There is no Gospel which more shows the mind and love of God than this of Luke.2 None is more truly and evidently inspired. Nevertheless there is none so deeply marked by traces of the human hand and heart.* This is its characteristic object in presenting Christ to us. Luke had, as the work assigned to him of the Holy Ghost, to. delineate our Lord as a man, both in body and soul. This he does, not only as to facts which are related about Him, but in all His course and teaching in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It is emphatically a man we see and hear, a Divine Person, no doubt, but at the same time a real, proper man Who walks in perfect dependence and absolute obedience, honouring God and honoured of Him in all things.
*As to coalescence of Divine and human in Luke's preface, Cf. "God's Inspiration," etc., chapter iv., "The Human Element."
For this reason I believe it is that Luke alone opens his Gospel with an address to a particular man. You could not have Matthew, consistently with the purpose and character of his Gospel, addressing it to a man; nor is it conceivable of Mark or of John. Luke so writes with the most admirable propriety. "Whereas many have undertaken to arrange a declaration concerning the matters fully believed in among us, even as they, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having thorough acquaintance from the outset with all things accurately, to write to thee in regular order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest truly know the certainty of accounts [or things] in which thou hast been instructed." Thus Luke was led of God as one who had a thirst and loving desire for the good of Theophilus, and fitly addresses this Gospel to him: and this we shall find in harmony with its character throughout. It was not for him only, of course, but for the permanent instruction of the Church; yet none the less was it written to him. Theophilus was laid on the heart of that godly man to be instructed in the things of God, and this draws out the workings of the Spirit of God in him to expound the way of God as shown in Christ more perfectly.
Theophilus appears to have been a man of rank, probably a Roman governor. This seems the reason why he is called here "Most Excellent," or, as we might say, His Excellency.* It relates to official position, and not to his character morally as a man.3 It is evident he was a believer, but only partially instructed. The object of the Evangelist here was to give him a fuller understanding of "the way."4
*Cf. Act_23:26; Act_24:3, Act_26:25.
At this time there were many accounts of Christ in vogue among Christians. The "many" spoken of here who had undertaken to draw up these accounts of our Lord, were not inspired.4a Luke does not charge them with evil intent in what they wrote, still less with falsehood, but it was clearly inadequate, as being no more than the fruit of a human effort5 to relate the matters5a fully believed5b among the Christians. They did not accomplish the work so as to set aside the need of a fresh and above all a Divinely given narrative of the Lord Jesus. Only we must carefully remember that the difference between an inspired writing and any other is not that the other is necessarily false, and that the inspired one is simply true. There is much more than this. It is the truth as God sees it, and with that special object that God always has in view when He furnishes an account of anything. A gospel is not a mere biography: it is God's account of Christ, governed by the special moral object He was pleased to impress on it. This is characteristic of all inspired writings, whatever their form or aim. Inspiration excludes mistake, no doubt; but it does much more than that. It includes a Divine object for the instruction of the faithful in the display of God's glory in Christ. These "many" biographers4a spoken of by Luke were not authorized by the Spirit of God. They may have entered on their self-imposed task with the best motives, and some or all may have been persons in whom the Spirit of God was (i.e., Christians), but they were not inspired any more than one who preaches the Gospel or seeks to edify believers. There is a weighty difference between the leading of the Spirit in a general way, where flesh may more or less impair the truth enforced, and the inspiration of the Spirit, which not only excludes all error but gives what was never given before. Luke was inspired; yet he does not put forward his inspiration. And what then? Who does? Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, or any other? When people write an imposture they naturally pretend to this or that, and are apt most to claim what they have least or not at all. They may talk much about inspiration; the inspired writers, as a rule, take it for granted. It is self-proved, not posted up. The special character that distinguishes these writings from all others to the heart or conscience gives the believer the certainty of inspiration. For, I repeat, the Holy Ghost not only excludes error, but writes with a Divine object, and communicates the truth as none but God can. And these proofs are such as to leave the unbeliever without excuse. Light wants nothing else to show itself.6
Observe one marked difference here claimed between these many uninspired writers and Luke's Gospel. They had taken up the tradition6a of such as had been from the beginning6b of the Lord's public life eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word.6c It was founded on oral testimony.4b But Luke takes particular pains to let us know that this is not said of his own Gospel.6d He does not attribute it to the same sources as theirs,7 but claims an accurate and thorough acquaintance* of all things8 from the very first (ἄνωθεν He does not explain his sources4 any more than other inspired men, but he does contrast the character of what he knew and had to say with those who merely drew up9 a report from the earliest and best tradition. This is of high importance and has been often overlooked. Like Matthew, he goes back to the very first10 and even before Matthew's relations; for he gives us, not only the circumstances that preceded the birth of Christ, but the account of all that pertained to His forerunner's birth. Thus, though Luke does so far say that "it seemed good to me also" as well as to them,11 nevertheless he otherwise distinguishes his own task entirely from theirs. He does not tell us how he had his perfect understanding of all things from the very first; he simply lays down the fact.6d Again, it seems to me that the reason why he alone gives us his motive for writing, without putting forward his inspired character, is of all interest. Not only is it unusual in the sacred writers, but also Luke has the human element so predominant that it would be somewhat inconsistent with it to dwell strongly on the fact that it was God's Word he was writing. He, above all, therefore, would rather avoid bringing it out prominently or formally, though he proves practically that every line was truly inspired. The regular (καθεξῆς order was not that in which the events occurred. Such a mere sequence is by no means either the only order or the best for all purposes. To Luke it would have been an arrangement infinitely inferior to the one he has adopted. All it means is that he has written his account from the very first in a methodical manner. What that method is can only be learnt from studying the Gospel itself. It will be proved, as we proceed, that Luke's is essentially a moral order, and that he classifies the facts, conversations, questions, replies, and discourses of our Lord according to their inward connection, and not the mere outward succession of events, which is in truth the rudest and most infantile form of record. But to group events together with their causes and consequences, in their moral order, is a far more difficult task for the historian, as distinguished from the mere chronicler. God can cause Luke to do it perfectly.12
*Cf. "Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles," ii., p. 48: "The Spirit of God alone secures absolute truth, which no seeing, hearing, or research Could effect."
