriers of Jewish exclusiveness, the reference to the widow of Sarepta and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:26-27), the mission of the Seventy as indicating the universality of the kingdom (Luke 10:1), the pardon of the penitent robber (Luke 23:43), the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Piece of Money, and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15); midway between the two, the story of Zacchæus, the publican, treated as a heathen, and yet recognised as a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9).

(2) In the Acts, again, especially in the earlier chapters, we note a manifest tendency in the writer to dwell on all acts of self-denial, and on the lavish generosity which made the life of the Apostolic Church the realisation, in part at least, of an ideal communism (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32; Acts 4:37; Acts 6:1; Acts 9:36). So in the Gospel we recognise, over and above what he has in common with others, a principle of selection, leading him to dwell on all parts of our Lord’s teaching that pointed in the same direction. The parables of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21), of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), of the Unjust Steward, with its direct and immediate application (Luke 16:1-14); the counsel to the Pharisees to “give alms,” and so to find a more than ceremonial purity (Luke 11:41); to His disciples to sell what they have and to seek for treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33); the beatitudes that fall on the poor and the hungry (Luke 6:20-21), are all instances of his desire to impress this ideal of an unselfish life upon the minds of his readers. Even in his account of the Baptist’s teaching, we find him supplying what neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark had given—the counsel which John gave to the people—“He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none” (Luke 3:11). In this also we may recognise the work of one who was like-minded with St. Paul. He, too, laboured with his own hands that he might minister to the necessities of others (Acts 20:34), and loved to dwell on the pattern which Christ had set when, “being rich, He for our sakes became poor” (2Corinthians 8:9), and praised those whose deep poverty had abounded to the riches of their liberality (2Corinthians 8:2). He, too, had learnt the lesson that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth (Luke 12:15), and had been initiated into the mystery of knowing how, with an equal mind, to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need. (See Note on Philippians 4:12.) He, too, warns men against the deceitfulness of riches, and the hurtful lusts springing from them that plunge men in the abyss of destruction (1Timothy 6:9; 1Timothy 6:17).

Lastly, we cannot fail to note, as we read his Gospel, the special stress which he, far more than St. Matthew or St. Mark, lays upon the prayers of the Christ. It is from him we learn that it was as Jesus was “praying” at His baptism that the heavens were opened (Luke 3:21); that it was while He was praying that the fashion of His countenance was altered, and there came on Him the glory of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:29); that He was “raying” when the disciples came and asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1); that He had prayed for Peter that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). In the life of prayer, no less than in that of a self-chosen poverty, His was the pattern-life which His disciples were—each in his measure and according to his power—to endeavour to reproduce.

VI. Relations to St. Matthew and St. Mark.—It would be a fair summary of the account of the Gospel of St. Luke thus given, to say that it is in its universality, its tenderness, its spirit of self-sacrifice, pre-eminently the GOSPEL OF THE SAINTLY LIFE, presenting to us that aspect of our Lord’s ministry in which He appears as the great Example, no less than the great Teacher. In other words, since He is represented as at once holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners (Hebrews 7:26), and as able to have compassion on their infirmities (Hebrews 4:15), it is the Gospel of the Son of Man as the great High Priest of humanity in the human phase of that priesthood. It follows with a marvellous fitness upon the Gospel of St. Matthew, that had brought before us the portraiture of the true King and the true Scribe—upon that of St. Mark, in which we have seen the lineaments of the true Servant of the Lord. It prepares the way for that of St. John, which presents the Incarnate Word as manifesting His Eternal Priesthood in its sacrificial and mediatorial aspects. In its pervading tone and spirit, it is, as we have seen, essentially Pauline. In its language and style, however, it presents not a few affinities with an Epistle, the Pauline authorship of which is at least questionable, and which not a few have seen reason to look upon as the work of Apollos—the Epistle to the Hebrews. On this ground chiefly many critics, beginning with Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 200), a man of wide and varied culture, have held that Epistle to have been the work of St. Luke, elaborating and polishing the thoughts of St. Paul (Euseb. Hist. vi. 14). It has, he says, speaking as a critic of style, “the same complexion “as the Acts. Other considerations, it is believed, outweigh the arguments based on that fact; but the resemblance is sufficient to indicate that there were some affinities connecting the two writers, and the most natural is that which supposes them both to have had an Alexandrian training, and to have formed their style upon the more rhetorical books of the later Hellenistic additions to the canon of the Old Testament, such as the Books of Maccabees as the model of history, and the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus for that of the more systematic treatment of doctrine. The points of resemblance between the Book of Wisdom and the Epistle to the Hebrews are indeed so numerous as to have suggested to the present writer the thought of identity of authorship.[17]

[17] The facts that bear upon St. Luke’s work, as the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, are naturally reserved for the Introduction to that Book.

