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Luke 1: 57-66.80

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


Summary

The story

Our story begins with the mention of Elizabeth, known only to Luke, an exemplary but barren Jewess whom the evangelist associates with Mary by a certain relationship, in order to draw a parallel picture between the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus, showing that the New Testament is rooted in the Old Testament. She gives birth to a son, the greatest gift in a patriarchal society. This birth is the manifestation of the ḥēsēd of God, that compassion of God for his people of which the Old Testament speaks repeatedly. Just as for Sarah, the barren wife of Abraham, who expresses her joy at the birth of Isaac, the birth of John the Baptist is a source of joy not only for the parents, but for the whole neighborhood: it is a communal joy so great is its impact.

The heart of the story revolves around the circumcision of the child, on the eighth day according to Jewish custom, probably by the village doctor, at the moment when the name that he will bear is chosen; the choice of the name is extremely important, because it determines the identity and the future of the child. And according to custom, the eldest child bore the name of the father, because he would usually take over the father's trade and continue his activities; he was in a way an extension of the father's figure. By presenting Elizabeth who intervenes to propose another name for her child, Luke intends to affirm two main points: John the Baptist will not be an extension of his father, i.e. he will not be a priest officiating in the temple, but rather he will have a unique vocation willed by God; and it is a woman who is the first to make the announcement. In fact, Elizabeth appears as a greater figure than Zechariah: unlike her husband, who is at first incredulous, she immediately and instinctively enters into God's plan by choosing John as the name of her son, and when Zechariah is asked for the name of the child, he is asked what he wishes for the name, and not what he has decided, as if his role were secondary and not decisive

After the choice of Elizabeth and Zechariah, there is astonishment and incomprehension among the relatives and neighbors. For Luke, this astonishment at something unusual is a way of underlining the intervention of God who has his own ways. God's intervention is also felt in the healing of Zechariah who can now speak; this is both a physical healing, because he has regained his speech, and a spiritual healing, because he is now a believer in God's plan by accepting the name John for his son, and this is expressed by his praising the blessings received from God.

The reaction of the parents and neighbors is the reaction Luc expects from his reader. They experience a great shudder as the events overwhelm them, and they wonder about the identity of baby John the Baptist. The reader must ask the same questions to enter into the mystery of God. For through the event of John the Baptist, this mystery is at work. And it is at work first in Israel, through a child who is called first to grow physically and morally, and to minister in uninhabited places.

The vocabulary

The words used in the narrative belong to the Lucan vocabulary, i.e., words that he alone uses or that he uses more than all the other evangelists or words that appear in scenes that are his own: being filled (pimplēmi), time (chronos), neighbors (perioikos), those who live around (perioikeō), kinship (syngenē s and syngeneia), magnify (megalynō), Lord (kyrios), rejoice (synchairō), arrive (ginomai), day (hēmera), call (kaleō ), name (onoma), answer and say (apokrinomai, legō), not at all (ouchi), beckon (enneuō), ask (aiteō), wonder (thaumazō ), immediately (parashrēma), speak (laleō), bless (eulogeō), God (theos), fear (phobos), thing (rhēma), heart (kardia).

Structure and composition

Our pericope is part of the infancy narrative. But Luke's infancy narrative is part of a much larger plan: the Jesus event is the central point of salvation history, which has its roots in the Old Testament and continues through the history of the Church. Thus, the story of the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist is colored by the Old Testament: in fact, it takes up the theme of Sarah, wife of Abraham, who was barren and old, and who gave birth to Isaac. Even though Christians have distanced themselves from Judaism, Luke wants to remind us that their faith is rooted in the best of the Jews.

In his composition, Luke creates a parallel between the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus: announcement of the birth of a child by the angel Gabriel when this seems impossible, and choice of their name by God, song of praise on the part of the two mothers, mention of the birth of two boys and visit of the people around, mention of the circumcision of the two boys on the eighth day, prophecy about the future of these two boys, summary of the childhood of the two boys. By bringing Jesus and John the Baptist together through the parallel of their birth, Luke is showing the greatness of John the Baptist: he too is part of God's plan, even though he is subordinate to Jesus. Let us not forget that for the Christian community, John the Baptist was for a long time a troublesome figure, and Luke does a work of reconciliation: John the Baptist is a part of God's plan.

Intention of the author

Luke emphasizes the circumcision of the child, the moment when he received his name: this name will not be according to the expectations where the elder received the name of the father, but it will be according to God's plan; this clash with ordinary expectations is the sign of God's action. To accentuate the drama around the child's name, Luke creates a little scenario around Zechariah. This drama reaches its climax with the writing of John's name: it is the sign that Zechariah has become a believer, for he has just recognized God's blessings and has rallied to his plan. By having Zechariah regain the use of speech, Luke emphasizes not only God's action, but the fact that by becoming a believer, Zechariah is able to proclaim God's word.

Luke amplifies the reaction of those around him: he wants us to identify with them, to become aware that what is happening is not usual, to open ourselves to the possibility that we are in front of a benevolent action of God, and that the child John the Baptist is not an ordinary person, and that we are therefore prepared to listen to him.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    57 Τῇ δὲ Ἐλισάβετ ἐπλήσθη ὁ χρόνος τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτὴν καὶ ἐγέννησεν υἱόν. 57 Tē de Elisabet eplēsthē ho chronos tou tekein autēn kai egennēsen huion. 57 Then for Elizabeth the time was fulfilled to give birth for her and she begot a son.57 Then came the time for Elizabeth to deliver her baby, she gave birth to a son.
    58 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ περίοικοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς αὐτῆς ὅτι ἐμεγάλυνεν κύριος τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ μετʼ αὐτῆς καὶ συνέχαιρον αὐτῇ. 58 kai ēkousan hoi perioikoi kai hoi syngeneis autēs hoti emegalynen kyrios to eleos autou metʼ autēs kai synechairon autē. 58 And they heard the people of the surroundings and the relatives of her that magnified the Lord the mercy of him after her and they were rejoicing with her.58 When the neighbors and relatives knew how much the Lord had overflowed his compassion for her, they rejoiced with her.
    59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν. 59 Kai egeneto en tē hēmera tē ogdoē ēlthon peritemein to paidion kai ekaloun auto epi tō onomati tou patros autou Zacharian. 59 And it happened on the day the eighth they came to circumcise the child and were calling him upon the name of the father of him, Zechariah.59 On the eighth day they went to circumcise the child and proposed the name of the father, Zechariah.
    60 καὶ ἀποκριθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ εἶπεν· οὐχί, ἀλλὰ κληθήσεται Ἰωάννης. 60 kai apokritheisa hē mētēr autou eipeno ouchi, alla klēthēsetai Iōannēs. 60 And having answered the mother of him, she said: no, but he will be called John.60 But the mother intervened to say, "Absolutely not, he will be called John".
    61 καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ. 61 kai eipan pros autēn hoti oudeis estin ek tēs syngeneias sou hos kaleitai tō onomati toutō. 61 And they said to her, that no one is out of the relatives of you who is called by that name.61 They replied, "No one in the family has that name."
    62 ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό. 62 eneneuon de tō patri autou to ti an theloi kaleisthai auto. 62 Then they making signs to the father of him [concerning] what he might wish to be called him.62 Then they made signs to the father to know how he wanted to call him.
    63 καὶ αἰτήσας πινακίδιον ἔγραψεν λέγων· Ἰωάννης ἐστὶν ὄνομα αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐθαύμασαν πάντες. 63 kai aitēsas pinakidion egrapsen legōno Iōannēs estin onoma autou. kai ethaumasan pantes. 63 And having asked a writing tablet, he wrote saying, John is name of him. And they were amazed all.63 After asking for a tablet, he wrote: his name is John. Everyone was surprised.
    64 ἀνεῴχθη δὲ τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ παραχρῆμα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐλάλει εὐλογῶν τὸν θεόν. 64 aneōchthē de to stoma autou parachrēma kai hē glōssa autou, kai elalei eulogōn ton theon. 64 Then, was opened the mouth of him immediately and the tongue of him, and he was talking blessing the God.64 [Immediately] his mouth opened and his tongue [was loosened], and he began to recognize the loving care of God.
    65 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πάντας φόβος τοὺς περιοικοῦντας αὐτούς, καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ὀρεινῇ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διελαλεῖτο πάντα τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, 65 Kai egeneto epi pantas phobos tous perioikountas autous, kai en holē tē oreinē tēs Ioudaias dielaleito panta ta rhēmata tauta, 65 And it happened upon all a fear those dwelling around them, and in the whole hill country of Judea were being talked about all those words.65 All the people in the neighborhood fell into a state of trembling, and in all the mountainous region of Judea were discussed these events.
    66 καὶ ἔθεντο πάντες οἱ ἀκούσαντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν λέγοντες· τί ἄρα τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο ἔσται; καὶ γὰρ χεὶρ κυρίου ἦν μετʼ αὐτοῦ. 66 kai ethento pantes hoi akousantes en tē kardia autōn legonteso ti ara to paidion touto estai? kai gar cheir kyriou ēn metʼ autou. 66 And they placed all those having heard in the heart of them saying, "What there this child will be? And hand of Lord was with him.66 All who learned this thing remembered it and wondered, "What will become of this child? The action of God supported him ...
    80 Τὸ δὲ παιδίον ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐκραταιοῦτο πνεύματι, καὶ ἦν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις ἕως ἡμέρας ἀναδείξεως αὐτοῦ πρὸς τὸν Ἰσραήλ.80 To de paidion ēuxanen kai ekrataiouto pneumati, kai ēn en tais erēmois heōs hēmeras anadeixeōs autou pros ton Israēl. 80 Then, the child was growing up and he was strengthening in spirit, and he was in the desert places until day of showing forth of him to Israel.80 The child grew and his intelligence strengthened while he lived in the desert until he became known in Israel.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 57 Then came the time for Elizabeth to deliver her baby, she gave birth to a son.