Again, Luke writes as a man to a man, unfolding the goodness of God in man - the Man Christ Jesus. Hence all that would exemplify humanity, as in Christ and also in us before God, is brought out in the most instructive manner. He writes for the help of his Excellency, Theophilus, that he might truly know (ἐπιγνῳς the certainty14 of those things15 wherein he had been instructed.16 God thus takes care of those who know Him, though it may be imperfectly, and He would lead them more deeply into the understanding and enjoyment of what He is now communicating to man by His grace. "To him that hath shall be given." It is the way of God. Theophilus had been enabled to receive Christ and to confess Him. Hence, though Luke sets forth with particular care how truly the Gospel was preached to the poor (see chapters 4, 6, 7.), yet his Gospel as a whole is addressed to this man of rank, now a disciple. Circumstantially, there is no man so much to be pitied as to the truth of God, or who so needs the grace of God, as one who is great in this world, because he is peculiarly open to snares, temptations, and cares of the world, which war against the soul and threaten to choke up the seed of the Word. Therefore we have the gracious care of Him Who knows so well what the heart of man needs, and Who, despising not any, deigns to provide for the great man now made low, and assuredly feeling his poverty, in spite of rank or riches.
§ 3. TEXTUAL CRITICISM.*
*This section is identical with § 3 of Introduction to "Exposition of the Gospel of Mark." - See also notes 14-16 there, and Cf. note 17 in Appendix below.
Although able critics have for a century sought to edit the Greek Testament on documentary evidence of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, and early citations, none as yet have succeeded in commanding more than partial confidence. Hence it has been a necessity for any careful and conscientious scholar who would really know the sources to compare several of these editions, and search into the grounds on which their differences depend, so as to have anything like a correct and enlarged view of the text, and to judge fairly of the claims of conflicting readings. . . . Mature spiritual judgment, with continual dependence on the Lord, is just as essential as a sound and thorough familiarity with the ancient witnesses of all kinds.*
*From a review of the Revised Version of the New Testament, in - Bible Treasury, Vol. XIII., p. 287 (June, 1881).
Lachmann published a manual edition of the New Testament professedly based on Bentley's idea of exhibiting the text as read in the fourth century . . . at one fell swoop sentenced the mass of the surviving witnesses to an ignominious death, and presented us with a text formed on absolute principles of singular narrowness. . . . The neglect of internal evidence is a fatal objection. But the grand fallacy involved is that a manuscript of the fourth or fifth century. must give better readings than one of the seventh or eighth. Now this is in no way certain. There is a presumption in favour of the more ancient manuscript, because each successive transcription tends to introduce new errors in addition to those it repeats. On the other hand, a copy of the ninth century may have been made from one older than any now extant, and certainly some old documents are more corrupt than many of the more recent witnesses. Every ingenuous scholar must own, to say the least, that the oldest manuscripts have some bad readings, and that the modern manuscripts have some that are good. Hence the distinction is not between the united evidence of the most ancient documents (Manuscripts, Versions, Fathers) and the common herd of those more recent; for rarely, or never, is there such unanimous ancient testimony without considerable support from witnesses of a later day. The truth is that almost always, where the old documents really agree, there is large confirmation elsewhere, and where the ancients differ, so do the moderns. It is quite unfounded, therefore, to treat it as a question pure and simple between old and new. Nor is it the important point of research what particular readings existed in the days of Jerome. For notoriously errors of various kinds had then crept into both Greek and Latin copies, and no antiquity can sanctify an error. The true question is: What, using every available means to form a judgment, was the primitive text? It is often forgotten that our oldest documents are but copies, Several centuries elapsed between the original issue of the New Testament Scriptures and any manuscripts now existing. All, therefore, are on the ground of copyists differing only in degree. It is not, then, a comparison between a single eye-witness and many hearsay reporters, unless we had the original autographs. And, in fact, we know that an historian's account, three centuries after alleged facts, may be, and often is, corrected, five hundred or a thousand years after, by recurrence to sources more trustworthy, or by a more patient, comprehensive, and skilful sifting of neglected evidence.
My own conviction is that in certain cases, especially in single words, the most ancient copy that exists may be corrected by another generally inferior, not only in age, but in almost every respect besides, and that internal evidence ought to be used, in dependence upon the Spirit of God, where the external authorities are conflicting.*17
*From Preface to "The Revelation of John, edited in Greek, with a new English Version and a Statement of the Chief Authorities and Various Readings." (London: Williams and Norgate, 1860.)
*Cf. "Lectures introductory to the Gospels," pp. 245-247.
That the Gospel of Luke has a special aspect towards men at large, that it displays the grace of God towards the Gentiles who had been so long forgotten, or seemed to be so in the outward dealings of God, is very plain. Nevertheless some have found, as they thought, an insuperable difficulty to their admitting this to be the characteristic business of Luke, because we find, for instance, at the very beginning a striking occupation of the writer's mind with the circumstances of the Jewish people before, at, and after the birth of Christ. In fact, none of the Gospels introduces us so thoroughly into the whole routine of their state and worship, with their relation to the worldly powers: first of all to the king that then ruled over them, Herod the Great; and, in the next chapter, to the Roman Empire.
But I think it will be found, if we look below the surface, that there is no real inconsistency between such a preface as we have in Luke and the general regard that he pays to the Gentiles in the rest of his Gospel. In fact, it answers closely to what we find in the ministry of the apostle who had Luke for his companion in labours. For although Paul was so emphatically the apostle of the Gentiles, the uncircumcision being delivered over to him as the circumcision was to Peter; none the less was it Paul's habit in every place first to visit the Jews, or, as he says himself, "to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." So it is precisely that Luke begins with the Jew, discloses God working in the midst of the remnant of that people before we find the intimations of His mercy towards the Gentiles. So far from inconsistency on the part of Luke with his purpose, this very introduction of the Jews in the beginning of his Gospel seems even to be morally necessary; because God could not, so to speak, go out to the Gentiles according to the analogy of His dealings from the beginning and His promises to the Jewish people, unless there were first the manifestation of His goodness there and the unheeded effect of it as far as the Jews were concerned. God proves amply His mercy towards Israel before He turns to the nations. Israel would have none of Him or His Kingdom: the Gentiles would hear.