It is, of course, obvious to remark that many of the facts referred to are found also in the other Gospels, and formed part of the current oral teaching out of which the first three Gospels grew. Admitting this, however, it is clear that the history of Apollos brought him specially within the range of those who were likely to be conversant with St. Luke’s teaching; and if we suppose him to have any written record before him, it is far more likely to have been the third Gospel than either the first or second. The two men, who were friends and companions of the same Apostle, were, at any rate, likely to have met and known each other, and if so it would not be strange that, with like character and like culture, there should be a reciprocal influence between them. Traces of that influence are to be found, it is believed, in the references in the Epistle to some of the passages which, though common to the other Gospels, are yet specially characteristic of this Gospel; to the temptations of the Son of Man as giving Him power to sympathise with sinners, though Himself without sin (Hebrews 4:15); to His prayers and supplications and strong crying (Hebrews 5:7-8); to His endurance of the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2); His endurance also of the contradiction of sinners (Hebrews 12:3); to His being the Mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 12:24), the great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
(1) Forasmuch as many have taken in hand.—On the general bearing of this passage on the questions connected with the authorship and plan of the Gospel, see the Introduction. Here we note (1), what is visible in the English, but is yet more conspicuous in the Greek, the finished structure of the sentences as compared with the simpler openings of the other Gospels; (2) the evidence which the verse supplies of the existence of many written documents professing to give an account of the Gospel history at the time when St. Luke wrote—i.e., probably before St. Paul’s death in A.D. 65. The “many” may have included St. Matthew and St. Mark, but we cannot say. There is no tone of disparagement in the way in which the writer speaks of his predecessors. He simply feels that they have not exhausted the subject, and that his inquiries have enabled him to add something.

Of those things which are most surely believed among us.—Better, of the things that have been accomplished among us.

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
(2) Even as they delivered them unto us.—There is something noticeable in the candour with which the writer disclaims the character of an eyewitness. The word “delivered” is the same as that used by St. Paul when he speaks of the history of the Lord’s Supper (1Corinthians 11:23-25) and of the Resurrection (1Corinthians 15:3-7), and, with its cognate noun “tradition” (2Thessalonians 2:15), would seem to have been almost a technical term for the oral teaching which at least included an outline of our Lord’s life and teaching.

Ministers of the word.—The word used is that which describes the work of an attendant, something between a “slave” and a “minister,” in the later ecclesiastical use of the term as equivalent to “deacon” or “preacher.” It is used of St. Mark in Acts 13:5. On the opportunities St. Luke enjoyed for converse with such as these, see Introduction. The “word” is used in its more general Pauline sense (as e.g., 1Corinthians 1:18; 1Corinthians 2:4), as equivalent to the “gospel,” not in the higher personal meaning which it acquired afterwards in St. John (1John 2:14).

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
(3) Having had perfect understanding of all things.—Better, having traced (or investigated) all things from their source. The verb used is one which implies following the course of events step by step. The adverb which follows exactly answers to what we call the origines of any great movement. It goes further back than the actual beginning of the movement itself.

In order.—The word implies a distinct aim at chronological arrangement, but it does not necessarily follow, where the order in St. Luke varies from that of the other Gospels, that it is therefore the true order. In such matters the writer, who was avowedly a compiler, might well be at some disadvantage as compared with others.

Most excellent Theophilus.—The adjective is the same as that used of Felix by Tertullus (Acts 24:3), and implies at least high social position, if not official rank. The name, which means “Friend of God,” might well be taken by a Christian convert at his baptism. Nothing more can be known of the person so addressed beyond the fact that he was probably a Gentile convert who had already been partially instructed in the facts of the Gospel history.

That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
(4) Wherein thou hast been instructed.—The verb used is that from which are formed the words “catechise,” “catechumen.” &c., and implies oral teaching—in its later sense, teaching preparatory to baptism. The passage is important as showing that such instruction mainly turned on the facts of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, and on the records of His teaching.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
(5) There was in the days of Herod.—The writer begins, as he had promised, with the first facts in the divine order of events. The two chapters that follow have every appearance of having been based originally on an independent document, and that probably a Hebrew one. On its probable sources, see Introduction. On Herod and this period of his reign, see Notes on Matthew 2:1.

Zacharias.—The name (= “he who remembers Jehovah,” or, perhaps, “he whom Jehovah remembers,”) had been borne by many in the history of Israel, among others by the son of Jehoiada (2Chronicles 24:20), and by the prophet of the return from the Babylonian Captivity.

Of the course of Abia.—The Greek word so translated implies a system of rotation, each “set” or “course” of the priests serving from Sabbath to Sabbath. That named after Abia, or Abijah, appears in 1Chronicles 24:10 as the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the houses of Eleazar and Ithamar were divided by David. On the first return from the Captivity only four of these courses are mentioned as having come back to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:36-39), and the name Abijah is not one of them. It appears, however, in later lists (Nehemiah 10:7; Nehemiah 12:4; Nehemiah 12:17), and the four-and-twenty sets were probably soon re-organised.

His wife was of the daughters of Aaron.—The priests were free to marry outside the limits of their own caste under certain limitations as to the character of their wives (Leviticus 21:7), and the fact of a priestly descent on both sides was therefore worth noticing.

Her name was Elisabeth.—The name in its Hebrew form of Elisheba had belonged to the wife of Aaron, who was of the tribe of Judah (Exodus 6:23), and was naturally an honoured name among the daughters of the priestly line. It appears in an altered form (Jehovah being substituted for El) in Jehosheba, the wife of the priest Jehoiada (2Kings 11:2).

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
(6) Commandments and ordinances.—The former word covered all the moral laws of the Pentateuch, the latter (as in Hebrews 9:1), its outward and ceremonial rules.