    Literally: Then for Elizabeth (Elisabet) the time (chronos) was fulfilled (eplēsthē) to give birth (tekein) for her and she begot (egennēsen) a son (huion).

Elisabet (Elizabeth) Very little is known about Elizabeth, whose name appears only in Luke's infancy narratives throughout the New Testament, and thus in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Elsewhere, it is found only in Exodus 6:23: "Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nahshon, and she gave him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. In Hebrew, her name is said, Elishèba', and means: my God is fullness or fulfilled. Luke tells us this about Elizabeth:

  • She is a descendant of the priest Aaron
  • She is the wife of the priest Zechariah.
  • She is righteous, upright and keeps all the commandments, so she is an exemplary Jewess
  • She is an elderly person
  • She is childless, and therefore considered barren, and this shames her
  • When she became pregnant, she hid her situation for five months
  • She is related (syngenēs) to Mary, the mother of Jesus
  • She lived in the mountainous region of Judea, probably not far from the sanctuary where her husband was to officiate

What is his relationship to Mary? Syngenēs, Luke answers. What does this Greek word mean? It is composed of the preposition syn (with, in the company of, at the same time as) and the verb gennaō (to beget, to give birth). It therefore refers to being born in the company of other people, hence the usual translation: parent, family to convey the idea that one shares the same origins, the same blood. When we go through the Bible to check its different meanings, we get the following result:

  1. It designates in a very general way the close relations, the extended family and often appears in the expression: parents and friends (22 times in the Bible)
    Mk 6:4: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their relatives (syngenēs), and in their own house.'"
    Mark's example shows a gradation from the most general to the most precise: first the homeland, i.e. his country, and at the end the house where not only the father and mother and the children lived, but sometimes the mother-in-law or the father-in-law; and between these two extremes, the relatives where one can guess uncles, aunts, cousins

  2. It also designates what can be called "countrymen": people of the same race, the same clan, the same tribe
    Lev 25:45: LXX "And of the sons of the sojourners that are among you, of these you shall buy and of their countrymen (syngenēs), all that shall be in your lands; let them be to you for a possession."

  3. Sometimes the relationship is specified, so that it refers to the aunt or uncle
    Lev 18:14: LXX "Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, and thou shalt not go in to his wife; for she is your ant (syngenēs"

  4. Sometimes it can refer to a close relationship as father or mother
    3 Mac 5: 39: "His parents (syngenēs), who were reclining with him, wondered at his instability, and thus expressed themselves"

As can be seen, syngenēs is a very flexible term and it is only the context that helps determine the meaning the author intends to give it. What about Luke? First of all, he is the one who uses it the most in all the New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 1; Acts = 1; Rom = 4. And the meaning he gives it is very general, the first one we identified above (1):

  • "friends and relatives (syngenēs) "rejoice with Elizabeth (1:58),
  • Joseph and Mary search for their lost child among their "relatives (syngenēs) and acquaintances"(2:44),
  • in his parable, Jesus asks not to invite friends, brothers or relatives (syngenēs) to dinner (14:12),
  • and finally, Jesus warns his disciples that they will be delivered by their father and mother, their brothers and relatives (syngenēs), and their friends (21:16).

Thus, it is not a question of father or mother, nor of brother and sister; because of blood ties, they are different from "friends". It is in this context that we must reread what Luke says about the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary. So Elizabeth could be an aunt or a more or less close cousin; because of the age difference, it would be difficult to imagine a niece. In any case, it is difficult to be more precise.

But why does Luke emphasize this kinship between Mary and Elizabeth? We have to look at the whole infancy narrative to find an answer: this kinship allows us to accentuate the parallel between the Jesus event and the John the Baptist event; the two "heroes" have a similar history. Indeed:

  • Both births are announced by an angel (1: 5-25 || 1: 26-38)
  • At their birth, visitors come (1:57-58 || 2:1-20)
  • They are circumcised (1:59 - 2:21)
  • They are the object of a prophetic discourse about their future (1:68-79 || 2:22-28)
  • At first they live a hidden life (1:80 - 2:39-40)

To understand this parallel, we need to know that John the Baptist represents the Old Testament, and Jesus the New Testament. And for Luke, the passage from the Old to the New is not a rupture, but a continuity; the New has its roots in the Old.

Noun Elisabet in the New Testament

Noun syngenēs (relative) dans la Bible

eplēsthē (it was fulfilled) Verb pimplēmi, here in the aorist passive indicative tense, is quite Lucan: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 13; Jn = 0; Acts = 6; apart from the Gospels-Acts, it is absent from the rest of the New Testament. It means: to fulfill, to satiate, to be filled, to come to an end, to soak. It is used in five different circumstances.

  • To indicate that a person acts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who guides all his life; "to be filled" refers to the strength that animates the person (8 times):
    Acts 4: 31: "When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled (pimplēmi) with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness"

  • It is associated with the time that elapses, and when the term is reached, the period is fulfilled (5 times):
    Lk 2: 22: "When the time was filled (pimplēmi) for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord"

  • It expresses the hold that feelings can have in our lives, and it is then the image of being full or filled with joy, anger, fear, hate (4 times):
    Lk 4: 28: "When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled (pimplēmi) with rage"

  • It can sometimes have the simple physical meaning of a container that is filled (3 times):
    Lk 5: 7: "So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled (pimplēmi) both boats, so that they began to sink"

  • Finally, it happens that the verb refers to a scenario that is realized or fulfilled, and therefore comes to an end (1 time):
    Lk 21: 22: "for these are days of vengeance, to fill (pimplēmi) all that is written"

Here, in the scene around Elizabeth, this verb expresses the fact that her pregnancy is coming to term: the nine months are seen as stages that have now been completed.

Verb pimplēmi in the New Testament
chronos (time) The name chronos is quite common in the gospels-Acts: Mk = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 3; Acts = 13; but it is Luke who uses it most in his gospel and his Acts. It has two main meanings.

It means first of all a period of time, time perceived as a fluid that flows, a fluid that has a beginning and an end.

  • Jn 7: 33: "Jesus then said, 'I will be with you a little time (chronos) longer, and then I am going to him who sent me'"
  • Acts 14: 28: "And they stayed there with the disciples for some time (chronos)"

It also means a point in time or a specific moment, i.e. a date.

  • Mt 2: 7: "Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time (chronos) when the star had appeared"
  • Mk 9: 21: "Jesus asked the father, 'How much time (chronos) has this been happening to him?' And he said, 'From childhood""

In the story about Elizabeth, chronos refers to that period of time that constitutes a pregnancy and that comes to an end.

Noun chronos in the Gospels-Acts
tekein (to give birth) Tekein is the verb tiktō in the aorist infinitive tense and means: to give birth to, conceive, produce. It is not very frequent: Mt = 4; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. Of its ten occurrences in the gospels, seven are used to designate the birth of Jesus. Here we have the only occurrence to designate the birth of John the Baptist. It is therefore a Lucan particularity.

Note that this verb, in the active voice (eight occurrences out of a total of ten), applies only to the woman: only the woman conceives or gives birth. And as for the two occurrences in the passive voice, they refer to the child that is born. In short, it is a verb linked exclusively to the woman's role in birth.

Verb tiktō in the Gospels-Acts

egennēsen (she begot) Egennēsen is the verb gennaō in the aorist indicative active tense and it means: to beget, to be born, to come into existence. It is similar to the verb tiktō, but much more frequent: Mt = 45; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 18; Acts = 7; 1Jn = 10; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Despite the similarity to tiktō, it is not a synonym; for it has a more generic meaning of coming into existence and has no relationship to the role of the woman. In fact, it is used to speak of the man who begets (Mt 1:2: "Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, Jacob begat Judah and his brothers").

John uses this word the most. Although Matthew uses it statistically 45 times, of these 45 occurrences, 40 belong to the genealogy of the beginning of his gospel, leaving five occurrences for the rest of his gospel. Thus, if we include his first epistle, John uses this verb 28 times. Of this total, seventeen have a spiritual meaning, related to the new being created by the Spirit of God. Here is a typical example:

Jn 3: 3: "Jesus answered him, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born (gennaō) from above'"

In this verse, Luke uses both tekein, to describe Elizabeth giving birth, and gennaō to describe that a being has physically come into the world. This is a verb he uses almost exclusively in his infancy narrative, and the only other use appears in a negative sense at the end of the gospel to express the wish not to be born in times of distress (Lk 23: 29).

Verb gennaō in Gospels-Acts
huios (son) Huion is the accusative singular of the masculine name: huios (son). It is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 89; Mk = 35; Lk = 77; Jn = 55; Acts = 21; 1Jn = 22; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0. But of these 301 occurrences in total, 176 are used to designate Jesus as the son of God or the son of man, that is, more than half (58%). Nevertheless, if we remove this last case from the equation, we still end up with 125 occurrences of the word "son", compared to 26 occurrences of the word "daughter". This is not surprising in a patriarchal society where only men have social status and where having a son is more valuable than having a daughter. Let us be aware, however, that in the Gospels-Acts the term huios can have several meanings which I have grouped into five categories.

Biological meaning: it is the male child begotten by parents (71 fois: Mt = 18; Mk = 7; Lk = 26; Jn = 12; Ac = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). Examples:

  • Lk 1: 13: "But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son (huios), and you will name him John"
  • Mk 6: 3: "Is not this the carpenter, the son (huios) of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him"

Spiritual meaning to designate the being of Jesus: Jesus is the son of God or he is the son of man (175 times, of which 82 times "son of man": Mt = 49 (30 times "son of man"); Mk = 22 (14 times "son of man"); Lk = 37 (25 times "son of man"); Jn = 40 (12 times "son of man"); Acts = 3 (1 time "son of man"); 1Jn = 22 (0 times "son of man"); 2Jn = 2 (0 times "son of man"); 3Jn = 0). Examples:

  • Lk 1: 32: "He will be great, and will be called the Son (huios) of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David"
  • Mk 2: 10: "But so that you may know that the Son (huios) of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic"

Member of a genealogical line: one is son of an ancestor according to the family tree (19 times: Mt = 10; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Ac = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). Examples:

  • Mt 1: 1: "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son (huios) of David, the son (huios) of Abraham"
  • Mt 1: 20: "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son (huios) of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'"

(Note: we have the equivalent of the female side with "daughter" that can designate a genealogical line: Lk 1:5 "he (Zechariah) had for wife a daughter (thygatēr) of Aaron, whose name was Elizabeth")

Group member by race: this is how one is a son of a country or a son of humanity (14 times: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). Examples:

  • Lk 1: 16: "He will turn many of the sons (huios) of Israel to the Lord their God"
  • Mk 3: 28: "Truly I tell you, the sons (huios) of men will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;"

(Note: we have the equivalent of the feminine side with "daughter" that can designate membership in a racial group: Lk 23:28 "But Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters (thygatēr) of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children!'")

