Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
It appears from the Acts of the Apostles, and the Apostolic Epistles,
that the earliest preaching of the Gospel consisted of a brief summary
of the facts of our Lord's earthly history, with a few words of pointed
application to the parties addressed. Of these astonishing facts, notes
would naturally be taken and digests put into circulation. It is to
such that Luke here refers; and in terms of studied respect, as
narratives of what was "believed surely," or "on sure grounds" among
Christians, and drawn up from the testimony of "eye-witnesses and
ministering servants of the word." But when he adds that "it seemed good
to him also to write in order, having traced down all things with
exactness from their first rise," it is a virtual claim for his own
Gospel to supersede these "many" narratives. Accordingly, while not one
of them has survived the wreck of time, this and the other canonical
Gospels live, and shall live, the only fitting vehicles of those
life-bringing facts which have made all things new. Apocryphal or
spurious gospels, upheld by parties unfriendly to the truths exhibited
in the canonical Gospels, have not perished; but those well-meant
and substantially correct narratives here referred to, used only while
better were not to be had, were by tacit consent allowed to merge in the
four peerless documents which from age to age, and with astonishing
unanimity, have been accepted as the written charter of all
1. set forth in order--more simply, to draw up a narrative.
2. from the beginning--that is, of His public ministry, as is plain
from what follows.
3. from the very first--that is, from the very earliest events;
referring to those precious details of the birth and early life, not
only of our Lord, but of His forerunner, which we owe to Luke alone.
in order--or "consecutively"--in contrast, probably, with the
disjointed productions to which he had referred. But this must not be
pressed too far; for, on comparing it with the other Gospels, we see
that in some particulars the strict chronological order is not observed
in this Gospel.
most excellent--or "most noble"--a title of rank applied by this
same writer twice to Felix and once to Festus
(Ac 22:26; 24:3; 26:25).
It is likely, therefore, that "Theophilus" was chief magistrate of some
city in Greece or Asia Minor [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].
4. that thou mightest know--"know thoroughly."
hast been instructed--orally instructed--literally, "catechized" or
"catechetically taught," at first as a catechumen or candidate for
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE
5. Herod--(See on
course of Abia--or Abijah; the eighth of the twenty-four orders of
courses into which David divided the priests (see
1Ch 24:1, 4, 10).
Of these courses only four returned after the captivity
which were again subdivided into twenty-four--retaining the ancient
name and order of each. They took the whole temple service for a week
his wife was of the daughters of Aaron--The priests might marry into
any tribe, but "it was most commendable of all to marry one of the
priests' line" [LIGHTFOOT].
6. commandments and ordinances--The one expressing their
moral--the other their ceremonial--obedience
It has been denied that any such distinction was known to the Jews and
New Testament writers. But
and other passages, put this beyond all reasonable doubt.
7. So with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Elkanah and Hannah,
Manoah and his wife.
9. his lot was to burn incense--The part assigned to each priest in
his week of service was decided by lot. Three were employed at the
offering of incense--to remove the ashes of the former service; to bring
in and place on the golden altar the pan filled with hot burning coals
taken from the altar of burnt offering; and to sprinkle the incense on
the hot coals; and, while the smoke of it ascended, to make intercession
for the people. This was the most distinguished part of the service
and this was what fell to the lot of Zacharias at this time [LIGHTFOOT].
10. praying without--outside the court in front of the temple, where
stood the altar of burnt offering; the men and women in separate courts,
but the altar visible to all.
the time of incense--which was offered along with the morning and
evening sacrifice of every day; a beautiful symbol of the acceptableness
of the sacrifice offered on the altar of burnt offering, with coals
from whose altar the incense was burnt
(Le 16:12, 13).
This again was a symbol of the "living sacrifice" of themselves and
their services offered daily to God by the worshippers. Hence the
But that the acceptance of this daily offering depended on the
expiatory virtue presupposed in the burnt offering, and pointing
to the one "sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor"
is evident from
Isa 6:6, 7.
11. right side--the south side, between the altar and the candlestick,
Zacharias being on the north side, in front of the altar, while offering
incense [WEBSTER and
WILKINSON]. But why there? The right was the
13. thy prayer is heard--doubtless for offspring, which by some
presentiment he even yet had not despaired of.
John--the same as "Johanan," so frequent in the Old Testament,
meaning "Jehovah's gracious gift."
