Luke 1

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Jesus' Birth Foretold to Mary by the Angel Gabriel

There are some definite similarities between this account and other divine appearances/birth announcements. The account in Zephaniah 3:14-17 of the daughter of Zion is especially similar.

Verse 26: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, (NRSV)

  • The sixth month refers to the amount of time that Elizabeth had been pregnant.
  • This is the same angel as had appeared to Zechariah.
  • There is no mention about how the angel showed up. He could have walked in or just appeared, we don't know.
  • There is a definite contrast in context between Gabriel's first and second encounter.
    • The most obvious of course is that Mary is a woman and Zechariah is a man. While this is not an issue today, that would have been seen as a definite step down then.
    • Zechariah was a priest and Mary was a young woman, the relative status difference was huge.
    • Zechariah was also doing the holiest thing he could ever do when Gabriel showed up. We do not know anything about what Mary was doing, but it couldn't have been nearly as holy.
    • Zechariah and his wife had been seeking a baby. Mary was not married and was not seeking a child.

Verse 27: to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. (NRSV)

  • The term “virgin” is a problem when it is quoted from the OT. In the OT it means a young woman, but here it is a Greek word that explicitly means a young woman without a child, and by this time had come to mean a sexual virgin as well. Though it can refer to both a young woman or a virgin (Kittel Vol 5, 831-832).
    • Here it seems to be used to indicate Mary's purity and holiness as well as Jesus being born of the Spirit. If Mary is a holy young woman than she has not had sex yet, even if that is not what this word means here.
    • By using the term “virgin” twice in one verse Luke is emphasizing this point.
    • Mary referring to herself as one who “has not known a man” in verse 34 reinforces that the sexual component of this term was important.
    • This virginity is in parallel with Elizabeth's barrenness as an obstacle for God to overcome before they could have kids (Nolland 49).
  • The engagement mentioned here could only be dissolved by divorce in Jewish custom.
    • Engagement could be as young as 12, and lasted about a year often (Marshall 64).
  • Even though Jesus is clearly not the son of Joseph, Joseph is mentioned as being part of the house of David.
    • ”House” of course refers not just to a physical house but to a family or household as they often lived in the same dwelling over the generations.
    • Perhaps this is partly to show the honor that Joseph had, though primarily it is to set up the line of David intersecting with Jesus, even if not by blood.
    • Mentioning a person's history or ancestral pedigree was a standard way of showing someone to be important (Green 86). It is perhaps telling that Mary's family is not mentioned at all.
  • ”Mary” is the same name as the Hebrew “Miriam”, the sister of Moses and Aaron. It was quite common (Marshall 65).

Verse 28: And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you (NRSV)

  • Literally, the angel “went in to her” which has some legitimate similarities to sexual euphemisms elsewhere in the Bible, especially with conception being the topic of discussion. But we do not have to go that direction by any means. It almost certainly means that the angel came into her house, especially with the angel going “out from her” at the end.
  • The word usually translated as “greetings” is a standard form of greeting that literally means “rejoice” or “be glad” (Arndt 873).
    • It is unclear if this is the angel saying he is glad to see her, or that Mary should rejoice because of the news the angel has for her. The double meaning might be intended.
    • This word is a verb, imperative to be precise. This is the mood of command, and is calling for a present response.
  • ”Favored one” is more literally “you have been shown grace” (Liddell 883).
    • This is a participle, with a perfected aspect. This means that it is an aspect that has been completed with current ramifications (current to the statement time).
    • The wording seems to indicate that this has already been decided. Mary doesn't really seem to get a choice in this.
    • By using this term, it indicates that even though Mary was a holy young woman, she was not perfect and needed grace as well.
  • Literally, the content here is “the lord with you” and so needs a verb supplied.
    • Today we say “the lord be with you” as a wish. This is probably a statement of fact, and “is” should be supplied, especially as this is a classic OT greeting (Marshall 65).
    • This term was used a lot in the OT with reference to God's support, especially in military operations (Fitzmyer 346).
    • This phrase was not often used as a greeting, however. That is only found in Ruth 2:44 and Judges 6:12 (Fitzmyer 346).