To be under the authority of someone, of a group, or to adhere to a set of values values: to be a son means to be a disciple of a master or a friend of someone or a value that identifies a person or a group (22 times: Mt = 9; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 3; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0). Examples:

  • Lk 10: 6: "And if anyone there is a son (huios) of peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you"
  • Mk 3: 17: "James of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons (huios) of Thunder)"

Here, in v. 57, the word "son" has of course a biological meaning. Luke tells of the birth of a son, which is a source of joy in two ways: a child comes into the world when none was expected, thus a "miracle" child, and it is a male. In the gospels, only two births are told: Jesus and John the Baptist; Luke is the only one to include both births in his account, Matthew having only that of Jesus. Telling the birth of someone is a way of presenting him as a hero, anticipating in this birth what he will become.

Noun huios in Gospels-Acts
v. 58 When the neighbors and relatives knew how much the Lord had overflowed his compassion for her, they rejoiced with her.

Literally: And they heard (ēkousan) the people of the surroundings (perioikoi) and the relatives (syngeneis) of her that magnified (emegalynen) the Lord (kyrios) the mercy (eleos) of him after her and they were rejoicing (synechairon) with her.

ēkousan (they heard) Ēkousan is the verb akouō in the aorist indicative 3rd person plural tense. Literally, it means: to listen, and as can be imagined for any word in everyday life, it is frequent throughout the Bible, especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 57; Mk = 41; Lk = 59; Jn = 54; Acts = 89; 1Jn = 10; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1.

In Luke, its meaning can be grouped into three categories.

Listening means physically and personally hearing something. Examples :

  • Lk 1: 41: "And it happened, as soon as Elizabeth heard (akouō) Mary's greeting, that the child trembled in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."
  • Lk 7: 22: "Then he replied to the envoys: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard (akouō): the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear (akouō), the dead are raised, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor"

To listen means to learn something new, to hear about something. Examples :

  • Lk 4: 23: "And he said to them, 'Surely you will quote this saying to me: Physician, heal thyself. All that we have heard (akouō) that has happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your homeland'"
  • Lk 7: 3: "When he heard (akouō) about Jesus, he sent some of the elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and save his slave"

Listening means opening up to a word and welcoming it in faith. Examples :

  • Lk 6: 47: "Whoever comes to me, listens (akouō) to my words and puts them into practice, I will show you to whom he is comparable"
  • Lk 7: 29: "All the people who listened (akouō), and even the publicans, justified God by being baptized with the baptism of John"

Here, in v. 58, akouō means hearing news, learning by hearsay: the news concerns the fact that Elizabeth, having passed the normal age for motherhood, has given birth to a child, a boy. For Luke, it is important that the good news be spread so that the community can celebrate around it; hence the importance of the word.

Verb akouō in the Gospels-Acts
perioikoi (people of the surroundings) Perioikoi is the masculine plural adjective of perioikos. This word is formed from two terms, first the preposition peri (around) and oikos (house). It refers to what is around one's home; when referring to human persons, one will speak of "neighbors", when referring to a geographical place, one will speak of "surrounding places", "surrounding regions", "suburbs". It is very rare in the Bible, and this passage from Luke presents the only case in the whole New Testament.

Here, in v. 58, reference is made to the people who live not far from Elizabeth's home where the good news has spread. This presents the village as a small community.

Adjective perioikos in the Bible
syngeneis (relatives) Syngeneis is the masculine plural adjective of syngenēs. We analyzed this term earlier by saying that it refers to being born in the company of others, hence the usual translation of "relative". Here the term refers to family in the broadest sense. And since Luke likes to go from the general to the particular, he begins with the neighborhood, before naming the extended family among those who rejoice in the good news. Noun syngenēs in the Bible
emegalynen (he magnified) Emegalynen is the verb megalynō in the aorist indicative active, 3rd person singular. It is formed at its base from the adjective mega (great). It is found rarely in the New Testament, as it is in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It basically means: to make great. We can make a reality great by the word, hence the various translations: magnify, praise, celebrate, glorify, exalt. For example:
  • Lk 1: 46: "And Mary said, "My soul magnifies (megalynō) the Lord"
  • Acts 5: 13: "None of the rest dared to join them, but the people magnified (megalynō) them"

We can also make the thing itself big by enlarging it. For example:

  • Mt 23: 5: "They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and magnify (megalynō) the fringes"
  • 2 Cor 10: 15: "We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, to be magnified (megalynō) to abundance according to our sphere of action among you "

Here in v. 58, Luke emphasizes the greatness of God's loving intervention, and therefore the greatness of his action: to make a woman, who was barren until now, pregnant. It should be noted that in ancient times, infertility was the responsibility of the woman, never of the man. For Luke, God's mercy is always at work, but the fact that Elizabeth was able to give birth to a boy made it more manifest, more striking.

Verb megalynō in the New Testament
kyrios (lord)
For an analysis of the word kyrios, reference should be made to the Glossary. In a few words, the masculine noun kyrios in classical Greek means "one who is master of, who has authority," i.e., master, householder, legal representative, guardian. It was through the Septuagint, that Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, that it entered the Bible. It is the word the translators chose to translate the tetragrammaton YHWH, the proper name of God, which a devout Jew avoided pronouncing: "Abram answered, 'My Lord (Heb. ʾ ădōnāy; Greek despota) Yahweh (Heb. yhwh; Greek kyrie), by what shall I know that I shall possess him?"(Gen 15:8). Thus a Greek word, denoting only an authoritative master, came to denote God. The early Christians of Hellenic culture reread the Septuagint in the light of their faith in the risen Jesus, so that not only kyrios became the term for God, but also the term for Jesus, especially under the influence of Psalm 110:1: "The Lord (Heb. yhwh; Greek kyrios) said to my Lord (Heb. ʾ ădōnāy; Greek kyriō): Sit at my right hand, until I have made your enemies the stool of your feet"; in this psalm, the name kyrios is attributed to both God and the Messiah, and so for early Christians it could refer to both God and Jesus.

What about Luke? Since he is the most Greek of the evangelists, it will come as no surprise to learn that he uses the term kyrios the most: Mt = 80; Mk = 18; Lk = 104; Jn = 52; Acts = 106; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; since he is the author of both a gospel and Acts, that means he uses the term a total of 210 times. But when we look a little closer at his gospel, we realize that the word has five different meanings.

Kyrios refers to God (37 times, including 25 times in his infancy narrative). For example:

  • 1: 6: "Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord (kyrios)."
  • 19: 38: "saying, 'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord (kyrios)! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!'"

Kyrios refers to Jesus himself (40 times, of which 13 times in the words of Luke as narrator, 11 times in the words of the disciples). For example:

  • 7: 13: "When the Lord (kyrios) saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, 'Do not weep.'"
  • 9: 54: "When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, 'Lord (kyrios), do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'"

Kyrios designates a master, for example the master of the house (24 times, often in the parables of Jesus). For example:

  • 12: 37: "Blessed are those slaves whom the master (kyrios) finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them."
  • 20: 13: "Then the master (kyrios) of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.'"

Kyrios designates the Messiah (2 times, when quoting Psalm 110)

  • 20: 42: "For David himself says in the book of Psalms, 'The Lord (kyrios) said to my Lord (kyrios), "Sit at my right hand,"
  • 20: 44: "David thus calls him Lord (kyrios); so how can he be his son?"

Kyrios is an adjective meaning: "to be master of" (1 time). Example:

  • 6: 5: "Then he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord (kyrios) of the sabbath"

This analysis would not be complete if we did not also ask the question: in Luke's gospel, who uses which meaning of the word? Here is the table that can be drawn from it: the first column presents the author who uses kyrios. The other columns refer to the various meanings of the word.

Who talks\ Referring toOtherMasterGodJesus
Disciple00011
Scripture2080
Jesus12314
Narrator011413
Character001412

Here are some observations on this table.

  • In the mouths of the disciples, kyrios always refers to Jesus: we can see two reasons for this, firstly Luke is keen to put in their mouths the very expression of the Christian faith, secondly the term also refers to the "master" that a disciple follows;

  • In the various characters who enter the scene in the gospel, it can be understood that kyrios designates first of all God, according to the traditional Jewish faith, like Mary who calls herself the "handmaid of the Lord", but it also designates Jesus, and in these occasions the meaning varies according to the context: it can sometimes simply express respect for propriety (10:40: "Intervening, she said, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister is leaving me to serve by myself? Tell her to help me", just as today we use the term "sir"), but it can also sometimes contain a note of faith towards a master (15:22: "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David");

  • As a narrator, Luke surprises us a bit. When he uses kyrios to refer to God, he conforms to the traditional Jewish faith, and his infancy narrative that seeks to bridge the Old and New Testaments presents us with a very consistent picture. On the other hand, he seems to prevaricate in his naming of Jesus, usually employing his name as the subject of the action, but repeatedly calling him kyrios (7:13: "When the Lord saw her, he had pity on her ..."; 10:1: "After this, the Lord pointed to 72 others and sent them out two by two. ..."; 10:39: "This one had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet"; etc.); it is as if Luke forgets his role as a neutral narrator to become the catechist who addresses a Christian community that understands this language perfectly;

  • In the mouth of Jesus, kyrios refers primarily to the "master" of an estate in his parables which give us an echo of the social life of the time. But on one occasion, during a prayer, the word designates God: "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth... " (10: 21). However, it is quite curious to hear him refer to himself as kyrios : "And if anyone asks you, 'Why do you untie him? You will say this: It is because the Lord needs it." " (19:31; see also 6:46; 13:25); Luke betrays his Christian language.