14. shall rejoice--so they did
(Lu 1:58, 66);
but the meaning rather is, "shall have cause to rejoice"--it would
prove to many a joyful event.
15. great in the sight of the Lord--nearer to Him in official
standing than all the prophets. (See
Mt 11:10, 11.)
drink neither wine nor strong drink--that is, shall be a Nazarite,
or "a separated one"
&c.). As the leper was the living symbol of sin, so was the
Nazarite of holiness; nothing inflaming was to cross his lips;
no razor to come on his head; no ceremonial defilement to be
contracted. Thus was he to be "holy to the Lord [ceremonially] all the
days of his separation." This separation was in ordinary cases
temporary and voluntary: only Samson
and John Baptist were Nazarites from the womb. It was fitting
that the utmost severity of legal consecration should be seen in
Christ's forerunner. HE was the
of the Nazarite without the symbol, which perished in that living
realization of it: "Such an High Priest became us, who was
filled with the Holy Ghost, from . . . womb--a holy vessel for future
16, 17. A religious and moral reformer, Elijah-like, he should
where the "turning of the people's heart to the Lord" is borrowed from
In both cases their success, though great, was
partial--the nation was not gained.
17. before him--before "the Lord their God"
By comparing this with
and Isa 40:3,
it is plainly "Jehovah" in the flesh of Messiah [CALVIN and OLSHAUSEN] before whom
John was to go as a herald to announce His approach, and a
pioneer o prepare His way.
in the spirit--after the model.
and power of Elias--not his miraculous power, for John did no miracle"
but his power "turning the heart," or with like success in his
ministry. Both fell on degenerate times; both witnessed fearlessly for
God; neither appeared much save in the direct exercise of their
ministry; both were at the head of schools of disciples; the success of
both was similar.
fathers to the children--taken literally, this denotes the
restoration of parental fidelity [MEYER and others],
the decay of
which is the beginning of religious and social corruption--one prominent
feature of the coming revival being put for the whole. But what follows,
explanatory of this, rather suggests a figurative sense. If "the
disobedient" be "the children," and to "the fathers" belongs "the wisdom
of the just" [BENGEL], the meaning will be, "he shall bring back the
ancient spirit of the nation into their degenerate children" [CALVIN,
&c.]. So Elijah invoked "the God Abraham, Isaac, and Israel," when
seeking to "turn their heart back again"
(1Ki 18:36, 37).
to make ready, &c.--more clearly, "to make ready for the Lord a
prepared people," to have in readiness a people prepared to welcome Him.
Such preparation requires, in every age and every soul, an operation
corresponding to the Baptist's ministry.
18. Whereby, &c.--Mary believed what was far harder without a sign.
Abraham, though older, and doubtless Sarah, too, when the same promise
was made to him, "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief,
but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." This was that in which
19. Gabriel--signifying "man of God," the same who appeared to
Daniel at the time of incense
and to Mary
stand, &c.--as his attendant (compare
not able--deprived of the power of speech
He asked a sign, and now he got it.
until the day that these things shall be performed--See on
21. waited--to receive from him the usual benediction
tarried so long--It was not usual to tarry long, lest it should be
thought vengeance had stricken the people's representative for something
22. speechless--dumb, and deaf also (see
24. hid five months--till the event was put beyond doubt and became
26. sixth month--of Elisabeth's time.
Joseph, of the house of David--(See on
28. highly favoured--a word only once used elsewhere
"made accepted"): compare
"Thou hast found favour with God." The mistake of the Vulgate's
rendering, "full of grace," has been taken abundant advantage of by the
Romish Church. As the mother of our Lord, she was the most "blessed
among women" in external distinction; but let them listen to the Lord's
own words. "Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and
keep it." (See on
31. The angel purposely conforms his language to Isaiah's famous
32, 33. This is but an echo of the sublime prediction in
Isa 9:6, 7.
34. How, &c.--not the unbelief of Zacharias, "Whereby shall I know
this?" but, taking the fact for granted, "How is it to be, so contrary
to the unbroken law of human birth?" Instead of reproof, therefore, her
question is answered in mysterious detail.