Hence we find that, although Luke's be the Gentile Gospel, there is first this full and bold outline presented to us of the working of God's grace among the Jews.
"There was in the days of Herod the king of Judea,19 a certain priest by name Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elisabeth." Thus we have the living picture of the state of things then going on in Israel. There might be a foreign prince over them - an Edomite, and high priests in strange confusion, as we shall see shortly; but for all that there was a priest duly married to one of the daughters of Aaron, Zacharias, of the course of Abia. "And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless." Low as the state was in Israel and outwardly most irregular, nevertheless, in the midst of all there were godly ones: and the only thing that enabled any to walk after such a sort in Israel was the faith of the coming Messiah: this at least had not disappeared. On the contrary, God's Spirit was working in the hearts of a few, preparing them for the One Who was coming. Zacharias and Elisabeth were among these few. They were expecting in faith, the effect of which, where it is real, is to give power of walking rightly. The only souls who walked well, even according to the law, were those who looked beyond the law to Christ. Those who merely rested in the law broke it, though the law might be their boast. On the contrary, such as looked for the Messiah were faithful, "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless."
It is the same thing in principle now. There are those who cry up the law as a rule of life, but such never carry themselves well even according to that standard. On the contrary, those who go forward in the sense of God's grace, knowing the full deliverance of the believer in the redemption that is in Christ, do really manifest the righteousness of the law; as it is said, "What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Rom_8:3. If I am walking after the law, I do not fulfil it; if I am walking after the Spirit, I do. The same doctrine appears in Galatians 5. If we walk according to the Spirit, there are good fruits: "against such there is no law." Gal_5:23. On the contrary, the law justifies the fruits of the Spirit, but the Spirit never justifies the ways of any man who finds his rule of life in the law, which is and must be to a sinful man a rule of condemnation and death. There is no power of grace, unless Christ be the Object of the heart.
Such was the case with this godly pair in Israel. The aged priest and his wife were really (i.e., believingly) looking for the Messiah. Their hope was no fleshly desire to exalt themselves or their nation in earthly power; though it remains true that Israel will then be the head and the Gentiles the tail, (Deu_28:13.) when Messiah comes to close their last fiery tribulation and deliver them from their foes. But in that day the hearts of the godly remnant will be lifted above pride or vanity, they will bear to be exalted above all other peoples of the earth. Such is the Divine counsel according to prophecy which God will surely accomplish in its season.
Observe how faith leads to faithfulness. Those who merely look to the law (i.e., as much as God requires) never accomplish His righteous requirement. In every case one must be above any obligations in order to fulfil them. I ' must have faith in God's object in order to fulfil God's will. If my mind is occupied with Christ, I shall be able in the same measure to glorify God.
Thus it was with Zacharias and his wife. They looked in faith for the Messiah: hence they were righteous, and walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. Nevertheless they had a disappointment of heart which answered to the state of things in Israel. "They had no child, because Elisabeth was barren; and they were both advanced in years." They had prayed about it, as we find afterwards. Though Zacharias seems even to have lost sight of his own prayer, yet God had not. And so "it came to pass, as he fulfilled his priestly service before God in the order of his course" - for here he was faithful to the requisition of daily duty - "it fell to him by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter into the temple of the LORD to burn incense. And all the multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense." We have thus a full and lively setting, forth of what was actually going on then in Israel. "And an angel of [the] LORD appeared to him standing on the right of the altar of incense." In this form such a visit was unknown for a long while. It was a gracious intervention of God (not merely betimes, as we find in another Gospel, for the healing of sicknesses and weaknesses of the people, but) for the more glorious purpose of announcing the forerunner of the Messiah Himself. Was it so strange after all that he was to be born beyond nature of this godly couple? One could not have anticipated such a thing; but once announced as God's intention, how wise and suitable our hearts see it to be! When Zacharias saw the angel he "was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias, because thy supplication has been heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John" (i.e., the gift of God). "And he shall be to thee joy and rejoicing: and many shall rejoice at his birth."20 It was calculated to strike the eye and heart of any godly Israelite, being manifestly God's gift. The LORD was faithful to His people and His purposes. There were many who at this time were looking for the Messiah. We know even from heathen authors that there was a strong, general, and ancient tradition (no doubt derived from Balaam of old, and Daniel later, and the Septuagint), that at this time a great prince was to be born in Israel, who would lead that nation on to supremacy. Hence they would naturally heed this extraordinary birth, and the singular course of life which John the Baptist ever followed, as well as his preaching when the time for it was come.
"He shall be great before [the] LORD,* and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with [the] Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb." He should be a Nazarite, separated to the LORD, not only in outward separation, but with inward and special power of God.21 "And many of the sons of Israel shall he turn to [the] LORD their God." This would be the characteristic aim of his mission - to recall them to God from whom they had departed. "And he shall go before him in [the] spirit and power of Elias, to turn hearts of fathers to children, and disobedient ones to [the] thoughts of just [men]15 to make ready for [the] LORD a prepared people." Elijah was the prophet who took up the broken obligations of the people. Hence it is that he went to Horeb. Thence it was that Elias had his great commission from before God; there he went through the scene we have so strikingly described in his history. Horeb was the place where the law was given, and Elias went back thither, feeling how deeply the people had departed from God. John should now recall the people in the spirit and power of Elias. It is repentance; it is not of course the great work of God in putting away sin - that could only be done by one, even Jesus the Lord. Neither is it the power of the Holy Ghost shed upon Israel. This also could only be done by Christ. He is, as we find in John, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." Joh_1:29; Joh_1:33. But John could at least do his own work by God's grace given to him; he should go "before him in the spirit and power of Elias." This is a remarkable testimony: first, because it is said he shall go before the LORD, i.e., before Jehovah; a plain statement of the dignity of Jesus. He was really Jehovah; and this messenger of His should go before His face, next, "in [the] spirit and power of Elias, to turn hearts of fathers to children." There was no union, but alienation: everything was broken in Israel. Sin always produces such dislocations. But John should "turn the hearts of fathers to children"; that is, he would be used of God to unite them in affection, and also to instruct them morally, or lead "the disobedient to the wisdom of the just."22 Hence, in all respects, both in affection and in moral power and wisdom, his mission was "to make ready for the LORD a prepared people." Such would be John's work - "to make ready for the LORD a prepared people."