Here in v. 58, it is from the pen of Luke the narrator that kyrios appears, and it refers to God in the terms of the traditional Jewish faith. For Luke, the beginnings of the Christian faith are rooted in the best of the Jewish tradition.

Noun kyrios in the Gospels-Acts
eleos (mercy)
Eleos is a neuter noun that means: mercy, pity, compassion. As much as this word is very frequent in the Old Testament (close to 350 occurrences), it is rarely found in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. And of the six occurrences in Luke, five belong to the infancy narratives. What does this mean?

Eleos is the term chosen by the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew ḥēsēd. What is this ḥēsēd? It is not primarily a feeling, but an action: one does the ḥēsēd (incidentally, the word is often accompanied by the verb 'asah, to do). It is about doing good to others, especially those in need, and the word is often translated as "favor": "So when God caused me to wander away from my family, I (Abraham) said to him, 'This is the favor (ḥēsēd) that you will do to me: wherever we come, say of me that I am your brother'" (Gen 20:13). A good king is one who does the ḥēsēd: "Piety (ḥēsēd) and fidelity stand guard by the king; on piety (ḥēsēd) is founded the throne" (Prov 20:28). Of course, the ḥēsēd is also an attribute of God, and one that is celebrated through the liturgy of the psalms: "But you, Lord, God of tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, full of love (ḥēsēd) and truth (ʾemet)" (Ps 86:15). The ḥēsēd is often associated, as it is here, with truth, i.e. with that which is solid and authentic, which cannot disappoint; for God remains faithful to his covenant and will always intervene on behalf of his people. This is a profound conviction of the Jewish faith.

In the gospels, only Luke and Matthew refer to the ḥēsēd through the Greek word eleos. They retain the idea of action on behalf of others, especially those in need. In Luke, it appears in the story of the Good Samaritan who comes to the aid of a man seriously wounded by robbers, as Jesus asks the question about which of the men, between the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, showed himself to be the neighbor of the wounded man:

  • 10: 37: "He said, 'The one who showed him mercy (eleos).' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"

In Matthew we find a similar idea as Jesus multiplies his reproaches against the Pharisees who specialize in religious matters:

  • 9: 13: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy (eleos), not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners"

But in Luke's infancy narrative, where five of the six occurrences of eleos appear, the tone is different: we find the liturgical atmosphere of the Psalms in which God's mercy is sung: Mary sings it (1:50,54), Elizabeth's entourage sings it (1:58), Zechariah sings it (1:72,78). In the Old Testament, to speak of the ḥēsēd is to speak of God's action in favor of his people, out of faithfulness to his covenant. For Luke, the John the Baptist event is in continuity with God's ḥēsēd in the Old Testament, and this action on behalf of his people will have its culmination in Jesus; John the Baptist is an essential link in this chain of actions.

Noun eleos in the New Testament
synechairon (they rejoiced)
Synechairon is the verb synchairō in the imperfect 3rd person plural tense. This verb is formed from the preposition syn (with, in company with) and the verb chairō (to rejoice). It is thus the idea of rejoicing with others, sharing one's joy, in short, rejoicing communally. As the verb is in the imperfect tense, meaning that the action is not finished, it is then a joy that continues. This verb is very rare in the whole Bible (8 occurrences), and in the gospels it is found only in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The idea of community rejoicing is well translated by Luke in the two parables where someone loses something important, a sheep (15:6), or a day's wages (15:9), and then invites everyone around him to share his joy. For his part, Paul has this image of the body with many members, and if one member is honored, this joy is reflected on all the members (2 Cor 12:26). Thus, for Luke, Elizabeth's joy is not a personal joy, but a joy that reaches the whole community: the birth of John the Baptist has an impact on the whole community, and so the joy becomes communal.

But there is more. When Luke writes this scene, he probably has in mind the story of Sarah, Abraham's wife, who was advanced in age and barren (Gen 21:1-7). Now, according to what the Septuagint writes, the Lord visited Sarah, who became pregnant and conceived a son whom Abraham named: Isaac. After his circumcision, Sarah cried out, "The Lord has caused me to laugh; whoever hears of this will rejoice (synchairō) with me" (Gen 21:6). Elizabeth is the new Sarah, and as Sarah was God's instrument for the fulfillment of his promise of a covenant and a long lineage, so Elizabeth will be God's instrument in this new covenant. It is no longer a personal joy, but a universal joy.

Verb synchairō in the Bible
v. 59 On the eighth day they went to circumcise the child and proposed the name of the father, Zechariah.

Literally: And it happened (egeneto) on the day (hēmera) the eighth (ogdoē) they came (ēlthon) to circumcise (peritemein) the child (paidion) and were calling (ekaloun) him upon the name (onomati) of the father (patros) of him, Zechariah (Zacharian).

egeneto (it happened) Egeneto is the verb ginomai in the middle aorist and means: to arrive, to come into being, to arise, to become, to come into existence, to appear. It is as frequent in Greek as the verbs "to have" and "to be" in English: Mt = 76; Mk = 54; Lk = 132; Jn = 50; Ac = 110; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 1. As can be seen, Luke is the biggest user, 242 times if we include Acts. And here we have the middle aorist form: egeneto. Now, he is the greatest user of this form: Mt = 13; Mk = 18; Lk = 61; Jn = 17; Acts = 55; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Thus, in Luke it is a total of 116 occurrences if we include the Acts of the Apostles. This is too frequent not to recognize a feature of his style. It allows him very often to introduce a fact, an event, a story, just as good storytellers like to start with: "Once upon a time".

Verb ginomai in the Gospels-Acts
hēmera (day) Hēmera is the feminine noun hēmera in the dative singular. It means: day, and like the English word, it is very common in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 42; Mk = 25; Lk = 80; Jn = 30; Acts = 86; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, and especially in Luke. However, behind its banality, it is used to translate different realities. Thus, in Luke we can define five different realities that the word "day" designates.

The day that has 24 hours, or specific amount of days. For example:

  • 1: 23: "When his days (hēmera) of service was ended, he went to his home"
  • 2: 44: "Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day (hēmera)'s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends."

A specific time or date, often in the future. For example:

  • 1: 20: "But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day (hēmera) these things occur."
  • 10: 12: "I tell you, on that day (hēmera) it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town."

An era or period of the past (always plural). For example:

  • 1: 5: "In the days (hēmera) of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth"
  • 17: 28: "Likewise, just as it was in the days (hēmera) of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building"

Day versus night. For example:

  • 6: 13: "And when day (hēmera) came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:"
  • 9: 12: "The day (hēmera) was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place."

Refers to the years of a life, or the age of a person. For example:

  • 1: 7: "But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in their days (hēmera)"
  • 1: 75: "in holiness and righteousness before him all our days (hēmera)"

Here, in v. 59, Luke refers to a specific date or time when the circumcision is to take place.

Noun hēmera in the Gospels-Acts
ogdoē (eighth) Ogdoē is the numerical adjective ogdoos in the feminine dative singular, agreeing with "day". Only Luke uses it in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, and each time in reference to the eighth day on which a Jew had to have his male child circumcised. Indeed, this was a legal obligation for a Jew, as explicitly stated in Leviticus 12:1-4:
The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the children of Israel, 'If a pregnant woman gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, as long as she has her menstrual illness. On the eighth day the foreskin of the child shall be circumcised; then for thirty-three days she shall wait for the purification of his blood; she shall not touch any holy thing, nor shall she go into the sanctuary until her time of purification is completed.

Zechariah and Elizabeth thus follow their religious tradition. Luke is the only evangelist to insist on this environment of Jesus, because it corresponds to his plan: the Christian faith is rooted in the Jewish tradition.

Adjective ogdoos in the New Testament
ēlthon (they came) Ēlthon is the verb erchomai in the aorist indicative, 3rd person plural tense. It means: to come, to arrive, to go, to appear, and is as common in Greek as its equivalent in English: Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Acts = 50; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 2. And this is normal in a story where there is action: characters come and go. For example, John the Baptist "goes" to the whole region to proclaim his baptism of conversion, people "come" to him, Jesus "goes" to the synagogue and is asked what he "comes" to do, Jesus gives the reason why he "came", etc.

Here, in v. 59, Zechariah and Elizabeth "come" to have their child circumcised. Where are they coming to? Luke does not say. According to Genesis 21:4 the father could circumcise his child ("Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him"); but there is no indication here that Zechariah circumcised his son, and this does not explain the fact that they have to go. According to Exodus 4:25 the mother could exceptionally circumcise her son ("Cipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched his feet with it. And she said, 'You are a husband of blood to me'"; but as we have observed for the father, there is no indication that this is the case here. According to 1 Maccabees 1:61 circumcision was performed by a physician ("(they put to death the women who had their children circumcised) with their infants hanging around their necks, executing also their relatives and those who had performed the circumcision"). Since the composition of 1 Maccabees is dated around 100 BC, we can think that the same practices existed later, at the time of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus: it was the village physician who proceeded to the circumcision of the male children.

Verb erchomai in Luke
peritemein (to circumcise) Peritemein is the verb peritemnō in the aorist of the infinitive tense. It is composed of the preposition peri (around) and the verb temnō (cut off): it is the removal of the foreskin, i.e. circumcise. It seems that we are looking at an ancient custom related to the sexual initiation rite: circumcision allowed the male organ to be adapted to its new function (see L. Monloubou – F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Québec: Desclée – Anne Sigier, 1984, pp. 122-123). It was practiced by the Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites and Israelites, but not by the Assyrians, Chaldeans or Philistines (see Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionnaire du Nouveau Testament. Paris: Seuil, 1975, p. 168-169).