And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
(7) Well stricken in years.—Literally, far advanced in their days.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
(8) In the order of his course.—This was settled by rotation. Attempts have been made by reckoning back from the date of the destruction of the Temple, when it is known that the “course” of Joiarib was ministering on the ninth day of the Jewish month Ab, to fix the precise date of the events here narrated, and so of our Lord’s Nativity, but all such attempts are necessarily more or less precarious.

According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
(9)His lot was to burn incense.—The order of the courses was, as has been said, one of rotation. The distribution of functions during the week was determined by lot. That of offering incense, symbolising, as it did, the priestly work of presenting the prayers of the people, and joining his own with them (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8), was of all priestly acts the most distinctive (2Chronicles 26:18). At such a moment all the hopes of one who looked for the Christ as the consolation of Israel would gather themselves into one great intercession.

Into the temple of the Lord—i.e., the Holy Place, into which none but the priests might enter.

And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
(10) The whole multitude.—Knowing as we do from this Gospel, what hopes were cherished by devout hearts at this time, we may well believe that the prayers of the people, no less than those of the priest, turned towards the manifestation of the kingdom of God. In that crowd, we may well believe, were the aged Simeon (Luke 2:25), and Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36), and many others who waited for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). What followed was, on this view, an answer to their prayers.

And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
(11) The altar of incense.—The altar stood just in front of the veil that divided the outer sanctuary from the Holy of Holies. It was made of shittim wood, and overlaid with gold, both symbols of incorruption (Exodus 30:1-7; Exodus 40:5; Exodus 40:26). Its position connected it so closely with the innermost sanctuary that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:4; but see Note there) seems to reckon it as belonging to that, and not unto the outer. It symbolised accordingly the closest approach to God which was then possible for any but the high priest, when, in his typical character, he entered the Holy of Holies on the day of Atonement.

And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
(12) He was troubled.—It lies in the nature of the case that during all the long years of Zachariah’s ministration, he had seen no such manifestation. As far as we may reason from the analogy of other angelic appearances, the outward form was that of a “young man clothed in white linen,” or in “bright apparel” (Matthew 28:3; Mark 16:5)—a kind of transfigured Levite, as One greater than the angels, when he manifested himself amid the imagery of the Temple, appeared as in the garments of a glorified priesthood (Revelation 1:13).

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
(13) Thy prayer is heard.—The words imply a prayer on the part of Zacharias, not that he might have a son (that hope appears to have died out long before), but that the Kingdom of God might come. Praying for this he receives more than he asks, and the long yearning of his soul for a son who might bear his part in that Kingdom is at last realised.

Thou shalt call his name John.—The English monosyllable represents the Greek Joannes, the Hebrew Jochanan. The name appears as belonging to the men of various tribes (1Chronicles 3:15; Ezra 8:12; Jeremiah 41:11). As the meaning of the Hebrew word is “Jehovah is gracious,” the announcement of the name was in itself a pledge of the outpouring of the grace of God.

And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
(14) Many shall rejoice.—The words point to what had been the priest’s prayer. He had been seeking the joy of many rather than his own, and now the one was to be fruitful in the other.

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.
(15) And shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.—The child now promised was to grow up as a Nazarite (Numbers 6:4), and to keep that vow all his life, as the representative of the ascetic, the “separated,” form (this is the meaning of the term) of a consecrated life. He was to be what Samson had been (Judges 13:4), and probably Samuel also (1Samuel 1:11), and the house of Jonadab the son of Rechab (Jeremiah 35:6). The close connection between the Nazarite and the prophetic life is seen in Amos 2:11-12. The absence of the lower form of stimulation implied the capacity for the higher enthusiasm which was the gift of God. The same contrast is seen in St. Paul’s words, “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.—The words would be understood by Zacharias from the Hebrew point of view, not as seen in the fuller light of Christian theology. As such they would convey the thought of the highest prophetic inspiration, as in Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 61:1; Joel 2:28.

Even from his mother’s womb.—The thought of a life from first to last in harmony with itself and consecrated to the prophet’s work, had its prototype in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5).

And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
(16) Shall he turn to the Lord their God.—The opening words of the message of the New Covenant spring out of the closing words of the last of the prophets (Malachi 4:6), and point to the revival of the Elijah ministry, which is more definitely announced in the next verse.

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.
(17) To the wisdom of the just.—The margin, by the wisdom, is undoubtedly the right rendering.

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 shew thee these glad tidings.
(19) I am Gabriel.—No names of angels appear in the Old Testament till after the Babylonian Exile. Then we have Gabriel (= “the strong one—or the hero—of God”), in Daniel 8:16; Michael (= “who is like unto God?”), in Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1; Raphael (= “the healer of God”—i.e., the divine healer), in Tobit 12:15, as one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints. As having appeared in the prophecies which, more than any others, were the germ of the Messianic expectations which the people cherished, there was a fitness in the mission now given to Gabriel to prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming.

That stand in the presence of God.—The imagery was drawn from the customs of an Eastern Court, in which those stood who were the most honoured ministers of the king, while others fell prostrate in silent homage. (Comp. the “angel of His presence “in Isaiah 63:9, with our Lord’s language as to the angels that “behold the face” of His Father, Matthew 18:10.)

To shew thee these glad tidings.—Literally, to evangelise. The word is memorable as the first utterance, as far as the Gospel records are concerned, of that which was to be the watchword of the kingdom. It was not, however, a new word, and its employment here was, in part at least, determined by Isaiah’s use of it (Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 61:1).