*As to the textual criticism of Luke's Gospel, see note 17 in Appendix. - In this Gospel the authorities show considerable variation with regard to use of the definite article before "LORD." Here it is contained in BDΔ etc., but not in ACLΓ 33. Κύριος without the article stands regularly for Jehovah (Yahveh) of the Old Testament, as in the LXX. So in verse 16. Cf. again in verse 28.
"And Zacharias said to the angel, How shall I know this, for I am an old man, and my wife advanced in years?" Unbelief works just when God was about to accomplish this signal mercy - a remarkable but by no means infrequent case which we would do well to apply to our souls. That is, when God means mercy to us, we are too apt to limit the Lord; to doubt Him even when the blessing comes very close to us; to put some difficulty in the way, yielding to the suggestions of the enemy and the unbelief of our own hearts. Zacharias accordingly asks how he should know it.
The angel answers, "I am Gabriel23 who stand before God; and I have been sent to speak to thee and to bring these glad tidings to thee. And, behold, thou shall be silent, and not able to speak, till the day in which these things shall take place, because thou hast not believed my words, such as shall be fulfilled in their time." A measure of chastening was thus put upon Zacharias - a sign to others, but at the same time a rebuke to himself. The very fact that he was struck suddenly dumb would awaken the attention of the people. They would see that an extraordinary occurrence had taken place and might be led to think about it. On the other hand, when God had sent His angel to tell him that these things should be done, Zacharias showed his unbelief in requiring another sign. Hence his chastening. God's words should be fulfilled in their season spite of his unbelief. Mercy removes the stroke in due season.
"And the people were awaiting Zacharias, and they wondered at his delaying in the temple. But when he came out he could not speak to them: and they recognised that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he was making signs to them and continued dumb. And it came to pass, when the days of his service were completed, he departed to his house." Each priest had to serve in his course from Sabbath to Sabbath; so when the week was up, he leaves. "Now after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus has the LORD done to me in [these] days in which he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men." The feeling of Elisabeth under the circumstances was just as godly as the unbelief. of Zacharias was a striking witness of what is so natural to us all.24
This closes the opening incidents which the Spirit of God gives us by Luke.
It was the angel Gabriel who was sent to Daniel to make known of old the Messiah's coming and cutting off in the famous prophecy of the seventy weeks. (Dan_9:26.) Now he comes to Mary, the espoused of Joseph, and announces to her, "the virgin" of a still older prophet, (Isa_7:14) the birth of that Messiah.25 No wonder that he salutes her as a favoured one, with whom the Lord was. Blessed was she among women!* Mary,26 though troubled, pondered what might be the meaning of this salutation. The angel bids her not fear, for she has found favour with God. She is the chosen channel of the wondrous purposes which should yet fill the world as well as her own people with blessing - the appointed mother she is to be of One in Whom God was about to solve all the difficulties that sin had brought into the world by a righteous triumph over it - nay, to make it possible for God to bless those who believed, sinners though they had been, and to make them righteously triumph through and with Himself.
*"Blessed art thou amongst women." So Treg. (text) after ACD and most later uncials, with cursives (33, 69), Syrrpesch hcl. Old Latin, Gothic, Aeth. The words (as anticipating those in verse 42) are omitted here by Edd. in general with BL, Memph. Arm.
Therefore he says, "Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb, and bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus" - a Divine Saviour.27* "He shall be great, and shall be called Son of [the] Highest,28 and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father." This is another and quite different glory, which evidently combines with saving power His title of Messiah. "And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages; and of his kingdom there shall not be an end." Even in the lowest domain, how far is His Kingdom from being a mere human dominion!
*See "Lectures on Matthew," p. 30.
"But Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I know not a man?" She does not doubt, but she asks confidingly. Hence there is no smiting dumb nor any sign of unbelief, as in the case of Zacharias, who asked, "Whereby shall I know this?" There maybe a question in the spirit which needs an answer, but betrays no lack of faith. There might be one not so dissimilar in form, but which really sprang from unbelief. God does not judge according to appearance, but the heart.
The angel accordingly explains in all grace to Mary. "[The] Holy Spirit shall come upon thee,29 and power of [the] Highest overshadow thee." It was not to be nature, but Divine power. "Therefore the holy thing also which shall be born [of thee]* shall be called Son of God," and not merely Son of man. This is exceedingly important. "Son of God" is a title that belongs to our Lord both in His Divine glory before He became a man and here; for, in this place when He became a man, He did not cease to be Son of God. As incarnate He was still the Son of God. So, again, when He rose from the dead, the same thing was true; He was the Son of God as risen again. It is plain therefore that it is a title that appertains to Him in the three conditions in which Scripture represents our Lord. He was the Son of God when He was purely and simply a Divine Person; Son of God when He became a man; Son of God when risen from the dead and gone out of this world to heaven.
*"Of thee," after "born" is supported only by C and a few minuscules.