It was probably when they arrived in Canaan that the Israelites adopted this practice and attributed it to the patriarch Abraham. But this practice took on a religious dimension: "You shall have the flesh of your foreskin circumcised, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between me and you" (Gen 17:11); in the covenant he proposes, God promises Abraham a fruitful posterity and the whole land of Canaan. It was probably during the Babylonian exile (6th century BC) that circumcision took on such great importance, allowing them to distinguish themselves from all the other peoples around them (the Babylonians were not circumcised).

In the Gospels, only Luke and John mention either the verb "circumcise" (peritemnō): Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0, or the noun "circumcision" (peritomē): Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 2; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But the perspectives of Luke and John are totally different: Luke positively presents the circumcision of John the Baptist and Jesus on the eighth day as a gesture of fidelity to Jewish tradition, while John inserts the reference to circumcision into a context of controversy presenting us with a Jesus who denounces the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, those people who reproach Jesus for healing on the Sabbath when they themselves practice circumcision on the Sabbath.

Why did Luke insist on emphasizing circumcision? He could have told the story of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus without mentioning their circumcision? Let us not forget that the final writing of his gospel is around 80 or 85 CE, when the dust over the conflict about the circumcision of Christians had settled. Read Paul's epistles (see the texts on "circumcision" and "to circumcise") about his struggle to prevent Gentiles converting to the Christian faith from being forced to be circumcised. One can read the Acts of the Apostles and the decision taken in Jerusalem (around 51/52 CE) on the subject. Luke, himself a non-Jew, knew this debate very well. So why did he insist on saying that John the Baptist and Jesus were circumcised?

The answer probably lies on two levels. On the one hand, since the debate had calmed down by the time of the writing of his gospel, evoking circumcision no longer arouses the same emotional charge and one can look at this element of Jewish tradition with a serene outlook. On the other hand, and this is probably the most important point, the Christian faith has its roots in the heart of the best of Jewish tradition: Jesus was a Jew, John the Baptist was a Jew, and if he paints a parallel portrait of Jesus and John the Baptist, it is his way of anchoring the source of the good news to a worthy representative of Jewish tradition; circumcision is a sort of anchor point. Let us not forget: the Old and New Testaments are not in opposition, but in harmony for Luke.

Verb peritemnō in the New Testament

Noun peritomē in the New Testament

paidion (child)
Paidion is the neuter accusative of paidion. It means child or little child, and more specifically, according to Herodotus (reported by Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon), it is the child up to seven years of age. He appears especially in the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 13; Jn = 3; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. We have already analyzed the child in the New Testament in our glossary, and reference will be made to it. Let it suffice for us to summarize the main points.

In the New Testament, there are six Greek terms for child in a general sense, without allusion to the child's gender: teknon (child) and its diminutive teknion (little child), pais (child) and its diminutive paidion (little child), nēpios (younger) and brephos (infant); the words "son" (huios) or "daughter" (thygatēr) are discarded, as they denote a particular gender.

If we consider the chronology of childhood from birth until the age of 13, at the time of the bar mitzwah (son of the Law), when the child, by becoming subject to the Law, passes into adulthood, the six terms point to a specific time. This childhood is divided into two parts, paidion, which refers to the child under 7 years of age, and pais, which refers to the child from 7 to 13 years of age. Nēpios is the baby in its very early paidion phase, as is brephos for that matter, but the latter can include the embryo in the womb. As for the term teknon, the most frequent in the New Testament, it is the child without any connotation of age. And teknion, its diminutive, refers to an adult to whom one wants to express affection and attachment, as one is referred to as Babe or Charlie or Chuck.

To summarize what has just been said, we propose the following table based on what the evangelists suggest.

Age
-0.750123456789101112Adulte
 TecknonTecknion
 PaidionPais 
 Nēpios  
Brephos  

In Luke, of the 13 occurrences of the word paidion, more than half are in the infancy narrative and refer to the nascent babies John the Baptist and Jesus. Such seems to be the definition of the word in Luke, since when he tells of the young Jesus' escapade to the temple to talk with the teachers, he no longer speaks of paidion, but of pais (2:43); how old must he have been then, seven or eight years? Outside of the infancy narratives, the only other occurrence of his own is in the parable of the unwelcome friend in 11:7 ("And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children (paidion) are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'"; how old are these children in bed? Impossible to say, but probably very young. In the rest of his gospel, the occurrences of paidion come either from the Document Q (7:32: "They are like children (paidion) sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another") or from Mark's accounts (9:47-48; 18:16-17), and thus cannot be placed in Luke's record.

In a manner similar to Luke, Matthew concentrates half of the occurrences of paidion in his infancy narrative of Jesus; indeed, the word refers to Jesus until about the age of two. The only other occurrences of his own are at the conclusion of the two narratives of Jesus feedng the crowd (14:21: "Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, not counting women and children (paidion); see also 15:38); Matthew thus mentions people without social status, i.e., women and children, but how else to explain the presence of children in this scene than that they were still inseparable from their mothers.

Mark brings us an entirely different perspective. The word paidion appears in three scenes: resurrection of Jairus' daughter (5:35-43), which Mark calls paidion, even though she is 12 years old, the account of the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30) where she mentions to Jesus that the little dogs under the table eat the crumbs of children (paidion), children who can be imagined to be two or three years old, and the one in which children are brought to Jesus to be touched but which upsets the disciples (10: 13-15), children who, according to Luke's version (18: 15), are babies (brephos).

John belongs to a class of his own with his three scenes: in that of the royal centurion (4:46-54, the servants speak of his son with the word pais, thus a child of at least 7 years of age, but the father speaks of his son with the word paidion, perhaps to emphasize the affection for his son; in the one where Jesus uses the analogy of the woman giving birth (16:21), paidion clearly refers to the child being born; in the gospel finale, paidion is in Jesus' mouth to address his disciples (21:5), an expression of affection for them.

What to conclude? For Luke, paidion refers to infants in their first months of birth, for Matthiew to children in their early years, and for Mark there is nothing systematic: paidion generally refers to very young children, but also covers a twelve-year-old. John joins Luke and Matthew in his terminology, but becomes unique in using paidion to describe all the tenderness and affection of the teacher for his adult disciples. A word about the Document Q of which we have just one example: "They are like children (paidion) sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another" (Lk 7:32 || Mt 11:16); these "kids" are not yet able to accompany Dad in his daily work as was customary at the time, and thus are still at the age of playing with other children in the public square, and thus must have been between 4 and 7 years old. Whether Luke, Matthew, Mark or John, all present a positive image of paidion, whether in the guise of Jesus or John the Baptist, or a loved one whose healing is desired, or disciples for whom great affection is nurtured.

Noun paidion in the New Testament

Noun pais in the New Testament

Noun teknon in the New Testament

Noun teknion in the New Testament

Adjective nēpios in the New Testament

Noun brephos in the New Testament

ekaloun (they were calling) Ekaloun is the verb kaleō in the imperfect active indicative tense, 3rd person plural. Luke uses it regularly and frequently: Mt = 26; Mk = 4; Lk = 43; Jn = 2; Acts = 18; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It has two main meanings:
  1. to receive a name, to be called by the name of, to give a name (more than 2/3 of the occurrences in the Gospels-Acts)
  2. to summon someone, to call him, to invite him or her (very often to a festive meal)

In Luke, the meaning of naming someone or a place is very dominant, especially in his infancy narrative, and this is the case here. But who is the subject of the verb "to name" in v. 59? Note that the verb is in the imperfect tense "they were calling", so it is not a completed action: it is rather a proposition. But who are those who make this proposal? Spontaneously, we would be inclined to say: the parents. But Zechariah is mute, and the mother in the next verse will disagree with the proposition. So it cannot be the parents. From the context, we can think that the proposition would come from the neighborhood and the kinship, these being the subjects of the previous verse. This proposal would follow the custom of calling the firstborn by the name of the father.

Why does Luke give us such an account in which there are two opposing names for the Baptist? Let us recall the scene of Zechariah's meeting with the angel of the Lord in the temple: it is the angel who proposes the name of John (1:13), a name that means: Yahweh is gracious. So by insisting that the Baptist will not bear the name of the father, but that which comes from God, Luke is affirming that John will have a special mission that does not come from men.

Verb kaleō in Gospels-Acts
onomati (name) Onomati is the neuter genitive of onoma and means: name. It is obviously very common in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 23; Mk = 15; Lk = 34; Jn = 25; Acts = 58; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. As with kaleō, Luke uses this word more than any other, and in his gospel he particularly likes to introduce the names of his characters with "by the name of."

In Judaism in general, and the Gospels-Acts in particular, onoma plays two roles.

  1. It is used to introduce the name of a person or a place. Some examples:
    • Lk 19: 2: "A man was there by name (onoma) Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich"
    • Lk 24: 13: "Now on that same day two of them were going to a village by name (onoma) Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem"

  2. It also designates the person himself, what constitutes his being: "my name" is the equivalent of "me" or "my person", "your name" is the equivalent of "you" or "your person", and "his name" is the equivalent of "him" or "his person". Some examples:
    • Lk 21: 17: "You will be hated by all because of my name (onoma)"
    • Jn 17: 6: "I have made your name (onoma) known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word"
    • Ac 3: 16: "And by faith in his name (onoma), his name (onoma) itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you"

    In ancient times, the name had great importance, because it revealed part of a person's identity. And changing one's name expressed a change of identity and mission. For example, when Yahweh makes a covenant with the man who was previously called Abram (Aramaic: "the father is exalted"), he says to him: "And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:5); thus the name is changed from "father is exalted" to "father of a multitude", to designate Abram's new vocation. In the same way, in the New Testament, we have this scene in John 1:42: "Jesus looked at Simon and said, 'You are Simon, the son of John; your name is Cephas' - which means Peter"; and so the disciple Simon became Peter to express his new vocation. In short, the name given to Elizabeth's newborn child is important, because it will express what he will be.