Verse 29: But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (NRSV)

  • ”Perplexed” is used only here in the New Testament, though it is the same root as Zechariah's perplexity (Fitzmyer 346).
    • It appears to mean being “mentally disturbed and thus deeply troubled” (Louw 1:314), though others define it as being about “great confusion” (Liddell 195).
    • This is in contrast with the rejoicing and grace giving of the previous verse.
  • ”Reasoning” or “pondering” is an imperfect verb. What that means is that it was not a single event, but that she was doing this regularly or at least quite a bit.
  • Mary's reaction, while not the rejoicing directed of her, it is far different than the utter fear that the shepherds expressed to an angel's message.
  • The reason for Mary's fear/confusion is not explicitly stated.
    • She could have been wondering about whether she is worthy of this announcement, or worried about what was expected of her. It is not clear.
    • Another theory is that men were not supposed to greet Jewish women (Marshall 65).

Verse 30: The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (NRSV)

    • And regardless of what Mary was exactly feeling, the angel seemed to think she was scared enough to warrant some reassurance.
    • That the angel gave some of his message before the reassurance might be noteworthy.
    • The wording of “do not fear” is aorist, which is an undefined aspect, indicating that Mary should not fear over this ever, not just at this moment.
  • The word translated here as ”find” generally has the implication of getting for oneself (Liddell 331), which is a problem here. But this is another way or rewording the previous statement of receiving grace from God and so should not be taken as a statement that somehow Mary earned this or forced God into it.
  • ”Favor” is more literally “grace”, which is repeating what the angel said had been given to her in verse 28.

Verse 31: And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. (NRSV)

  • This verse starts out with “and behold” in Greek. “Behold” is a term used to call attention to something new or special so people pay attention (Arndt 371). This is definitely a special situation that needs some attention.
  • ”The word translated as “conceive” has a variety of meanings. It generally means “to take, seize” or to “receive (Liddell 758).
    • With women it can sometimes take the connotation of “conceive” that is used here, which is why “in your womb” is needed to make the meaning clear. It can take this meaning because medical knowledge of the time said that women “received” the seed of men, and were merely hosts to growing that seed.
  • ”Womb” is literally “stomach” but that was the normal term during that day and age.
  • This is a predictive statement of what Mary will name her child. It is of course up to her, but the assumption is that if the rest of what the angel said comes true, then she will recognize God at work and name the child as stated.
  • ”Jesus” is a Greek version of the Hebrew “Joshua”. It means “God help” early on and was considered to mean “God save” later on (Fitzmyer 347).

Verse 34: Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (NRSV)

  • In English, Mary's response does not seem much different than that of Zechariah earlier in the chapter, and he was condemned.
    • In Greek, though, Zechariah asks for a sign to prove it, and Mary asks how it will happen.
    • Mary does not phrase her question in terms of doubt, but a direct future indicative tense. She accepts that it will happen, she just wants to know how. That is fine.
    • Literally, it should read “how will this be” or “how will this come to be.”
  • Verse 27 uses a term for virgin. But Mary says “have not known a man.”
    • While being more euphemistic explicitly this deals with the sexual component of the term “virgin” and not just the idea of her being a pure young woman.
    • The use of “man” is a version of it that can also mean “husband.” Mary might be saying that she hasn't slept with her husband yet, who she would assume would be how this would come about (Marshall 69).
  • By asking how it will happen, Mary might be asking whether she should marry Joseph quickly or if God would take care of it. After all, she was engaged to a descendant of David.

