Merry Christmas everyone! Tonight is Christmas Eve, and in order to finish all my Advent translating I worked through thirty verses yesterday and then another thirty today. I really feel like I’m inside Luke’s head. The reading for this week moved away from Matthew and into familiar Christmasy passages from Luke 1. Tomorrow I will finish the journey at church where we will read Luke 2:1-20.
Luke 1 contains lengthy poems, both the Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy. There are also some very interesting angelic visits. As always, my commentary is in italics in the brackets.
I noticed that many undertook to compile an account of the events which have happened among us. They became servants of the word and handed down to us eyewitnesses from the beginning. It seemed good to me, after studying it, to write you everything accurately, structured, and from the beginning, noble Theophilus that you might learn the word with certainty.
It happened in the days of Herod, King of the Jews, that there was a priest whose name was Zechariah, from the order of Abijah and his wife was from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. They were both blameless servants before God keeping all the commandments and the pronouncements of the Lord. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren. Both of them were old.
Now the time for his group in the order to serve before God came. It was the custom of the order to determine by lot who went into the Temple of the Lord to burn incense. All the people were outside praying when the hour of the incense came.
An Angel of the Lord appeared to him standing at the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was troubled when he saw it and fear fell upon him. Then the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid Zechariah because your prayers were heard and your wife Elizabeth will have a son and you will name him John. He will be a joy and gladness to you and many will rejoice at his birth. He will be great before the Lord. He shall not drink wine or liquor for he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. In the Spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him [The him here is the Lord—He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah] to return the hearts of parents to children and the disobedient to righteous wisdom, to get people ready to prepare for the Lord. [There are two different verbs which mean ‘prepare’ here. Both must refer to the people and the work John will do. Neither verb is an infinitive, but I have tried to capture the feeling.]
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can this happen? I myself am old and my wife is also old.”
The angel answered and said, “I myself am Gabriel, who stands before God and he sent me to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens for you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their time.” [I never realized just how long Gabriel’s speech is in this passage. His language has a formality to it that feels very much like pronouncements, not dialogue.]
And the people were waiting for Zechariah and they wondered at his delay in the Temple. When he came out he was unable to speak to them and they realized that he had seen a vision in the Temple. He kept making signs to them and he remained mute throughout. He did fulfill the days of his service and then went home. Now, right after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived but she hid it for five months, saying, “So this is how the Lord has worked in these days. He looked upon me to take away my shame before people.”
Then in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the city of Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph who was from the house of David. The name of the virgin was mary [Actually, Mariam in the GNT. Both Joseph and Mariam are very Hebrew names. Likewise, for reasons beyond me Zechariah in the earlier text ought to be Zachariah, but traditionally it is rendered Zechariah.] he went into her and said, “Rejoice you who have been graced. The Lord is with you.”
At this word she was deeply disturbed and wondered what this type of greeting might mean? The angel said to her, “Do not fear Mary for you found grace from God.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and you will bear a son and name him Jesus. This one will be great and he will be called an exalted son and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will never end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I’m not sexually active?” [the actual wording in Greek is “since a man not I know.” In the Bible, the verb ‘to know’ is an idiom for sex. This is true in the Hebrew as well as Greek, hence Adam “knew” his wife. The other problem here is the tense. Mary speaks in the present tense, which makes English options difficult, although in Greek it makes perfect sense because it speaks of a present situation. That is why I opted for ‘sexually active.’ I know that it is a jarring phrase, but keep in mind, regardless of what violence we do to the Bible stories in church children’s literature, the Bible is an adult book with adult themes. Mary’s statement is supposed to be unnerving.]
The angel answered and said, “Holy Spirit will come to you and overshadow you with exalted power, therefore the child being born is holy. He will be called Son of God. Behold, your relative Elizabeth, the one called ‘barren’ has conceived a son in her old age. She is six months along. It is not impossible for God to do all these things. [things=words (rhema) in GNT]
Mary said, “Behold I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your words,” and the angel left her.
Mary rose up in those days and traveled with haste to a Judean city in the hill country. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.
Then what happened is that as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant jumped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She screamed a loud shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that the mother of my Lord might come to visit me? For it happened at the sound of your greeting in my ear the infant jumped with gladness in my womb. Blessed is the one who believes that it will be completed what has been spoken to her by the Lord.”
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is gladdened by God my savior because he looked upon the humility of his servant. For behold, all generations will say [There is no verb here in the Greek for “say” or “call” so something has to be added to smooth it over. The lack of a verb her is not an omission or a sign of chopped speech, but instead reflects careful poetic thought for word choice. The verb is assumed.] I am blessed from now on because of the great things The Almighty did for me. His name is holy. His mercy to those fearing him is from generation to generation. He strengthened his arms and scattered those with arrogant thoughts in their hearts. He deposed the powerful from thrones and exalted the humble. He filled those who were hungry with good food and he sent away the wealthy empty handed. He took care of Israel his child, remembering mercy. Just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” [In translating the Magnificat, two things are apparent. One, Luke did not compose this. The language, style, and vocabulary are not from his hand. He was obviously using a written source. Two, the language is careful and poetic, artistic and theological. Some have argued a young Jewish girl could not have written this. That is a different argument. However, it was composed by someone who knew what she was doing.]
She remained with her three months and returned to her own home.
Then Elizabeth’s time came to give birth and she had a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard about the Lord’s magnificent mercy to her and so they rejoiced with her.
The eighth day came and they went to circumcise the child and they named him after his father Zechariah. His mother answered and said, “No, name him John!”
They said to her, “There is no one from your family that is called by that name.” Then the father nodded his head that this is what they wished to name him. Asking for a writing tablet he wrote saying, “His name is John,” and everyone marveled. His mouth and tongue were opened and immediately he spoke blessings to God. Fear came as their neighbors and the whole Judean hill country as they heard these words. It settled on all of them as they heard about it such that in their hearts [heart is singular in GNT] they were saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of God was with him.
His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied saying,
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel for he visited and ransomed his people. He raised up a horn of salvation in the house of David, his child to us. Just as he spoke by his prophets, the holy ones from the past. Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of everyone who hates us. To have mercy on our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham to give to us. Not to fear the hand of our enemies for we will be rescued to serve before him in holiness and righteousness all our days. And you, child, will be called a prophet of the most high for you will lead before the Lord to prepare his way to give knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of their sins to his people. By the compassionate mercy of our God he will look upon us as the dawn from above to shine in the darkness and upon those sitting in the darkness of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”
The child grew and became strong in the Spirit and was in the desert until the day of his proclamation to Israel.