Noun onoma in Luke/Acts
patros (father) Patros is the genitive singular of the masculine noun patēr; it plays the role of a noun complement of "name," i.e. the child was intended to be named after the father. As one might expect, the noun "father" is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 62; Mk = 18; Lk = 53; Jn = 130; Acts = 34; 1Jn = 14; 2Jn = 4; 3Jn = 0.

As in English, it can have various meanings, from biological father to spiritual father. When we go through the Gospels-Acts, we can group these various meanings into four categories.

  1. First of all, it is the biological father of a child. Some examples:
    • Lk 1: 67: "Then his father (patēr) Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:"
    • Lk 2: 48: "When his fathers (patēr) saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, 'Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father (patēr) and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.'"

  2. It also has a religious meaning to refer to God, using the analogy of the biological father. Some examples:
    • Lk 2: 49: "He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father (patēr)'s house?"
    • Lk 6: 36: "Be merciful, just as your Father (patēr) is merciful"

  3. It designates the ancestor(s) according to genealogy or race. Some examples:
    • Lk 1: 32: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father (patēr) David"
    • Lk 1: 72: "Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our fathers (patēr), and has remembered his holy covenant"

  4. Finally, the evangelist may use it to designate the spiritual leader or authority of a particular group. Some examples.
    • Lk 6: 26: "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their fathers (patēr) did to the false prophets"
    • Lk 11: 47: "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers (patēr) killed"

In Luke, of the 53 occurrences of patēr, more than half (27 occurrences) refer to the biological father, and in the majority of cases (23 occurrences) these are references that are unique to him; thus its importance.

It is worthwhile to point out the image of the father that emerges from his gospel.

  • First, let us remember that in Jewish society the father was the head of the family, and a house was the father's house; we are in a patriarchal society. And it is customary for the decision of the name for the newborn to be made by the father, hence the request in our verse 59 to the father.

  • But first of all, Luke wants to rebalance things by making the mother play a major role, first with Elizabeth who is the first to say what her son's name will be, and then with Mary who receives the angel's revelation about the name of her newborn.

  • Secondly, the image of the father that he brings to light is that of a being full of tenderness and compassion:

    • In the account of the healing of an epileptic child, the only child of a father (9:37-42), Luke concludes this scene by writing: "Jesus handed the child over to his father", just as he had written at the end of the scene where Jesus brought back to life the son of the widow of Nain: "And Jesus handed the child over to his mother" (7:15); the father as well as the mother have the same care for their child, the same love, and the attitude of the Jesus of Luke is the same

    • But it is especially the parable traditionally called the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), but which is in fact the parable of the father and his two sons, that is the clearest presentation of the father in Luke: a man who loves his children, who is patient, who forgives, who shares everything, a reflection of who God is as a father

  • Therefore, when Luke presents God in the guise of a father, it is the compassionate, loving, tender and generous being who dominates. Some examples:
    • Lk 6: 36: "Be merciful, just as your Father (patēr) is merciful"
    • Lk 12: 32: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father (patēr)'s good pleasure to give you the kingdom"
    • Lk 22: 29: "and I confer on you, just as my Father (patēr) has conferred on me, a kingdom"

It is in this context that the father of John the Baptist must be placed. First of all, in the birth of John the Baptist, he shares the limelight with Elizabeth, and he appears at first as a man of little faith who asks for a guarantee in the promise of the angel Gabriel. But later, he is the one who "formalizes" the name of his newborn, even though the mother had already decided to give him the name John, and he is the one who makes the final prayer of gratitude, the equivalent of Mary's "magnificat".

Noun patēr in Gospels-Acts

The name "father" applied to God in the Bible according to R. Brown

Zacharian (Zechariah) Zacharian is the masculine name Zacharias in the accusative, because it is the object of the action of the verb "to call": the neighbors propose the name of Zacharias for the newborn. It is a Hebrew name: zĕkaryâ, formed from two words, zĕkar, derived from the verb zākar (to remember), and from the divine name (Yahweh), and therefore means: Yahweh remembers. In the entire New Testament, only Luke mentions this Zechariah, of the priestly class of Abia, father of John the Baptist and husband of Elizabeth. Another Zechariah is mentioned in Document Q (Lk 11:51|Mt 23:35), which is repeated by Matthew and Luke, this Zechariah, son of the priest Yehoiada, mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:17-22, whom King Joash (9th c. BC) stoned to death. Matthew probably mistakenly associated this Zechariah with the son of Barachiah, one of the twelve minor prophets (see 23: 35). Noun Zacharias in the New Testament
v. 60 But the mother intervened to say, "Absolutely not, he will be called John".

Literally: And having answered (apokritheisa) the mother (mētēr) of him, she said (eipen): no (ouchi), but he will be called John (Iōannēs).

apokritheisa (having answered) Apokritheisa is the verb apokrinomai in the aorist participle tense, feminine nominative singular form. It is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb krinō (to decide, to choose, to judge, to interpret), and thus means literally: to make a decision or judgment from what has been said, hence "to answer." It is extremely frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But what is remarkable in the gospels is to find the stereotypical expression: "answer and say", the former often in the participle and the latter expressed by the verb legō (to say) or phēmi (to declare), for example: "But having answered, he (Jesus) said" (Mt 15:24). The numbers speak for themselves: Mt = 50; Mk = 19; Lk = 40; Jn = 32.

As these figures show, Luke likes this structure, which is part of his style, so much so that when he takes over scenes from Mark, he takes the liberty of adding this sentence structure. Let us give some examples:

Example 1 (context: accusation of blasphemy by the scribes and Pharisees)

  • Mk 2: 8: "And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his mind that they were questioning thus in themselves, said to them, 'Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?'"
  • Lk 5: 22: "When Jesus perceived their questionings, answering (apokrinomai) he said to them, 'Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?'"

Example 2 (context: Pharisees and scribes are shocked that Jesus is eating with sinners)

  • Mk 2: 17: "And Jesus, hearing this, said to them, 'The healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick'"
  • Lk 5: 31: "answering (apokrinomai) Jesus said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick'"

Example 3 (context: the Pharisees are shocked that the disciples are pulling ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath)

  • Mk 2: 25: "And he said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and his companions?""
  • Lk 6: 3: "answering (apokrinomai) Jesus said, 'Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?'"

Why does Luke insist on regularly preceding the verb "having answered" with the verb "to say"? Of course, the evangelist is not here to answer. But we can guess that he wants to introduce a form of dialogue in his characters: rather than having a sequence of "he said", as we often see in Mark, Luke specifies that what will be said is a response to what precedes, introducing a form of interaction. This style is well suited to the Greek cultural milieu to which he belongs.

Verb apokrinomai in the Gospels-Acts
mētēr (mother) The noun mētēr means: mother, and has given us English words, such as maternity or maternal. As one would expect in a patriarchal society, this name is much less present in the Gospels-Acts than the word "father"; in the latter case, there had been 315 occurrences, for "mother" we end up with only 75 occurrences: Mt = 26; Mk = 17; Lk = 17; Jn = 11; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0 (and elsewhere in the New Testament, the word appears only 8 times). And it will come as no surprise to learn that of the 75 occurrences, 13 belong to the infancy narratives of Luke (7) and Matthew (6). And the characters who bear the title of mother can be grouped into three categories.

MtMkLkJnAc
Mother of Jesus827101
Mother of someone else54503
Mother in general1311510
Total261717114

To understand Luke's perception of the "mother", a distinction must be made between the infancy narrative and the rest of his gospel. In the infancy narrative, two mother figures stand out, that of Elizabeth and that of Mary, but that of Mary much more than that of Elizabeth. In fact, the word "mother" in relation to Elizabeth occurs only here in v. 60 to give her a role in deciding the name of her son. On the other hand, Mary will be called "mother of the Lord" (1:43), it is to her that the prophet Simeon announces that her son will be opposed and that a sword will pierce her mother's heart (2:34-35), it is she who speaks to her son during his escapade in the temple and expresses the anguish of the parents (2:48), and finally, it is she who keeps all the events concerning her son in her heart (2:51); the father, Joseph, appears only as a mere onlooker (he is betrothed to Mary), he goes up to Jerusalem with her for the census, he is there with her when the shepherds come to see the newborn child, he goes with her to the temple for the presentation of the child, and with her he goes in search of Jesus during his escapade in the temple, but he does not say a single word or take any initiative on his own). In front of the child Jesus, it is the mother, Mary, who plays a major role.

However, when we move on to the core of the gospel, the so-called public ministry of Jesus, Mary disappears almost completely; it is as if we were dealing with two different authors. In his infancy narrative, he refers 17 times either to the mother of Jesus (5 times) or to Mary (12 times), the mother of Jesus, so that he could be called the evangelist of Mary. But with the ministry of Jesus, nothing, or almost nothing, is left. In fact, the only reference is to the scene of Jesus' family who want to see him (8:19-20), a scene taken from Mark 3:31-32. And it is surprising that he does not even take up the scene from Mark 6:3 where people mention that they know his mother, a scene with which he must have been familiar. What does this mean? We dare to propose two explanations.

  1. With the public ministry of Jesus, Luke's hands are tied by the basic framework proposed by Mark, and his most important source, whereas for his infancy narrative he can impose his vision, without constraint

  2. For Luke, it is less the fact of being a mother that is important than the fact of being a woman. In fact, we can say that Luke is the evangelist of women (occurrences with the word gynē : Mt = 29; Mk = 17; Lk = 41; Jn = 22; Acts = 19): it is clear that he is keen to feature a number of female figures, first Elizabeth (1:5) and Mary (1:42), as well as the prophetess Anna (2:36) in the infancy narratives, then this woman who pours a vase of perfume on her feet and whom Jesus says her sins are forgiven because she has loved much (7: 44), the woman who has been bent over for 18 years and of whom Jesus says that she too is a daughter of Abraham (13:12), and above all those whom he presents as disciples, having followed him from Galilee (8:2-3) and Martha and Mary to whom he says that she has chosen the better part, listening to the word, like the disciples (10:38).