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.
(20) Behold, thou shalt be dumb.—The question was answered, the demand for a sign granted, but the demand had implied a want of faith, and therefore the sign took the form of a penalty. The vision and the words of the angel, harmonising as they did with all Zechariah’s previous convictions, ought to have been enough for him.

And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
(22) A vision.—The word is used as distinguished from “dream,” to imply that what had been witnessed had been seen with the waking sense. The look of awe, the strange gestures, the unwonted silence, all showed that he had come under the influence of some supernatural power.

He beckoned unto them.—The tense implies continued and repeated action.

And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
(23) The days of his ministration.—The word used for “ministration” conveys, like the ministering spirits” of Hebrews 1:14, the idea of liturgical service. The “days” were, according to the usual order of the Temple, from Sabbath to Sabbath (2Kings 11:5).

Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
(25) To take away my reproach among men.—The words express in almost their strongest form the Jewish feeling as to maternity. To have no children was more than a misfortune. It seemed to imply some secret sin which God was punishing with barrenness. So we have Rachel’s cry, “Give me children, or else I die” (Genesis 30:1); and Hannah’s “bitterness of soul” when “her adversary provoked her to make her fret” (1Samuel 1:6-10).

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
(26) And in the sixth month.—The time is obviously reckoned from the commencement of the period specified in Luke 1:24.

A city of Galilee, named Nazareth.—The town so named (now en-Nazirah) was situated in a valley among the hills that rise to a height of about 500 feet on the north of the Plain of Esdraelon. The valley itself is richly cultivated. The grassy slopes of the hills are clothed in spring-time with flowers. On one side there is a steep ridge that forms something like a precipice (Luke 4:29). In the rainy season the streams flow down the slopes of the hills and rush in torrents through the valleys. From a hill just behind the town, the modern Neby Ismail, there is one of the finest views in Palestine, including Lebanon and Hermon to the north, Carmel to the west, with glimpses of the Mediterranean, and to the south the Plain of Esdraelon and the mountains of Samaria, to the east and south-east Gilead, and Tabor, and Grilboa. It is a three days’ journey from Jerusalem, about twenty miles from Ptolemais, and eighteen from the Sea of Galilee, six from Mount Tabor, about six from Cana, and nine from Nain. The name, as stated in the Note on Matthew 2:23, was probably derived from the Hebrew Netzer (= a branch), and conveying something of the same meaning as our -hurst, or -holm, in English topography.

To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
(27) To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph.—Of the parentage of Mary the canonical Gospels tell us nothing, and the legends of the apocryphal have no claim to credit. That her mother’s name was Anna, that she surpassed the maidens of her own age in wisdom, that she went as a child into the Temple, that she had many who sought her hand, and that they agreed to decide their claims by laying their rods before the Holy Place and seeing which budded, and that Joseph thus became the accepted suitor—this may be worth mentioning, as having left its impress on Christian art, but it has no claim to the character even of tradition. The scanty notices in the Gospels are (1) that she was a “cousin,” or more generally a “kinswoman,” of Elizabeth, and may, therefore, have been, by her parentage, wholly or in part of the daughters of Aaron. (2) That she had a sister who, according to a somewhat doubtful construction of an ambiguous sentence, may also have borne the name of Mary or Mariam (the “Miriam” of the Old Testament), and been afterwards the wife of Cleophas, or, more correctly, Clopas (John 19:25). The absence of any mention of her parents suggests the thought that she was an orphan, and the whole narrative of the Nativity presupposes poverty. Assuming the Magnificat to have been not merely the sudden inspiration of the moment, but, in some sense, the utterance of the cherished thoughts of years, we may think of her as feeding upon the psalms and hymns and prophecies of the Sacred Books, and knowing, as she did, that the man to whom she was betrothed was of the house of David, this may well have drawn her expectations of redemption into the line of looking for the Christ, who was to be the son of David. Of Joseph, we know that he was, possibly by a twofold lineage (but see Note on Luke 3:23), the heir of that house, and must have known himself to be so. He was but a carpenter in a Galilean village, probably older than his betrothed, possibly a widower with sons and daughters, possibly the guardian of nephews and nieces who had been left orphans, but the documents which contained his genealogy must have been precious heirlooms, and the hopes that God would raise up the tabernacle of David that had fallen, to which one of those sons or nephews afterwards gave utterance (Acts 15:16), could never have been utterly extinguished.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
(28) Highly favoured.—The verb is the same as that which is translated, “hath made us accepted “in Ephesians 1:6; and, on the whole, this, which is expressed in one of the marginal readings, seems the truest. The plena gratiâ of the Vulgate has no warrant in the meaning of the word.

The Lord is with thee.—Better, the Lord be with thee, as the more usual formula of salutation, as in Ruth 2:4.

Blessed art thou among women.—The words are omitted in many of the best MSS.

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
(29) she was troubled at his saying.—The same word is used as had been used of Zacharias. With Mary, as with him, the first feeling was one of natural terror. Who was the strange visitor, and what did the strange greeting mean?

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
(30) Thou hast found favour with God.—The noun is the same as that elsewhere translated “grace,” but the latter word, though fit enough in itself, has become so associated with the technicalities of theology that it is better, in this place, to retain “favour.”