But there is another thing also to note, that His taking manhood did not in the smallest degree connect Him with the taint of man's fallen nature. This was absolutely counteracted by the singularity of His conception, which was effected through the power of the Holy Ghost. "Wherefore the holy thing also which shall be born [of thee] shall be called Son of God."30 Thus He was holy, not merely in His Divine nature, but in His humanity. He was emphatically the Holy One of God: without this not only would salvation have been impossible for us, but even His own acceptance as man would have been out of the question."30a We have therefore in this passage the most important truth as to the birth of this wondrous Child, and the union of the Divine and human natures in the person of Christ. Much here given is peculiar to Luke. Mary is informed also of what God was doing to her cousin Elisabeth, for as the angel added "with God nothing shall be impossible."31 She bows at once to the will of the LORD, with the words, "Behold the bondmaid of [the] LORD; be it to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
Mary then arises, enters into the house of Zacharias and salutes her kinswoman, Elisabeth, which gives occasion to the wonderful obeisance that was paid even by the unborn babe, Elisabeth's child, to her the predestined mother of the Messiah, in honour to the Messiah himself.32 The consequence was that Elisabeth, filled with the Holy Ghost, breaks out into an acknowledgment of the place God had given Mary. "And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" It is remarkable how beautifully it is owned that even the child that was yet to be born was the Lord. We find just the same thing with Mary herself. She has no notion of being taken out of the place of a needy sinner, whilst the miraculous birth of John does not detract from Elisabeth's sense of the Messiah, but rather adds to her sense of it. She owns at the same time that God has shown singular favour to Mary's soul. "Blessed is she that has believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things spoken to her from [the]. LORD."33 She knew that what had happened to her husband was because of unbelief, and contrasts with it Mary's meek, because believing, heart.
Mary answers,34 "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit35 hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his bondmaid; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." It is remarkable how simply Scripture has met beforehand the monstrous unbelief of man which lowers God as much as it exalts a human being. Mary had no thought of exaltation. She says, "All generations shall call me blessed," but not a blesser. She was the object of blessing, not the giver or mediatrix of it. "For the Mighty One hath done to me great things; and holy [is] his name [not a word of her own]. And his mercy is to generations and generations* to them that fear him [not that pray to or worship me]. He hath wrought strength with his arm; he hath scattered haughty [ones] in the thought of their heart. He hath put down rulers from thrones, and exalted the lowly" - alluding to her own place as well as Elisabeth's. "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and sent the rich empty away. He hath helped Israel, his servant, in order to remember mercy; as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." It is remarkable how Jewish the character of the joy is, and the acknowledgement of the mercy.
*"Generations and generations": so Edd. after BCpm LΞ Amiat. Syrpesch Memph. with nine other uncials has "generations and generations." Syrrsin pesch: "generation and tribe." - ACcorr D, etc., 33, have "generations of generations."
So Mary abides with her cousin three months, and then returns to her own house.36 "But the time was fulfilled for Elisabeth that she should bring forth; and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard how [the] LORD had magnified his mercy with her; and they rejoiced with her." The general thought was to call37 the child after his father's name; but the mother, who alone can speak for it, directs. him to be called John. Zacharias is appealed to and writes, "John is his name." And immediately the punishment of his unbelief departs from him. His tongue was loosed and he spoke and praised God; which filled all around with fear, astonishment, and anticipation of what this child would be
Zacharias breaks forth into a strain of praise.38 "Blessed be [the] LORD the God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people, and raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David, his servant." It is remarkable the grace that does not so much look at his own house as at the house of God's servant David. There was faith here. During the season of his dumbness Zacharias has pondered the ways of the LORD; and the Holy Ghost, as He had filled Elisabeth, as He had filled the babe from his mother's womb, so now filled Zacharias, who prophesies the end of these wonders. "That we should be delivered from our enemies, and out of the hand of all who hate us; to fulfil39 mercy with our fathers, and remember his holy covenant; [the] oath which he swore to Abraham, our father, to give us, that, saved out of the hand of our* enemies, we should serve him without fear."39a It is important to observe how thoroughly this savours of Old Testament hopes. It is not a question of sins merely, but of being delivered from their enemies, which last is assuredly not, nor ought to be, the feeling of the Christian now. Does not the Christian serve God, delivered from his sins, in the midst of his enemies? So when the Lord comes, it is simply a taking him up out of the midst of his enemies when the time of deliverance comes. Here then the language is, "That we being saved out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in piety40 and righteousness before him all our days."† Such is the expectation of Israel according to the Psalms and the Prophets.
*"Our": so ACD, etc., Amiat. Syrr. Memph.; but Edd. omit, after BL 1, 69, etc.
†"All our days": so Edd. after ABCDL, etc., Old Lat. Vulg. Syrr. (exc. sin) Memph. - E and some other copies, with cursives 1, 69 Syrsin have "all the days of our life."
"And thou, child, shalt be called [the] prophet of [the] Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of [the] LORD to make ready his ways" - an allusion clearly to Malachi (Mal_3:1) as well as to Isaiah. "To give knowledge of salvation41 to his people by [the] forgiveness of their sins." It is not that the Jews will be without the remission of their sins; they will have that beside deliverance from their enemies. All this is "on account of [the] bowels of mercy of our God; whereby [the] day-spring from on high has visited* us, to shine upon them who were sitting in darkness and in [the] shadow of death, to guide our feet into [the] way of peace."
*"Has visited": so T. R., retained by Tisch., Treg. (text) and Blass, after AC and some cursives with Old Lat. - Other Edd. (W. H., followed by Revv., Weiss) adopt "will visit," as BL, Syrr. Arm.
Such will be the condition in which the Jews will be finally met by God; there will be a special darkness more immediately before the light shines out upon them.
It was when they were in bitter degradation under the Gentiles, as well as in the moral darkness, that the Lord came the first time; still more will this be the case when He comes again. There will be renewed bondage under the power of the West; a stranger king will reign in the land, and a special delusive power of Satan will be there, but the Lord will appear to the discomfiture of all their foes and the full deliverance of His people Israel.
Meanwhile "the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and he was in the deserts until the day of his showing to Israel."42 We have seen that, before the large universal character of the Gospel of Luke appears - the grace of God to man - there is the utmost care to show the goodness and forbearance of the Lord in meeting Israel as they then were. Thus they have the responsibility of refusing their Messiah, before God lays the foundation of the richest grace to man generally.
NOTES ON THE FIRST CHAPTER, Verse 5 ff.
19 Luk_1:5. - "Judea." This seems to stand for the whole land of Israel, as manifestly in Act_10:37, and in the Gospel at Luk_6:17, Luk_7:17, and Luk_23:5. In Luk_2:4, Luk_5:17, however, it probably represents the limited territory of Judah (see verse 39).