What should we conclude? Yes, Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist, but it is as a woman of faith that he presents her to us, she who knew how to recognize the signs of the Spirit when Mary visited her: "And how is it given to me that the mother (mētēr) of my Lord should come to me? " (1:43) Apart from his infancy narrative, there is only one scene of his own (the others being a reworking of Mark or Document Q) where a mother is mentioned, that of the widow of Nain whose only son has died (7:12-15): the point of the story is not on the role of mother of this widow, but on the fact that it is about an only son, therefore the only person who can provide for her; it is a gesture of compassion of Jesus towards a widow.

Noun mētēr in the New Testament
eipen (she said) Eipen is the verb legō in the aorist active indicative tense, 3rd person singular. It means: to say. It is the most used verb in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 505; Mk = 290; Lk = 531; Jn = 480; Acts = 234; 1Jn = 5; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0, a total of 2,047 times. Luke, more than any other, uses it. One might be surprised at the number of occurrences. But this is due to the way the dialogue was presented in antiquity. Today, when we want to indicate that we are talking about the words of an interlocutor, we use quotation marks (e.g. "..."), or in a novel we use long lines (e.g. — ) followed by the content of the dialogue. But this punctuation did not exist in New Testament times (words were written without spaces to use as little leather as possible). So the simple way to tell the reader that what follows is the content of the dialogue is to write: saying. Some examples:
  • Lk 1: 24: "After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said (legō)"
  • Lk 2: 13: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying (legō)"
  • Lk 4: 8: "Jesus answered him saying (legō), 'It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

This is exactly the situation we have here in v. 60: And having answered, his mother said, "Absolutely not, his name will be John" (in fact the Greek text doesn't even have all this punctuation). Today, we would write: His mother answered, "No, his name will be John"; the "said" is redundant.

Verb legō in Luke/Acts
ouchi (no) Ouchi is an adverb of negation. It is similar to the adverb ou (no, do...not), except that it is a reinforced negation, hence our translation: absolutely not. It is sometimes found in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 9; Mk = 0; Lk = 18; Jn = 5; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Adverb ouchi in the Gospels-Acts
Iōannēs (John)
Iōannēs is a proper name, the Greek version of the Hebrew name yĕhôḥānān or yôḥānā, which means: Yahweh gives grace. We have made a long analysis of the figure of John the Baptist in our Glossary; reference will be made to it. Let it suffice for us to summarize the main points.

John was nicknamed the Baptist because of his introduction of the practice of baptism in living water for the forgiveness of sins through sincere repentance. Our word "baptize" comes from the Greek: baptizō, which means to plunge or dip in water, and it is this Greek word that the Septuagint used to translate the Hebrew: ṭābal. This practice of immersing someone in water to express repentance and receive forgiveness of sins is different from the ritual ablutions that were practiced at the time: water ablutions, for example before beginning his liturgical duties for the priest in the temple, only signified the passage from the profane world to the sacred world, and had no relation to the forgiveness of sins and had to be constantly repeated. The practice of baptism was revolutionary, because it did not include the role of the temple as the only place of forgiveness of sins through the various animal sacrifices.

Where did John get the idea of a baptism for the forgiveness of sins? It is possible that he was inspired by the story of Naaman, the leper, leader of the army of the king of Aram, who, at the request of the prophet Elisha, immersed himself seven times in the Jordan and saw his skin become clear like that of a little child (see 2 Kings 5:1-19). Moreover, it is possible that he was sensitive to the plight of the people, unable to observe the minutiae of all the rules of ritual purity, and thus unable to access the temple and its forgiveness of sins. What is clear is that he was able to reach out to everyone, clean and unclean, offering a universalist message. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus had nothing but good things to say about him and noted his popular success. According to Josephus, he was a victim of his success, because King Herod Antipas feared his influence on the crowd and had him imprisoned and killed (according to the synoptic gospels, Herod had him killed probably in the fall of 27 or early 28 because of his reproaches about his marriage to the wife of his brother Philip).

The early Christians took some time to understand his role, for the Baptist movement, initiated by John, continued in parallel with that of Jesus, sometimes with a sense of rivalry (see Jn 3:26; 4:1-3). It is unlikely that John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the Messiah: he sends disciples from prison to inquire whether Jesus is the Messiah (Lk 7:19; Mt 11:3), and especially John's later disciples are unaware that he told them about Jesus (see Apollos in Acts 18:25, and John's disciples in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-3).

Paul of Tarsus completely ignores John the Baptist. When Mark wrote his gospel around 67 CE, the climate seemed more serene, and above all the rereading of the Scriptures, in particular Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and especially Isaiah 40:3, made it possible to situate John the Baptist in God's plan: he was the precursor of the Messiah. According to the evangelist, he is the Elijah who was to precede the coming of the Messiah (he is dressed like Elijah, see Mark 1:6), and his person is so associated with Jesus that after his death he is believed to be alive again in Jesus (Mark 8:28).

Matthew, around the year 80 or 85, emphasizes the synchronization between the mission of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. He also introduces new material, Document Q, where both missions take place in an eschatological atmosphere. The peak of this synchronization is reached with Luke, at the same time, who paints a parallel picture of the birth of the Baptist and that of Jesus, and where Elizabeth calls Mary the mother of her Lord (Lk 1:43), and where Zechariah says of his son John that he will be "called a prophet of the Most High", because he will walk "before the Lord, to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76). With John around the year 90 or 95, in a great theological perspective John the Baptist is presented as the one who came "to bear witness to the light, so that all might believe through him" (Jn 1:7), and above all he made it clear to the people that he was the Messiah: "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Of him I said, 'Behind me comes a man who has gone before me, because before me he was'" (Jn 1:29). He now occupies an essential place in the Christian vision of history.

On the whole, we are left with the image of a man out of the ordinary, an innovator who introduced water baptism for the forgiveness of sins, through sincere repentance, thus bypassing the temple in Jerusalem as the only place for the forgiveness of sins, a man of integrity, uprightness and passion who aroused the enthusiasm of the crowds, a force of character who was not afraid to confront the authorities, a man who represented the best of Judaism, and of whom it was said: "I tell you, greater than John among the children of women there is none" (Lk 7:28 || Mt 11:11). Even though there is no historical evidence to suggest that John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fact remains, as the gospels recognized much later, that he was an essential link in the mission of Jesus. And he was able to do so because he lived the words that he offered to his disciples, who were embarrassed by Jesus' activity: "A man can attribute to himself nothing beyond what is given to him from heaven" (Jn 3:27); it is a way of living without a personal agenda, with complete openness to events and to the will of God. This is how he opened the way for the one who would transform humanity.

Noun Iōannēs in the New Testament
v. 61 They replied, "No one in the family has that name."

Literally: And they said to her, that no one (oudeis) is (estin) out of the relatives (syngeneias) of you who is called by that name.

oudeis (no one) Oudeis is an indefinite adjective, used here as a noun, and means: none, nobody. It is quite common in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 18; Mk = 25; Lk = 34; Jn = 49; Acts = 25; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. As can be seen, Luke uses it quite regularly: of the 34 occurrences in his gospel, 20 are unique to him (i.e. not from copying Mark or Document Q, or from a source he shares with John). The word applies either to people or to things. Some examples.

People

  • 4: 24: "And he said, "Truly I tell you, no (oudeis) prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown"
  • 5: 39: "And no one (oudeis) after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good.'"

Thing

  • 4: 2: "where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing (oudeis) at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished"
  • 5: 5: "Simon answered, 'Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing (oudeis). Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets'"

Here, in v. 61, oudeis obviously refers to a person, a person who could have been named John.

Adjective oudeis in Luke/Acts
estin (he is) Estin is the verb eimi in the present indicative tense, 3rd person singular. It is the verb "to be", a fundamental verb in all languages. In the Gospels-Acts, it is the most frequent verb after the verb "to say," with 1,596 occurrences: Mt = 279; Mk = 178; Lk = 351; Jn = 420; Ac = 267; 1Jn = 94; 2Jn = 5; 3Jn = 2.

In general, it expresses a state (I am sick) or the attribute of an object (the house is green). In English, it is also used as an auxiliary to the verb (for instance, I am going). But in Greek, the scope of its use is much wider.

  • Description of facts in Greek is often done using the "to be" verb while English uses "to have". Example Lc 1: 7: "But they had no children", but literally in Greek: "there were not children to them"
  • To express the state or the attitude of a person, the Greek will often use the verb "to be" accompanied by a present participle: (Lk 23: 51: "That one (Joseph of Arimathea) was not having consented to the design nor action of the others", a sentence which is translated in English with the verb "to have": "He had not consented to their plan and action"
  • To express possession, English uses the verb "to have", but Greek prefers to say "to be to someone": (Lk 7: 41) "two debtors were to a certain creditor" in Greek becomes "a certain creditor had two debtors" in English
  • There is also membership which is expressed in Greek with the verb "to be": (Lk 18: 16) "for to such as these (children) is the Kingdom of God", translated into English by: "to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs"

In short, the verb "to be" has a wide range of uses. Here, in v. 61, it is intended to express membership: "None is of your relatives who is called by this name", translated by NRSV as "None of your relatives has this name". The idea is that there is no member in the family who is called John, and so it is difficult to understand why he is called by that name. No doubt, for the evangelist, by underlining this point, he intends to insist on the unique vocation of the child.

Verb eimi in Luke/Acts
syngeneias (relatives) Syngeneias is the genitive singular of the feminine noun syngeneia. It‘s the noun associated with the syngenēs adjective that we analyzed earlier. It is very rare in the New Testament, and in fact occurs only in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. We have pointed out that, for the adjective syngenēs, the term is very flexible, being able to refer to an entire clan, as well as to specific family members. But in general it refers to the family in a very broad sense. In Acts 7:14, Luke refers with syngeneia to 75 people. So we can imagine a group of people who are related by blood in some way, or are related by marriage through in-laws.

Noun syngeneia in the New Testament
v. 62 Then they made signs to the father to know how he wanted to call him.