Verse 35: The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (NRSV)

  • This is a poetic verse in Greek.
  • Holy Spirit is anarthrous (without article) and becomes definite as it is interpreted in light of the also anarthrous “most high” who could only be God.
  • ”Most High” is a Semitic parallel to the Holy Spirit (Fitzmyer 351) and refers to God.
  • The use of “on” twice (once as a prefix) is problematic as it is language that would normally be used euphemistically of sexual activity. In this case, however, it is obviously not a physical encounter (Green 90) and probably refers to being close instead of being on top.
  • Normally there are some prophetic or spiritual empowerment that comes with the appearance of the Holy Spirit, but that is delayed until the Magnificat.
  • There are some definite similarities between this encounter and the filling of the tabernacle (Nolland 54).
  • At this point, all of the verbs are future indicative. There isn't any question about whether these events would happen, they will. It also says that they have not yet happened. Mary is not yet pregnant.
  • The lack of an article in front of “son of God” would normally be translated as “a son of God.” However, this phrase was probably envisioned not as a description, but as a title and so does not need an article to be definite/unique.
  • This is one of the few verses in the Bible that contain separate references to all three parts of the trinity.

Verse 36: And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. (NRSV)

  • This is a generic word for “relative” and not a specific one that could indicate how Elizabeth was related to Mary (Fitzmyer 352).
  • Telling Mary about Elizabeth serves two purposes. First, it is a sign that God will follow through, another miracle has already happened. Second, it provides Mary with an idea for a safe place to hide out for several months.
  • Mentioning this as the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy gives us the only indication of chronological time. It is also a time when Elizabeth would be showing.
  • It is interesting that Mary, a relative, apparently didn't know that Elizabeth was six months pregnant already. Perhaps this was a reminder of what she already knew, but that is unlikely as the information is given as a sign from God.

Verse 37: For nothing will be impossible with God.” (NRSV)

  • In the Greek, this verse contains “all word” as the subject, something most versions do not translate directly. Words were thought to contain power when spoken, so this is talking about God not having any words that cannot be fulfilled.

Verse 38: Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (NRSV)

  • Servant, as usual, can also be translated as slave.
  • Mary's statement “let it be” is in the Optative mood, one that is used for hopes, wishes, and dreams. This is her desire, not just a resignation to inevitability.
  • There is a parallel between the angel in the previous verse saying no word is impossible, and Mary here saying that God should continue according to his word.

Mary goes to Elizabeth

Verse 39: In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, (NRSV)

  • Normally, Mary would not have left her home without someone else accompanying her until she was officially married (Green 94).
  • ”Haste” here is doing something zealously/wholeheartedly, a great exertion or hastily (Liddell 741).
    • Here it is probably not just referring to the speed of travel, but the speed with which she suddenly had to leave.
    • Persecution and possibly even a desire to stone Mary would have to be expected. This is possibly Mary fleeing her town and family.
  • Another alternative interpretation is that this means “eagerly” (Nolland 65).
  • In Greek, Mary goes quickly into the hill country first, the town of Judea is secondary, then finally to Elizabeth's place.
    • This is a three step sequence that indicates a lengthy journey (Nolland 65).
  • By having Mary quickly leave her hometown without talking with any guy, even Joseph, Luke is emphasizing the virginal conception (Green 90).

Verse 40: where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (NRSV)

  • It was standard for women in the family to look after other women during the later stages of childbirth.
  • This greeting is not recorded, but probably went on for quite a while if it was the traditional greeting (Marshall 80).

Verse 41: When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (NRSV)

  • Normally, Elizabeth would have responded to Mary, but John responded first.
  • Literally, the child leapt “as” Mary spoke.
  • This leaping is not a normal prenatal kick or movement. The word here really is about jumping, skipping, leaping (Liddell 734).
  • Jewish thought was that children could participate in the world while still in the womb and foreshadow their future roles (Nolland 66).
    • John recognizes Jesus' presence and acknowledges his relationship with Jesus (Fitzmyer 363).
    • Here John is showing he already announces Jesus' presence.
  • Like most instances of the Holy Spirit's arrival, this is a passive verb, meaning Elizabeth had no role in the Holy Spirit arriving or filling her.
  • ”Pimplemi,” translated here as “filled” not only refers to being satisfied about being full, but can also refer to someone's inner life and the fulfillment of prophecies (Arndt 658). Here it is probably being used in a sense of empowering as well as filling.