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
(31) Behold, thou shalt conceive.—St. Luke does not refer to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, but it is clear from Mary’s answer that she understood the words of the angel in the sense which St. Matthew gives to those of the prophet. What perplexed her was the reference to the conception and the birth in a prediction which made no mention of her approaching marriage. The absence of the reference is at least worth noticing, as showing that men were not necessarily led by their interpretation of the prophecy to imagine its fulfilment.

Shalt call his name JESUS.—See Note on Matthew 1:21. The revelation of the name, with all its mysterious fulness of meaning, was made, we may note, to Joseph and Mary independently.

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:
(32) Shall be called the Son of the Highest.—It is noticeable that this name applied to our Lord by the angel, appears afterwards as uttered by the demoniacs (Mark 5:7). On the history of the name, see Note on Mark 5:7.

The throne of his father David.—The words seem at first to suggest the thought that the Virgin was of the house of David, and that the title to the throne was thus derived through her. This may have been so (see Note on Luke 3:23-38), and the intermarriage which had taken place in olden times between the house of Aaron and that of David (Exodus 6:23; 2Kings 11:2) show that this might be quite consistent with the relationship to Elizabeth mentioned in Luke 1:36. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the genealogies, both in St. Matthew and St. Luke, appear, at first sight, to give the lineage of Joseph only, and therefore that, if this were, as many have believed, the Evangelist’s point of view, our Lord, notwithstanding the supernatural birth, was thought of as inheriting from him. The form of the promise, which might well lead to the expectation of a revived kingdom of Israel after the manner of that of David, takes its place among the most memorable instances of prophecies that have been fulfilled in quite another fashion than those who first heard them could have imagined possible. That the Evangelist who recorded it held that it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual sovereignty of the Christ, is shown by the fact that he records it in the same Gospel as that which tells of the Crucifixion and Ascension.

And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
(33) He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever.—Here, again, the apparent promise is that of a kingdom restored to Israel such as the disciples expected even after the Resurrection (Acts 1:6). It needed to be interpreted by events before men could see that it was fulfilled in the history of Christendom as the true Israel of God (Romans 9:6; Galatians 6:16).

Of his kingdom there shall be no end.—The words of St. Paul, in 1Corinthians 15:24-28, seem at first to point to a limit of time when the kingdom of the Christ shall find an end, but a closer study of his meaning shows that he is speaking of that kingdom as involving contest with the hostile forces of evil. The exercise of sovereignty may, in this sense, cease when all conflict is over, but it ceases by being perfected, not by passing away after the fashion of earthly kingdoms. The delegated or mediatorial headship of the Christ is merged in the absolute unity of the monarchy of God.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
(34) How shall this be?—The question of the Virgin is not altogether of the same nature as that of Zacharias in Luke 1:18. He asks by what sign he shall know that the words were true which told him of a son in his old age. Mary is told of a far greater marvel, for her question shows that she understood the angel to speak of the birth as antecedent to her marriage, and she, accepting the words in faith, does not demand a sign, but reverently seeks to know the manner of their accomplishment.

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.
(35) The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.—See Note on Luke 1:15. Here, however, the context would suggest to one familiar with the sacred writings, another aspect of the Spirit’s work, as quickening the dead chaos into life (Genesis 1:2), as being the source of life to all creation (Psalm 104:30).

The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.—The divine name is used in obvious harmony with “the Son of the Highest” in Luke 1:32.

Therefore also . . . shall be called the Son of God.—The words appear to rest the title, “Son of God,” rather on the supernatural birth than on the eternal pre-existence of the Son as the Word that was “in the beginning with God and was God” (John 1:1), and we may accept the fact that the message of the angel was so far a partial, not a complete, revelation of the mystery of the Incarnation. It gave a sufficient reason for the name which should be given to the Son of Mary, and more was not then required.

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
(36) Thy cousin Elisabeth.—See Notes on Luke 1:27; Luke 1:32. Taking the word in its usual sense, it would imply that either the father or the mother of Mary had been of the house of Aaron, or that the mother of Elizabeth had been of the house of David.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
(38) Behold the handmaid of the Lord . . .—The words seem to show a kind of half-consciousness that the lot which she thus accepts might bring with it unknown sufferings, as well as untold blessedness. She shrinks, as it were, from the awfulness of the position thus assigned to her, but she can say, as her Son said afterwards, when His time of agony was come, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” It may be that the more immediate peril of which St. Matthew speaks (1:19). flashed even then upon her soul as one that could not be escaped. (Comp. Luke 2:35.)

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
(39) The hill country . . . a city of Juda.—The description is too vague to be identified with any certainty. The form of the proper noun is the same as that in “Bethlehem, of the land of Juda,” in Matthew 2:6. The city may have been one of those assigned to the priests within the limits of the tribe of Judah, and if so, it is interesting to think of the Virgin as undertaking a journey which brought her not far from the very spot in which she was to give birth to the divine Child. No city of the name of Juda is known, but there is a Juttah in Joshua 15:55; Joshua 21:16, in the neighbourhood of Maon and the Judæan Carmel, and therefore in the “hill country,” which may possibly be that which is here referred to.

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
(41) The salutation of Mary.—The words of the greeting were, we may believe, the usual formula, “Peace be with thee,” or “The Lord be with thee,” possibly united with some special words of gratulation on what she had heard from the angel.

Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.—What had been predicted of the Child (Luke 1:15) was now fulfilled ex abundanti in the mother. The fact related, so far as we look to human sources of information, must obviously have come to St. Luke, directly or indirectly, from the Virgin herself.