20 Luk_1:13. - The are seven pieces of dialogue in this and the chapters following, which are more or less rhapsodical utterances, and go under the name of "canticles." Margoliouth says: "The evidence is strongly in favour of their having been originally in Hebrew verse" (address on Synoptic Gospels at University College, London). Cf. note 4 F with reference to the suggestion of Schleiermacher (p. 25) and others (as Burkitt), that these are Luke's free compositions; see also Godet, i., p. 216 f., and Sanday, "Outlines of the Life of Christ," who regards chapters 1 and 2 as "the most archaic thing in the New Testament" (p. 166), and Briggs' "of the first degree of historic importance" (p. 164 f.).
21 Luk_1:15. - For Nazarite vows, see Num. 6, and cf. Mat_11:18.
22 Luk_1:17. - Plummer refers to Ecclesiasticus 48: 10 (see R. V.), languishing of parental affection. Augustine's idea (adopted by Calvin) was that by the "fathers" is meant, the patriarchs (see Isa_29:22 f.; Isa_63:16).
"Disobedient," i.e., to God, so Schanz, referring to Tit_1:16, Tit_3:3; cf. Rom_1:5.
"To (for, by) the wisdom" (A.V.) came from Mal_4:6.
23 Luk_1:19. - "Gabriel." Tobit 12: 15, speaks of seven archangels (naming "Raphael"). The Book of Enoch adds "Uriel." These are the sources of Milton's nomenclature. In canonical Scripture (but see Rev_1:4, Rev_3:1, Rev_4:5) not more than two archangels are named, Gabriel (Dan. 8, 9), herald of goodness, and Michael (Dan. 10, 12; Jud_1:9; Rev_12:7) of wrath. The Jews have said that "Gabriel flies with two wings, Michael with one."
24 Luk_1:25. - "Reproach" (see Gen_30:23).
25 Luk_1:26 ff. - We here enter upon the Birth story, as to which Harnack ("What is Christianity?" p. 31) says, "The oldest tradition knew nothing of any stories of Jesus' 'birth."' The whole question of the Virgin birth will be discussed below at verse 34 ff. As to "Nazareth," see note 46.
26 Luk_1:27 f. - Mary as a name represents the Old Testament "Miriam," in Aramaic "Mariam," as in Greek here. According to the Protevangelium of James, she was fifteen years of age at the time. The ancient belief was that she died in the year 64.
The question has been raised whether the words "of the House of David" go with "Virgin" (B. Weiss, Godet) or with "man" (De Wette, Meyer). Chrysostom and Bengel say with both. Cf. verse 32 and note there; also verse 69, and see note in chapter 3 on the Genealogy. Its being said of Joseph would have no meaning in this connection, when actually applied to him, in Luk_2:4, it is introduced as something fresh. Cf. on verse 32. On the infancy, see Nicoll, "The Incarnate Saviour," chapter i., pp. 14-16, in particular.
27 Luk_1:31. - "Jesus." The name (Jeshua), Neh_8:17, was very common among the Jews of the time. In Col_4:11, mention made of a Jesus, surnamed Justus, one of the Circumcision. One of the Lord's ancestors, according to the flesh, bore the same name, see Luk_3:29 (R.V.). The Talmud, in order to get rid of the original meaning of "the name" (Jam_2:7), although using "Jeshua" of all others bearing it, regularly speaks of the Lord by the clipped name Jesu.
28 Luk_1:32. - "The Highest." The O. T. Elyon. It was the usual designation of GOD among the Hellenistic Jews of the Dispersion. Again in verses 35, 76.
"His father David." Mary was probably of the tribe of Judah (B. Weiss).
29 Luk_1:34 ff. - Five verses here enshrine Luke's narrative of the supernatural (virgin) birth of the Lord Jesus.
Schanz forsakes his usually sensible exegesis - but what is a Roman writer here to do? - by taking Mary's words as a vow of virginity, which is excluded by verse 27.
"The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee," etc. Cf. Act_1:8. For the "overshadow," see Exo_40:34. Pfleiderer: "It is not God himself, but God's Holy Spirit, who begets Jesus" ("Primitive Christianity," ii., p. 117 f.), a remark certainly not derivable from the exact words of the Evangelists, which represent the Holy Spirit's action only as the procuring cause. The article is absent, as again in Luk_2:13.
30 "Shall be called Son of God." The "therefore" shows that we have not here the Eternal Sonship. The Messiah (see note on Luk_2:11) had to be, transcendently, Son of God (verse 35); next, Son of Man (see note on Luk_5:24), if He was to take up the Davidic claims; and child of a virgin (verse 27).
i. As Son of God, He should be both Priest and Victim (L. A. Sabatier, "The Atonement," p. 53, comparing Joh_17:19, and Heb_8:2), and fulfil at the same time the types of "burnt offering" and "sin offering."
Ritschl has well said that the distinctive N. T. name of GOD is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," Eph_1:3.
The Christadelphian theory that the Sonship began with the birth of the Lord, so as to preclude His pre-existence, is but a popular echo of unbelieving "scientific" theology. Its advocates are materialistic Unitarians. Swedenborgians, on the other hand, confess the pre-existence. For Loisy's assertion ("Synoptic Gospels," vol. i., p. 194) that this idea is "not expressly formulated nor even suggested in the Synoptic Gospels," see note on Luk_10:22.
The Lord is spoken of as "Son of God" in this Gospel (1) by others, in Luk_3:22; Luk_4:3; Luk_4:9; Luk_4:41; Luk_8:28; Luk_9:35 and Luk_20:9. (2) By Himself in Luk_10:22 ("The Son") as in Luk_22:70 in answer to the high priest's adjuration. He speaks of God as His "Father" in Luk_2:49; Luk_9:26; Luk_10:21 f.; Luk_22:29; Luk_22:42; Luk_23:34; Luk_23:46; Luk_24:49.
ii. That JESUS should be legal heir of Joseph belongs rather to the consideration of Matthew's narrative; but see note on the Genealogy below, and also that on Luk_8:20, with regard to indispensable requirements of such a claim.
iii. The virginity of Mary is also developed by Matthew, who cites Isa_7:14, attaching to that prediction a meaning not previously given to it by the Jews; so that Dalman, who notes this little-known circumstance, treats it as supporting the truth of the narrative, on the ground that a virgin-birth was not looked for ("Words of Jesus," p. 276). As D. Smith says, "the history was not as sceptics insinuate, adapted to the prophecy, but the prophecy to the history" (p. 528). Pfleiderer (op. cit., ii., p. 346) in connection with Mar_3:21 (cf. note 41 in "Exposition" of that Gospel), objects that Mary could not have joined His brethren in treating JESUS as out of His senses if she had known of a supernatural birth. But there is absolutely nothing in Mark's text to show that she did participate in their impression. The Marcan incident does not clash with her attitude in verse 34 here.