Verse 42: and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (NRSV)

  • The word “anaphonesen” is translated as “cry out” but is used almost exclusively of the loud cry used in worship (Nolland 67).
  • This is the only time the phrase “exclaimed with a loud cry” appears in the Bible.
  • This is a traditional two line blessing (Nolland 67).
  • We don't have Mary's greeting to Elizabeth, and she might have announced her pregnancy then, but in the text Elizabeth seems to have heard of Jesus by John jumping. Already, he was announcing Jesus.
  • Childbirth and conception were thought of much like plants. A seed is planted in good soil and a baby/fruit grows until it is ready. Hence referring to women who couldn't conceive by the same language as fields, “barren.”

Verse 43: And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? (NRSV)

  • This is definitely about being unworthy.
  • This cry is echoing 2 Samuel 6:9, and this connection implies reverence or even fear in this situation as well (Nolland 67).

Verse 44: or as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. (NRSV)

  • We finally here have the explanation for why the child leapt, joy.
  • That Elizabeth interprets her child leaping as Mary holds the Messiah is surprising.

Verse 45: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (NRSV)

  • This blessing is not because Mary is a great woman, or deserved to be Jesus' mother, but that she believed what God told her.

The Magnificat

This is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. It is called the Magnificat, after the beginning of Mary's talk in Latin. This is partially a song, partially a poem, but mainly a huge outcry of thanks. Scholars are divided on whether this song ever appeared in Hebrew first, and then went to Greek or not.

There are comparisons with several other birth stories in the Bible, especially with Samuel's birth and his mother Hannah's cry in 1 Samuel 2. This is a very close similarity, including the hungry being fed, the full being empty, the mighty being laid low and more. Another parallel is in Genesis 30 with Leah crying out “blessed am I that all women count me blessed.”

Mary is not standing alone with this, but is purposefully talking about her life in terms that others used before her. She is the continuation of God's work, not its' beginning, not its' end. There are a lot of parallels in this passage. “My soul” and “my spirit” are in parallel, “because” and “because” are parallel, and then a long stream of “he did X” statements that are in parallel contrasting each other.

Verse 46: And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord (NIV)

  • A small number of texts do not have Mary's name here, and some seem to attribute it to Elizabeth (Nolland 68).
  • We don't know if this is before or after Joseph stuck with her because he isn't really mentioned in Luke, and the entire section of Joseph and an angel is found in Matthew.
  • The only thing Mary had going on for her was that God had guided her. That was all she had to rely on, nothing else was good in her life. But that was enough for Mary. She rejoices that God looked at here.
  • Nowhere does Mary rejoice that God has kept her safe, or made people love her, or given her stuff.
  • "magnifies/glorifies” is literally, "say he is great." It can also imply an active effort at making something great, but not here. She is choosing to say that God is great even though the rest of the world says her life is not great.

Verse 47: and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (NIV)

  • It is interesting that Mary refers to soul and spirit separately.
    • That division of the body into soul, spirit, body is a Greek idea. The Hebrews wouldn't have recognized that. Perhaps Mary was better educated than we gave her credit.
    • If Mary is not referring to Greek thought here, then she is perhaps using the two different words as ways not to repeat herself, and they both just mean her person, all of her.
  • Rejoice" is a gladness that involves action. Like when we can't keep silent we're so excited about something.

Verse 48: for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, (NIV)

  • ”Humble” can be a variety of things, but mainly dealing with humiliation, either as a state of being, self-inflicted, or being humiliated (Arndt 805).
    • There isn't a spiritual component to this term, or any glorification of those who have this characteristic.
    • This is a bit problematic if Mary is not using this as self-abasement.
    • This word normally refers to childlessness, leading some people to think that this was Elizabeth's song as Mary was not trying to get pregnant (Nolland 69).
    • She is praising God for her pregnancy so this wouldn't directly be her humiliation. Perhaps she is referring to how she knows people will react to her being pregnant.
  • This is a very personal part of the prayer, but while it is personal there is also a corporate element, where this personal prayer is also representing Israel as a whole (Nolland 69).