And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
(42) Blessed art thou among women.—The language, like that of most of the utterances in these chapters, is taken from the poetry of the older Scriptures, but there is a singular contrast between its application there to the murderess Jael (Judges 5:24), and here to the mother of the Lord.

And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
(43) Whence is this to me . . .?—The sudden inspiration bids Elizabeth, rising above all lower thoughts, to recognise that the child of Mary would be also the Son of the Highest. The contrast leaves no room for doubt that she used the word “Lord” in its highest sense. “Great “as her own son was to be (Luke 1:15) in the sight of the Lord, here was the mother of One yet greater, even of the Lord Himself.

And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
(45) Blessed is she that believed.—The two renderings, “for there shall be,” and “that there shall be,” are equally tenable grammatically. On internal grounds there seems a balance in favour of the latter, as the other interpretation appears to make the fulfilment of the promise dependent upon the Virgin’s faith.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
(46) My soul doth magnify the Lord.—We come to the first of the great canticles recorded by St. Luke, which, since the time of Cæsarius of Arles (A.D. 540), who first introduced them into public worship, have formed part of the hymnal treasures of Western Christendom. We may think of the Virgin as having committed to writing at the time, or having remembered afterwards, possibly with some natural modifications, what she then spoke. Here the song of praise is manifestly based upon that of Hannah (1Samuel 2:1-10), both in its opening words and in much of its substance, and is so far significant of the hopes, and, if we may so speak, studies, of the maiden of Nazareth.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
(47) In God my Saviour.—We may well believe that this choice of the name was determined by the meaning of the name, implying God’s work of salvation, which she had been told was to be given to her Son.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
(48) The low estate of his handmaiden.—Note the recurrence of the word that had been used in Luke 1:37, as expressing the character which she was now ready to accept, whatever it might involve.

All generations shall call me blessed.—The words have, of course, been partly instrumental in bringing about their own fulfilment; but what a vision of the future they must have implied then on the part of the village maiden who uttered them! Not her kinswoman only, but all generations should join in that beatitude.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
(50) His mercy is on them that fear him.—The words, as read by those for whom St. Luke wrote, would seem almost to foreshadow the Gospel of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Those that “feared God” were to be found not only among the children of Abraham, but also among “every nation” (Acts 10:2; Acts 10:35), and He would shew forth His mercy to all in whom that temper should be found.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
(51) He hath shewed strength.—Literally, He wrought strength. Here the parallelism with 1Samuel 2:3 becomes very close. Of whom the speaker thought as among the “proud,” we cannot know. They may have been the potentates of the world in which she lived, Herod and the Emperor of Rome. They may have been the men of Jerusalem, who despised Galilee; or those of the other towns and villages of Galilee, who despised Nazareth; or, though less probably, those of Nazareth itself, who despised the carpenter and his betrothed.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
(52) The mighty.—The word (that from which we get our English “dynasty”) is applied to the eunuch “of great authority” under Candace, in Acts 8:27, and is used as a divine name in “the blessed and only Potentate” of 1Timothy 6:15. Here it is used generally of all human rulers.

From their seats.—Better, their thrones, as the word is for the most part translated. (Comp. Matthew 19:28, and in this very chapter, Luke 1:32.)

Of low degree.—The adjective is that from which the noun translated “low estate,” in Luke 1:48, had been formed.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
(53) He hath filled the hungry.—It is interesting to note the manner in which the song of the Virgin anticipates the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Plain as reported by St. Luke (Luke 6:21). The words, like those of the beatitudes, have both their literal and their spiritual fulfilments. Both those who trusted in their earthly riches, and those who gloried in their fancied spiritual wealth, were sent empty away, while the “hungry,” those who craved for a higher blessedness, were filled with the peace and righteousness which they sought.

He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
(54) He hath holpen his servant Israel.—Up to this point the hymn has been one of personal thanks-giving. Now we find that all the soul of the maiden of Nazareth is with her people. Her joy in the “great things “which God has done for her rests on the fact that they are “great things “for Israel also. The word which she uses for her people is that which expresses their relation to God as “the servant” of Jehovah, who is prominent in the later chapters of Isaiah, and is in Isaiah 41:8 identified with the nation, as elsewhere with the nation’s Head (Isaiah 42:1). One may see in the utterance of this hope already seen as realised, an indication of the early date of the hymn. At the time when St. Luke wrote, the rejection, not the restoration of Israel, was the dominant thought in men’s minds.

In remembrance.—Literally, in order to remember. He helped Israel, as with the purpose to prove Himself not unmindful of His promised mercy.

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
(55) As he spake to our fathers.—As the sentence stands in English, the words “Abraham and his seed” seem in apposition with “forefathers,” and to be added as explaining it. In the Greek, however, they are in a different connection, and belong to what had gone before, the construction being as follows: “To remember His mercy (as He spake unto our forefathers) to Abraham and his seed for ever.” The mercy that had been shown to Abraham was, as it were, working even yet.

And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
(56) And Mary abode with her about three months.—This brings the time so close to the birth of the Baptist that we might well deem it likely that the Virgin waited for it. On the other hand, the next verse seems almost to imply her previous departure. In any case, we may think of the three months as a time of much communion of heart and hope on the great things which God had done and was about to do for Israel.