J. H. Newman, preaching on the Incarnation (Sermons, vol. ii., p. 35), said: "As in the beginning woman was formed of man by Almighty power, so now, by a like mystery, but a reverse order, the new Adam was fashioned from the woman. . . . He had no earthly father; He abhorred to have one." The great recent German theologian, Dorner, has remarked: "As Son of Man, the Lord cannot have been the son of any particular man:" see his "Christian Doctrine," ii., pp. 446-451.
Nowhere in the Old Testament is there any mention of a human father of the Messiah (Delitzsch, "Messianic Prophecies"); cf. Psa_22:10.
The Syriac of Sinai, in Mat_1:16, has "Joseph begot Jesus"; that version, however, in the same context speaks of Mary as a virgin; so that its "begot" must be understood in a juridical sense, as manifestly in the Greek of verse 8; "Joram begot Uzziah," and of verse 13, "Zerubbabel begot Abiud." The Curetonian Syriac follows the traditional text.
The status of betrothal was in the eye of Jewish law the same as that of marriage: Deu_22:23 f.
The stages in the New Testament view of the Lord's Person are doubtless three, as stated by Lobstein (p. 65 f.):-
(1) In Mark, corresponding more to the popular Messianic belief or theocratic view of the Divine Sonship. Such would supply, according to his parable, the "green blade of the doctrine." As to Mark's being said not to have heard of the Virgin Birth (Menzies, Clodd, etc.), see note 57 in "Exposition" of that Gospel. Critics are careful to say as little as possible about Mark's "silence" as to Joseph which, however, so impressed Baur that he maintained the critics' first Evangelist was acquainted with the Virgin Birth.
(2) Of the independent records of Matthew and Luke, either of which would be alien to the Jewish mind, Matthew's is the more objective (public) account, proceeding, it seems likely, from Joseph; Luke's, the more subjective (private) account, probably derived ultimately from Mary (cf. Godet, i., p. 162 f.), through her son James (as suggested by Bishop Chase, referring to Act_21:18). Although he "begins with the Jew" (Exposition) and so corroborates Matthew's specially Jewish testimony, his record was designed for Gentile readers, many of whom would be familiar with legendary stories of virgin-births (Pfleiderer, "Early Christian Conception of Christ," pp. 35-43), as of Buddha (Paul Carus), who would not be alienated by the representation of such a supernatural event. Here the Church would receive the "ear" of Mark's parable.
(3) In the Prologue of John's Gospel. As to the fourth Evangelist's supposed silence upon this subject, see Neander, "Life of Christ," p. 17, and note 21 in the Exposition of the last Gospel; also note 42 there, on Gardner's fancy ("Exploratio Evangelica," p. 239) that John meant to protest against the Virgin Birth, or that writer's notion that the words to Nicodemus in Joh_3:6 could be used against it. This last stage would represent the "full blade in the ear."
And so of the Apostle Paul, as in Rom_1:3 f. "Paul," writes Pfleiderer, "is anything rather than a Jew in his Christological exegesis of the Old Testament. Here he leaves all Jewish tradition on one side and gives vent to his mythological vein; whence he derives it, it would be hard to tell. No road leads up to the divinity (sic) of Christ from the Old Testament" (op. cit., ii., p. 115). Such a theory as this we may hold, with Orr, "is the death of all its predecessors in its admission that the idea of the V.B. was familiar to Paul" (see 1Co_15:47; also Gal_4:4, γενομένος "come," rather than, as in Luk_7:28, of the Baptist, γεννητός "born") and the early Christians. (Cf. chapters 3, 5, of Dr. R. J. Cooke's "The Incarnation and Modern Criticism" (1907)). It is because of the difficulty felt in being consistent in this respect that negative critics have fallen back on the device of tracing the belief to Gentile myths, going back to Babylonian (Orr, p. 27 of pamphlet); but Harnack, to his credit, dissociates himself from this part of the business.
The miraculous conception is recognised first, outside the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, in the Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians, and in the recently recovered Apology of Aristides. It begins to be denied by Cerinthus (Irenaeus, i. 26), probably within the lifetime of the Apostle John (cf. above under Gardner). So repugnant must it have been to the severely austere morality of Jews, that "the mere fact that it arose on Jewish soil is a singular attestation of the Evangelic story" (D. Smith, p. 52, after Neander, p. 15). Orr, referring to present-day criticism allied with the system of the Jewish "Ebionites," remarks: "It is a curious irony which makes the narrowest and most retrograde of Jewish-Christian sects (the ancient Nazarenes, or more tolerant party, accepted the belief) the true representatives of Apostolic Christianity" ("The Virgin Birth," p. 164 f.).
This matter forms an essential part of the larger question as to the distinction which is made between the "historical Jesus" and "the Christ of the Creeds." Thus Pfieiderer: "Primitive Christianity has transferred the Jesus of history into the Christ of faith . . . has identified the 'self-existing Christ' with the heavenly Son of Man of the Apocalypse and the Son of God and Logos . . . has finally brought this eternal heavenly Being down to earth to become man, to die, to return to Heaven, there to share the throne and sovereignty of God until His future coming to judge the world" ("Early Christian Conception," p. 160 f.). Again Schmidt: "He (i.e., JESUS) would have been utterly bewildered by the Nicene creed" (p. 383); and Gardner: "There is no demonstrable connection between the 'Jesus of history' and the Christ of Christian experience." These are typical expressions of what goes under the name of the "New (Modern) Theology" from three countries of "modern civilization." But listen to one who, advanced critic as he is, is careful in his statements - Wellhausen - who writes, "The historical Jesus, like a leading card, has been played against Christianity. . . To divorce Him from the effect of His history is to be unjust to Him. Whence came faith in Him as religious Ideal save from Christianity? . . . We cannot go back even if we would." ("Introduction to the First Three Gospels." p. 114.)