35. Holy Ghost--(See on
power of the highest--the immediate energy of the Godhead conveyed
by the Holy Ghost.
overshadow--a word suggesting how gentle, while yet efficacious,
would be this Power [BENGEL]; and its mysterious secrecy, withdrawn, as
if by a cloud, from human scrutiny [CALVIN].
that holy thing born of thee--that holy Offspring of thine.
therefore . . . Son of God--That Christ is the Son of God in His divine
and eternal nature is clear from all the New Testament; yet here we see
that Sonship efflorescing into human and palpable manifestation by His
being born, through "the power of the Highest," an Infant of days. We
must neither think of a double Sonship, as some do, harshly and without
all ground, nor deny what is here plainly expressed, the connection
between His human birth and His proper personal Sonship.
36. thy cousin--"relative," but how near the word says not.
conceived, &c.--This was to Mary an unsought sign, in reward of
37. For, &c.--referring to what was said by the angel to Abraham in
to strengthen her faith.
38. Marvellous faith in such circumstances!
39. hill country--the mountainous tract running along the middle of
Judea, from north to south [WEBSTER and
with haste--transported with the announcement to herself and with
the tidings, now first made known to her, of Elisabeth's condition.
a city of Juda--probably Hebron (see
Jos 20:7; 21:11).
40. saluted Elisabeth--now returned from her seclusion
41. babe leaped--From
it is plain that this maternal sensation was something extraordinary--a
sympathetic emotion of the unconscious babe, at the presence of the
mother of his Lord.
42-44. What beautiful superiority to envy have we here! High as was
the distinction conferred upon herself, Elisabeth loses sight of it
altogether, in presence of one more honored still; upon whom, with her
unborn Babe, in an ecstasy of inspiration, she pronounces a benediction,
feeling it to be a wonder unaccountable that "the mother of her Lord
should come to her." "Turn this as we will, we shall never be able
to see the propriety of calling an unborn child "Lord," but by supposing
Elisabeth, like the prophets of old, enlightened to perceive the
Messiah's Divine nature" [OLSHAUSEN].
43. "The mother of my Lord"--but not "My Lady" (compare
45. An additional benediction on the Virgin for her implicit faith, in
tacit and delicate contrast with her own husband.
for--rather, as in the Margin, "that."
46-55. A magnificent canticle, in which the strain of Hannah's ancient
song, in like circumstances, is caught up, and just slightly modified
and sublimed. Is it unnatural to suppose that the spirit of the blessed
Virgin had been drawn beforehand into mysterious sympathy with the ideas
and the tone of this hymn, so that when the life and fire of inspiration
penetrated her whole soul it spontaneously swept the chorus of this
song, enriching the Hymnal of the Church with that spirit-stirring
canticle which has resounded ever since from its temple walls? In both
songs, those holy women, filled with wonder to behold "the proud, the
mighty, the rich," passed by, and, in their persons the lowliest chosen
to usher in the greatest events, sing of this as no capricious movement,
but a great law of the kingdom of God, by which He delights to
"put down the mighty from their seats and exalt them of low degree."
In both songs the strain dies away on
CHRIST; in Hannah's under the name
of "Jehovah's King"--to whom, through all His line, from David onwards
to Himself, He will "give strength"; His "Anointed," whose horn He will
in the Virgin's song, it is as the "Help" promised to Israel by all the
My soul . . . my spirit--"all that is within me"
47. my Saviour--Mary, poor heart, never dreamt, we see, of her own
"immaculate conception"--in the offensive language of the Romanists--any
more than of her own immaculate life.
"I have laid help on One that is mighty."
55. As he spake to our fathers--The sense requires this clause to be read as a parenthesis. (Compare
for ever--the perpetuity of Messiah's kingdom, as expressly promised
by the angel
56. abode with her about three months--What an honored roof was that
which, for such a period, overarched these cousins! and yet not a trace
of it is now to be seen, while the progeny of those two women--the one
but the honored pioneer of the other--have made the world new.
returned to her own house--at Nazareth,
after which took place what is recorded in
PROGRESS OF THE
59. eighth day--The law
was observed, even though the eighth day after birth should be a
called him--literally, "were calling"--that is, (as we should say)
"were for calling." The naming of children at baptism has its origin
in the Jewish custom at circumcision
(Ge 21:3, 4);
and the names of Abram and Sarai were changed at its first performance
(Ge 17:5, 15).
62. made signs--showing he was deaf, as well as dumb.
63. marvelled all--at his giving the same name, not knowing of any
communication between them on the subject.