Verse 49: for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. (NIV)

  • There really isn't any call for the plural “things” as she has only had one really great thing happen to her. But this is a transition verse where Mary's personal experiences become the experiences of Israel.

Verse 50: His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (NIV)

  • The first four verses deal with what God is doing for Mary, but from now on it's about what God does in the world. Mary ties her personal praise with the world.
  • All of the verbs in the following verses are aorist, which is traditionally considered a past tense. Not all of these things have happened fully.
    • Aorist also can be used for an undefined time and that is probably what is happening here. These are general statements for all time. This is simply how God acts, always.
    • Mary using the past tense could also be a prophetic faith. She is expecting these things to happen. As far as she is concerned, they are completed because she has faith God will come through.
  • “Fear” used a lot in the Old Testament. It does not just mean terror, but respect, adoration, reverence, and following. Those who recognize God as their God and follow him, naturally “fear” God.

Verse 51: He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. (NIV)

  • The greatness that came to Mary in verse 49 she expands to everyone else in this verse. "Great things" versus "greatness", and "he has done" versus he has done"
  • There is a shift here, a worldwide shift. Mary sees her future child as the fulfillment of all the promises God made to her ancestors. A new thing has come, promises fulfilled.
  • God is presented here as a strong warrior, perhaps because that is what Mary needs. She is being oppressed and needs strength. But God is also represented as being merciful. Mary knows she isn't worthy of help either, but God has helped her anyway.
  • The things that God tears down in the rest of this passage are all ways of people looking after themselves first, and instead God places emphasis and help for those who can't look after themselves, whom others have ignored. This is a major theme in Luke that will keep coming back.
  • "brought down, scattered, lifted" are all generic past tenses, not future. She sees this as already happening, or as having been set in motion.
  • This says literally those who are proud in the "thoughts of their hearts," which just goes to show anatomy wasn't people's best subject then.

Verse 54: He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful (NIV)

  • There is nothing here about Israel being worthy of God claiming them. In fact, the implication with God being merciful is that Israel deserved to be destroyed.
  • "Took/helped" is an interesting word.
    • It usually means something along the lines of "receiving instead" "claiming" or "taking hold of".
    • The implication here is that instead of the rich or anyone else, God has claimed Israel.
    • It can indicate grabbing someone like to arrest or judge them, however. Which could be why the next section mentions remembering to be merciful.
  • What is normally translated as “servant” is more accurately “child”.

Verse 55: to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (NIV)

  • The Greek does not explicitly say "promise" but the implication is that he did as he said he would do, so a promise is involved.

Verse 56: Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (NIV)

  • Verse 24 mentions that Mary heard from the angel six months after Elizabeth conceived. That means that Mary probably stayed until the birth of John the Baptist at nine months.
    • What is surprising is that Mary returned home at that time. Normally, women would gather at the birth, not leave then.
    • There is no indication that Mary returned because her close family suddenly wanted her home or because there was any complication of her pregnancy. She simply left.

Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

Anatole - Hope76-79We cannot live without hope. Christ gives hope, casting out despair and fear.Hope
AdultsGeneralMessage Idea
Dive In5-25Fear is a normal part of following God, but dive in anyway and serve.Fear
GeneralChristmasMessage Idea
God's Great Story of Christmas26-38God's favor is not given to "great" people, but God's favor makes small people great.Favor
Message Idea
Great Moments in FaithLooking a biblical moments of faith and placing ourselves in that same situation.Youth, AdultsGeneralCurriculum
The Gift46-55Jesus coming is the one gift God couldn't afford, it truly shows love.Love
GeneralChristmasMessage Idea
Unwanted Blessings46-48Having Jesus didn't seem like a blessing, but Mary rejoiced in faith.Blessings
AdultsChristmasMessage Idea