And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
(58) Her neighbours and her cousins.—Better, her kindred, as including a wider range of relations than that which comes within our definition of cousinship. The words imply that they had heard something of the vision in the Temple, and of what had been foretold of the future greatness of the child then born.

Had shewed great mercy upon her.—Literally, had magnified His mercy. The verb is the same as that which opens the Magnificat, and may well be looked upon as a kind of echo of it. The phrase is essentially a Hebrew one. (Comp. 1Samuel 12:24.)

And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
(59) They came to circumcise the child.—The day of circumcision, as the admission of the child into God’s covenant with his people, was, like the day of the baptism of infants among Christians, one on which relatives were invited to be present as witnesses, and was commonly followed by a feast. It was also, as baptism has come to be, the time on which the child received the name which was to bear its witness of the prayers of his parents for him, and of his personal relation to the God of his fathers.

They called him . . .—The Greek tense is strictly imperfect—they were calling him. The choice of the name commonly rested with the father, but the kinsfolk seem to have assumed that, in the dumbness of the father, the duty devolved on them, and they, according to a custom not uncommon, showed their respect for the father by choosing his name.

And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
(60) Not so; but he shall be called John.—It is obvious from what follows that the writing-tablet had been in frequent use, and in this way the husband must have told the wife of the name which had been given by the angel.

And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
(61) There is none of thy kindred . . .—The fact is not without interest, as probably showing that Zacharias did not come within the circle of those related to the Sadducean high priests, among whom (some thirty years later, it is true) we find that name (Acts 4:6; Acts 5:17).

And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
(62) They made signs to his father.—It seems probable—almost, indeed, certain—from this, that Zacharias was deprived of the power of hearing as well as speech, and had passed into the condition of one who was naturally a deaf mute.

And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
(63) A writing table.—The tablets in common use at this time throughout the Roman empire were commonly of wood, covered with a thin coat of wax, on which men wrote with the sharp point which has left its traces in our language, in the word “style,” in its literal and figurative senses.

His name is John.—There is something emphatic in the use of the present tense. It was not a question to be discussed. The name had been given already.

And they marvelled all.—This confirms the view given above as to the previous deafness of Zacharias. There would have been no ground for wonder, had he heard the discussion. It was the coincidence that surprised them, hardly less than the utterance.

And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
(64) His tongue loosed.—The verb is supplied by the translators because the one previously used applied strictly only to the mouth.

He spake, and praised God.—Probably, in substance, if not in words, as in the hymn that follows. The insertion of the two verses that follow seems to imply that some interval of time passed before its actual utterance.

And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea.
(65) All the hill country of Judæa.—The district so designated included the mountain plateau to the south of Jerusalem, which reaches its highest point at Hebron. (See Note on Luke 1:39.) The whole verse describes the gradual spread of the report of the events from the immediate neighbourhood to the wider district of which it formed a part.

And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
(66) What manner of child shall this be!—Better, what shall this child be! The question was not, what kind of child He should be, but what the child would grow to.

And the hand of the Lord was with him.—Some good MSS. give, “for the hand of the Lord,” as giving the reason for the previous question. The “hand” implies, in the familiar language of the Old Testament (e.g., Judges 2:15; 2Chronicles 30:12; Ezra 7:9), what we more commonly call the “guidance” or the “providence” of God. The phrase was essentially a Hebrew one; one of the vivid anthropomorphic idioms which they could use more boldly than other nations, because they had clearer thoughts of God as not made after the similitude of men (Deuteronomy 4:12).

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
(67) Was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied.—The latter word appears to be used in its wider sense of an inspired utterance of praise (as, e.g., in 1Samuel 19:20; 1Corinthians 14:24-25). The hymn that follows appears as the report, written, probably, by Zachariah himself, of the praises that had been uttered in the first moments of his recovered gift of speech. As such, we may think of it as expressing the pent-up thoughts of the months of silence. The fire had long been kindling, and at last he spake with his tongue.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
(68) Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.—The whole hymn is, like the Magnificat, pre-eminently Hebrew in character, almost every phrase having its counterpart in Psalm or Prophet; and, like it, has come to take a prominent place in the devotions of the western Churches. Its first appearance, as so used, is in Gaul, under Cæsarius of Aries.

Visited.—Better, looked upon, regarded. The four centuries that had passed since the last of the prophets are thought of as a time during which the “face of the Lord” had been turned away from Israel. Now He looked on it again, not to visit them (as we more commonly use the word) for their offences, but to deliver.

Redeemed his people.—Better, wrought redemption for His people. The noun is formed from that which is translated “ransom” in Matthew 20:28, where see Note. Its occurrence here is noticeable as showing how large an element the thought of deliverance through a ransom was in all the Messianic expectations of the time. (Comp. Luke 2:38.) The past tense (in the Greek the aorist) is used by Zacharias as, in the joy of prophetic foresight, seeing the end of what had been begun. The next verse shows that he looked for this redemption as coming not through the child that had been born to him, but through the Son, as yet unborn, of Mary.

And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
(69) Hath raised up an horn of salvation.—The symbolism of the horn comes from Psalm 132:17, where it is used of the representative of the House of David, and answers to the “Anointed” of the other clause of the verse. It originated obviously in the impression made by the horns of the bull or stag, as the symbols of strength. Here, following in the steps of the Psalmist, Zacharias uses it as a description of the coming Christ, who is to be raised up in the House of David.