H. Holtzmann and Harnack question the two verses, as if an interpolation. On the same side, besides Lobstein (above) write Drummond, Wernle (pp.81-83 of booklet in E. T.), and Schmiedel ("Encyclopaedia Biblica" art. "Mary"), J. Weiss, etc.; whilst in defence of the V.B. the following, besides Orr, may be consulted: - Dorner, B. Weiss, Godet (pp. 213-216), Zahn, Fairbairn, Bruce, Gore, and Sanday, etc. See further, besides notes referred to above, those on Luk_2:41; Luk_2:48; Luk_4:22; and Luk_18:19.
30a The "holy thing" (cf. Mat_1:20). This distinctly traverses Dr. Boses' saying that the Lord was "not holy by nature" ("The Gospel in the Gospels," p. 163). The position taken by the American professor is a curious comment on his countryman Prof. Foster's claim as against "orthodox" scholars, to "intellectual" honesty. JESUS was from the outset "holy," cf. Joh_10:36, although "made of a woman" (Gal_4:6); see Job_25:4. On the connection of this with His sinlessness, see Orr, pamphlet on the "Virgin Birth," p. 29. A pulpit, if not academical, utterance of Schleiermacher should be noted: "It is the experience of all without exception that in everyone who has appeared on earth, endowed only as the children of men, sin has sooner or later developed. So it would have been in the Redeemer Himself if he had been from His birth like other children. . . . If Christ had been a sinner even in the least degree, could He have been our Saviour?" ("Selections from Foreign Pulpit Literature," vol. xvi., p. 279 ff.).
Bruce has well said: "A sinless man is as much a miracle in the moral world, as a virgin birth is a miracle in the physical world" ("Apologetics," p. 410, in criticism of the view taken by Abbott in "Onesimus," bk. iii., par. 7).
For the translation of verse 35, cf. American Revision.
31 Luk_1:37. - Cf. verse 35, and note on 2: 11 (Theotokos, cf. note 51).
32 Luk_1:42. - Cf. Judith 13: 18.
33 Luk_1:45. - These words Bunyan represents as coming to the remembrance of Christiana and her party as soon as they had crossed the "Slough of Despond" (Pilgrim's Progress," Pt. ii.).
34 Luk_1:46-55. - The "Magnificat." The Virgin was familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, especially the Psalms, where compare Psa_45:3; Psa_98:3; Psa_107:9; Psa_132:1; Psa_132:6-7; Psa_132:15. That Luke resorted to the vocabulary of the Seventy (note 4 F) to record the Aramaic utterances of Mary (verse 48) in Greek may be readily believed; but to say that he freely composed them (cf. note 20) is another matter. Ryle aptly refers to Col_3:16 for the lesson conveyed by this beautiful canticle. Hort's marginal reading "Elizabeth" instead of "Mary," in verse 46, is that of three old Latin MSS., and was known to Origen. It seems to have no support from Greek copies.
35 "Soul . . . spirit." Cf. Psa_103:1; "all that is within me" (Maclaren). How closely connected, and yet distinct, "soul" and "spirit" are, is shown by Heb_4:12. The difference broadens in the adjectives, "soulish" and "spiritual" in 1Co_15:46. "All through Scripture," writes Professor Laidlaw, "spirit denotes life as coming from God; soul, life as constituted in the man" ("Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible," iv., p. 167). The "spirit" is the energy of a man. As for the soul, in it "lies the centre of his personality" (Orr, "God's Image in Man," p. 51). The view, however, of the writer last quoted, that "spirits that never had bodies could not be called souls" (ibid.), is questionable, as "soul" in Scripture has not "always" the connotation of body; see Lev_26:11; Jdg_10:16; Isa_42:1. If that were so, there could be no objection taken to Kautzsch's saying (ibid., art. "Religion of the Old Testament") that in pre-prophetic times Jehovah was conceived of as having bodily form - a remark apparently based on such passages as Exo_33:23.
For the tripartite organism of man see Gen_2:7. It is brought out clearly in 1Th_5:23. "Breath of lives" in Genesis seems to suggest a continuity for the spirit which science recognizes in respect of the body. If this be so, the Creationists and Traducianists (see Liddon, "Elements of Religion," pp. 98-104), represented by Romanists and Lutherans respectively, share truth between them.
36 Luk_1:56. - Here comes in Mat_1:18 ff.
37 Luk_1:59. - The word ἐκάλουν is well rendered by Carr, "were for calling." The naming of a child was by Jewish custom independent of its circumcision.
38 Luk_1:68-79. - The "Benedictus." For the vocabulary here, cf. Psa_18:2; Psa_132:17. This canticle seems specially modelled on the prophets (Plummer). In verse 77 "salvation," not found in Matthew and Mark, is a link with John's Gospel (cf. note 1). "Since the world began"; American Revision, "of old."
39 Luk_1:72. - "To fulfil" (ποιεῖν cf. 10: 37 ("show," see note there), and in the Old Testament, Gen_21:23; Jos_2:12; Jdg_1:24; Psa_119:65.
39a Luk_1:74. - See Dr. Chalmers' sermon on "The Right Fear and the Right Faith."
40 Luk_1:75. - "Piety," ὁσιότης Carr: "A conscientious obedience to God. . . . a wider word than δικαιοσύνη obedience to law."
41 Luk_1:77. - "Deliverance"; or "salvation" (σωτηρία Cf. Psalms of Solomon 17: 36: Messiah's removal of sin by His powerful word.
"Zacharias and Elizabeth" forms subject of a discourse by Dr. Whyte in his "Bible Characters," No. LXXII.
42 Luk_1:80. - Some think that here, as at Luk_2:40; Luk_2:52; Luk_4:13; there is mark of the conclusion of a separate document each time. The idea is discredited, amongst others, by Ramsay, p. 86 f.