64. mouth opened immediately--on thus palpably showing his full
faith in the vision, for disbelieving which he had been struck dumb
(Lu 1:13, 20).
65. fear--religious awe; under the impression that God's hand was
specially in these events (compare
Lu 5:26; 7:16; 8:37).
66. hand of the Lord was with him--by special tokens marking him out
as one destined to some great work
68-79. There is not a word in this noble burst of divine song about
his own child; like Elisabeth losing sight entirely of self, in the
glory of a Greater than both.
Lord God of Israel--the ancient covenant God of the peculiar people.
visited and redeemed--that is, in order to redeem: returned after
long absence, and broken His long silence (see
In the Old Testament, God is said to "visit" chiefly for
judgment, in the New Testament for mercy. Zacharias
would, as yet, have but imperfect views of such "visiting and
redeeming," "saving from and delivering out of the hand of enemies"
(Lu 1:71, 74).
But this Old Testament phraseology, used at first with a lower
reference, is, when viewed in the light of a loftier and more
comprehensive kingdom of God, equally adapted to express the most
spiritual conceptions of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
69. horn of salvation--that is "strength of salvation," or "mighty
Salvation," meaning the Saviour Himself, whom Simeon calls "Thy
The metaphor is taken from those animals whose strength is in
(Ps 18:2; 75:10; 132:17).
house of . . . David--This shows that Mary must have been known to be of the royal line,
independent of Joseph; of whom Zacharias, if he knew anything, could
not know that after this he would recognize Mary.
70. since the world began--or, "from the earliest period."
72. the mercy promised . . . his holy covenant . . .
73. the oath . . . to . . . Abraham--The whole work and kingdom of
Messiah is represented as a mercy pledged on oath to Abraham and his
seed, to be realized at an appointed period; and at length, in "the
fulness of the time," gloriously made good. Hence, not only
"grace," or the thing promised; but "truth," or fidelity to the promise, are said to "come by Jesus
74, 75. That he would grant us, &c.--How comprehensive is the view
here given! (1) The purpose of all redemption--"that we should
serve Him"--that is, "the Lord God of Israel"
The word signifies religious service distinctively--"the
priesthood of the New Testament" [BENGEL].
(2) The nature of this service--"in holiness and righteousness
--or, as in His presence (compare
(3) Its freedom--"being delivered out of the hand of our
enemies." (4) Its fearlessness--"might serve Him without fear."
(5) Its duration--"all the days of our life."
76-79. Here are the dying echoes of this song; and very beautiful
are these closing notes--like the setting sun, shorn indeed of its
noontide radiance, but skirting the horizon with a wavy and quivering
light--as of molten gold--on which the eye delights to gaze, till it
disappears from the view. The song passes not here from Christ to John,
but only from Christ direct to Christ as heralded by His forerunner.
thou child--not "my son"--this child's relation to himself being
lost in his relation to a Greater than either.
prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before him--that is, "the
Highest." As "the Most High" is an epithet in Scripture only of
the supreme God, it is inconceivable that inspiration should apply
this term, as here undeniably, to Christ, unless He were "God over all
blessed for ever"
77. to give knowledge of salvation--To sound the note of a needed
and provided "salvation" was the noble office of John, above all
that preceded him; as it is that of all subsequent ministers of Christ;
but infinitely loftier was it to be the "Salvation" itself
and Lu 2:30).
by the remission of . . . sins--This stamps at once
the spiritual nature of the salvation here intended, and
Lu 1:71, 74.
78. Through the tender mercy of our God--the sole spring, necessarily,
of all salvation for sinners.
dayspring from on high--either Christ Himself, as the "Sun of
arising on a dark world [BEZA, GROTIUS, CALVIN, DE WETTE, OLSHAUSEN, &c.], or the light which He sheds. The sense,
of course, is one.
"That St. Luke, of all the Evangelists, should have obtained and
recorded these inspired utterances of Zacharias and Mary--is in
accordance with his character and habits, as indicated in
80. And the child, &c.--"a concluding paragraph, indicating, in
strokes full of grandeur, the bodily and mental development of the
Baptist; and bringing his life up to the period of his public
in the deserts--probably "the wilderness of Judea"
whither he had retired early in life, in the Nazarite spirit,
and where, free from rabbinical influences and alone with God, his
spirit would be educated, like Moses in the desert, for his future high
his showing unto Israel--the presentation of himself before his
nation, as Messiah's forerunner.