As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
(70) His holy prophets, which have been since the world began.—The words were probably more than a lofty paraphrase of the more usual language, “of old time,” “of ancient days,” and imply a reference to the great first Gospel, as it has been called, of Genesis 3:15, as well as to those made to Abraham, who is the first person named as a prophet (Genesis 20:7).

That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
(71) That we should be saved from our enemies.—Literally, salvation from our enemies, in apposition with “the horn of salvation” of Luke 1:69. The “enemies” present to the thoughts of Zacharias may have been the Roman conquerors of Judæa; the Idumæan House of Herod may have been among “those who hate.”

To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
(72) To perform the mercy.—The verse has been thought, and with apparent reason, to contain a reference, after the manner of the ancient prophets (comp. Isaiah 8:3; Micah 1:10-15), to the name of the speaker, of his wife, and of his child. In “performing mercy,” we find an allusion to John or Jochanan (= “The Lord be merciful”); in “remembering His holy covenant,” to the name Zacharias (= “Whom Jehovah remembers”); in the “oath” of Luke 1:73, to that of Elizabeth or Elisheba (= “The oath of my God”). The play upon the words would, of course, be obvious in the original Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) of the hymn, which we have only in its Greek version.

His holy covenant.—The covenant is clearly that made with Abraham in Genesis 15:18. In thus going back to that as the starting-point of the New Covenant which was to be made in Christ, Zacharias anticipates the teaching of St. Paul in Galatians 3:15-19.

The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
(73) The oath.—The noun is in apposition to the “covenant” of the preceding verse, though not grammatically in the same case with it.

That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
(74) That he would grant unto us . . .—The form of the Greek indicates even more definitely than the English that this was the end to which the “covenant” and the “oath” had all along been pointing.

Might serve him without fear.—The service is that of worship as well as obedience. This was the end for which deliverance from enemies was but a means. Here, again, the form of the hope points to its early date. What prospect was there, when St. Luke wrote his Gospel, of any deliverance of the Jews from their earthly enemies? By that time, what was transitory in the hymn had vanished, and the words had gained the higher permanent sense which they have had for centuries in the worship of the Church of Christ.

In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
(75) In holiness and righteousness.—The same combination is found, though in an inverted order, in Ephesians 4:24. “Holiness” has special reference to man’s relations to God; “justice” to those which connect him with his fellow men; but, like all such words, they more or less overlap.

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;
(76) Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest.—Note the recurrence of the same divine name that had appeared in Luke 1:32; Luke 1:35.

Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord.—The verse is, as it were, an echo of two great prophecies, combining the “going before Jehovah” of Malachi 3:1, with the “preparing the way” of Isaiah 40:3.

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins,
(77) To give knowledge of salvation.—This, as the form of the Greek verb shows, was to be the object of the Baptist’s mission. Men had lost sight of the true nature of salvation. They were wrapt in dreams of deliverance from outward enemies, and needed to be taught that it consisted in forgiveness for the sins of the past, and power to overcome sins in the future.

The remission of their sins.—Historically, this was the first utterance of the words in the Gospel records, and we may well think of it as having helped to determine the form which the work of the Baptist eventually took. It is interesting to compare it with our Lord’s words at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28), and so to think of it as being the key-note of the whole work from the beginning to the end. Different in outward form as were the ministries of the Baptist and our Lord, they agreed in this.

Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us,
(78) Through the tender mercy.—Literally, on account of the bowels of mercy of our God. After this manner the Jews spoke of what we should call the heart” of God. The word was a favourite one with St. Paul, as in the Greek of 2Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8, Php_2:1; Colossians 3:12. The pity that moved the heart of God is thought of, not as the instrument through which, but that on account of which, the work of the Baptist was to be accomplished.

The dayspring from on high.—The English word expresses the force of the Greek very beautifully. The dawn is seen in the East rising upward, breaking through the darkness. We must remember, however, that the word had acquired another specially Messianic association, through its use in the LXX. version as the equivalent for the “Branch,” “that which springs upward,” of Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8. Here the thought of the sunrise is prominent, and it connects itself with such predictions as, “The glory of the Lord hath risen upon thee” (Isaiah 60:1), “The sun of righteousness shall rise” (Malachi 4:2). What had become a Messianic name is taken in its primary sense, and turned into a parable.

Hath visited us.—Better, hath looked upon us.

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(79) To give light to them that sit in darkness.—The words are an echo of those of Isaiah 9:2, which we have already met with in Matthew 4:16, where see Note. Here they carry on the thought of the sunrise lighting up the path of those who had sat all night long in the dark ravine, and whose feet were now guided into “the way of peace,” that word including, as it always did, with the Hebrew, every form of blessedness.

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
(80) And the child grew.—We have no materials for filling up this brief outline of the thirty years that followed in the Baptist’s life. The usual Jewish education, the observance of the Nazarite vow, the death of his parents while he was comparatively young, an early retirement from the world to the deserts that surrounded the western shores of the Dead Sea, study and meditation given to the Law and the Prophets, the steadfast waiting for the consolation of Israel, possible intercourse with the Essenes who lived in that region, or with hermit-teachers, like Banus, the master of Josephus (Life, c. 1), whose form of life was after the same fashion as his own: this we may surmise as probable, but we cannot say more. Whatever may have been the surroundings of his life, he entered upon his work in a spirit which was intensely personal and original.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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