Literally: Then they making signs (eneneuon) to the father of him [concerning] what he might wish (theloi) to be called him

eneneuon (they making sings)
Eneneuon is the verb enneuō in the imperfect tense of the indicative, 3rd person plural. It is very rare in the whole Bible, being present only here, in this verse, and then in the book of Proverbs. It is formed from the preposition en (in, among), and the verb neuō which means: to nod; and so the verb intends to describe a situation where someone (or a group) is making signs, including the head, to make themselves understood.

Just considering the verb "neuō", the following examples leave us with a pretty clear picture of what it describes:

  • Jn 13: 24: "Simon Peter therefore nodded (neuō) to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking"
  • Ac 24: 10: "When the governor nodded (neuō) to him to speak, Paul replied: "I cheerfully make my defense, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation"

In the first example, we can imagine Simon Peter making a head movement as he looked at the beloved disciple, frowning, perhaps making a small hand gesture expressing the question, "Do you know who he is talking about?" In the second example, we imagine that the governor may have looked at Paul with an upward movement of his head to invite him to speak.

But there are various combinations of the verb neuō with different prepositions in Greek. First, there is the combination with the preposition kata (down, on) which gives us kataneuō : to beckon to others in an environment of authority. Unfortunately, we only have the following example in the entire Bible :

  • Lk 5: 7: "So they signaled (kataneuō) their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink."

It is difficult to imagine a simple movement of the head, without there being also a movement of the arm to indicate to the people of the other boat to come immediately.

Then there is the combination with the preposition epi (upon, according to, in accordance with) which gives us epineuō: to nod in consent. There is only one example in the New Testament:

  • Ac 18: 20: "When they asked him to stay longer, he did not consent (epineuō)"

Today, the head movement to express consent is from a top-down movement, while refusal is from right to left. Was it the same in the first century? It is possible.

There is also the combination with the preposition dia (because of, in view of, through) which gives us dianeuō : to make signs, to express by signs. There is only one example in the New Testament:

  • Lk 1: 22: "When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making sign (dianeuō) to them and remained unable to speak"

It is difficult to grasp what nuance Luke intends to bring to this scene with dianeuō, when he knows enneuō (Lk 1:62), neuō (Acts 24:10), and kataneuō (Lk 5:7). Elsewhere, in the Septuagint, we have only two examples of dianeuō (Ps 35:19 (LXX: Ps 34:19), and Si 27:22): in both of these cases it is a matter of making a sign with the eyes, i.e. winking. It is hard to see how Zechariah was communicating by winking.

One might examine the Hebrew term that the Septuagint translated with dianeuō in Ps 35:19 (LXX: Ps 34:19); it is qāraṣ (to pinch, to wink, to narrow, to nip, to squeeze): "who hate me for nothing, and wink (Heb. qāraṣ; gr: dianeuō) with their eyes." We understand the Hebrew to use qāraṣ in the sense of "squeezing" the eye, to describe the winking of the eye. But if one wants to go further into the study of qāraṣ, one is quickly disappointed: the Septuagint translators are not consistent, and qāraṣ was translated as enneuō in Prov 6:13 and 10:10, both of which involve winking, but it was translated as horizō (to delineate, determine, fix, mark) in Prov 16:30 (Heb. "who clenches (qāraṣ) his lips has committed evil"; Greek: "he marks out (horizō) with his lips all evil"). The only other occurrence of qāraṣ is in Job 33:6, which was translated this time as diarrēgnymi (to tear, break, pierce): Heb. "See, before God I am your equal, I was squeezed (qāraṣ) of clay, too!", Greek "You were ripped (diarrēgnymi) of clay just as I was; we were ripped (diarrēgnymi) of the same (substance).

In short, we are left to our own imagination to understand the meaning in Luke of dianeuō in this scene in Lk 1:22 where Zechariah, now mute, seeks to make himself understood: it is possible that the preposition "dia "seeks to render the idea that Zechariah seeks to make himself understood "through the medium of" different signs, thus through different body movements.

Finally, there is the combination with the preposition ek (from, coming out of) which gives us ekneuō : it is thus a sign of his departure, hence the usual translation of "to turn away surreptitiously, to disappear, to turn one's head away". There is only one occurrence in the New Testament :

  • Jn 5: 13: "Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away (ekneuō) in the crowd that was there"

It is time to return to enneuō after this journey of different variations around the same root. Only Luke and John are familiar with these variations. It is a matter of making signs, but signs that have various meanings: signs to approve, signs to command to approach, multiple signs to be understood, signs to ask for something. Here, in v. 62, it is the neighborhood that makes signs to ask Zechariah something. This detail of Luke's is surprising: Luke never told us that Zechariah was deaf, and so he could certainly be spoken to directly. In 1:20, he lends these words to the angel Gabriel: "And behold, you are to be silenced (siōpaō) and unable to speak (laleō)." The verb siōpaō appears only in the Gospel-Acts in the New Testament and simply means: to remain silent, and never to become deaf. To confirm this meaning, the angel adds: without being able to speak (laleō). So why this need for signs? It is therefore necessary to assume that for Luke being mute necessarily implied being deaf, and that at the time there was no example of someone simply being mute, while still hearing.

Verb enneuō in the Bible

Verb neuō in the Bible

Verb kataneuō in the Bible

Verb epineuō in the Bible

Verb dianeuō in the Bible

Verb ekneuō in the Bible
theloi (he might wish) Theloi is the verb thelō in the present optative tense, 3rd person singular. It usually means: to want. The optative is a Greek tense that expresses a wish, a desire, as in the expression: may peace come on earth. This is why the verb "to want" becomes "to wish". Luke's choice of the optative is very interesting. Let's look at the scene again, remembering that we are in a patriarchal world. Elizabeth has already firmly declared that her name will be John. Now the neighborhood turns to the father and one would expect the final authoritative decision to come from him. But no, instead they ask what he "wishes", as if to be inclusive and check if he supports his wife. This is not surprising from Luke, who can be considered "the evangelist of women".

Verb thelō in Luke/Acts
v. 63 After asking for a tablet, he wrote: his name is John. Everyone was surprised.

Literally: And having asked (aitēsas) a writing tablet (pinakidion), he wrote (egrapsen) saying, John is name of him. And they amazed (ethaumasan) all.

aitēsas (having asked) Aitēsas is the verb aiteō in the aorist participle tense, and means: to ask. It occurs quite a bit in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk = 11; Jn = 10; Acts = 10; 1Jn = 5; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is a verb that is part of Luke's vocabulary, since of the 11 occurrences in his gospel, 7 are his own (not a copy of Mark or Document Q); and it recurs a few times in Acts. There is little to report about this verb, except that of the 11 occurrences in Luke, 5 are in section 11:9-13 which speaks of prayer.

Verb aiteō in the Gospels-Acts
pinakidion (a writing tablet) Pinakidion is a neuter noun. It is the diminutive of pinax (board) and means: a writing tablet. It is a small wooden board bleached with lime on which one could write and easily erase what had been written; when the tablet became too black, it was rebleached with lime (The pinakidion is to be distinguished from the deltos, that writing tablet also made of wood, but covered with soot-blackened wax on which one wrote with a stylus). Hippocrates (460 to 377 BC), the ancestor of physicians, is said to have used it to make his observations (On Epidemics, 6.8.7), as did his medical students thereafter. So did Claudius Galen (129 to 216 CE), a physician who practiced medicine in Pergamum and Rome (on the reference to pinakidion in Hippocrates and Galen, see Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon). Luke is the only one to refer to it in the entire Bible. Some biblical scholars see this as an argument favoring the idea that Luke would have been a physician.

Noun pinakidion in the Bible
egrapsen (he wrote) Egrapsen is the aorist tense of the verb graphō which means: to write. If it appears regularly in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 10; Mk = 9; Lk = 20; Jn = 22; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 13; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 3) and throughout the New Testament, it is not because people write a lot, but because all of these authors regularly refer to Scripture, especially using the verb in the passive tense: it is written. In Luke, of the 32 occurrences in his gospel and Acts, 23 (72%) refer to Scripture.

In ancient times, the majority of people could not read or write, hence the existence of the scribal profession; we are in an oral tradition. According to John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew, v. 1, pp. 253-315), knowing how to read and write was rare and reserved for the intellectual elite. At the same time, Paul Johnson (A History of the Jews, p. 106), writes:

In their struggle against Greek education, pious Jews began, as early as the end of the second century BC, to develop a national system of education. To the old scribal schools were gradually added a network of local schools where, in theory at least, all Jewish boys learned Torah. This development was of great importance in the spread and consolidation of the synagogue, in the birth of Pharisaism as a movement rooted in popular education and, eventually, in the rise of the rabbinate.

In any case, in Luke's gospel one rarely encounters a scene where someone writes. Apart from this scene with Zechariah, there is in fact only one other scene, that of the parable of the clever manager.

  • 16: 6-7: "He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write (graphō) fifty.' Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and write (graphō) eighty.'"

In this scene, it's not about writing a piece of literature, but rather about numbers.

We have not mentioned the introduction to the Gospel of Luke.

  • 1: 3: "I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write (graphō) an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus"

It is obvious that the evangelist knew how to read and write, and the Greek of Luke is refined, reflecting a great education. The same can be assumed about his interlocutor, Theophilus, real or fictional (Theophilus means: friend of God).

It is in this context that we return to Zechariah whom Luke presents as writing: his name is John. Let us remember that Zechariah is a priest, and so accepting that he can read and write makes perfect sense. That said, since his entire infancy narrative cannot be confirmed historically and the fact that Luke does not seem to know Palestine well (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, v. 2, p. 857, n. 92, H. Conzelman, The Theology of St. Luke, and many other biblical scholars acknowledge that Mark and John know the geography of Palestine better than Luke), all of this does not allow us to use this scene to determine the degree of literacy in Palestine in the first century.

Verb graphō in the Gospels-Acts
ethaumasan (they were amazed) Ethaumasan is the verb thaumazō in the aorist tense, 3rd person plural. It is found here and there in the Gospels-Acts, but especially in Luke: Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 6; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; and of the 13 occurrences in his gospel, 9 are his own (i.e. not a copy of Mark or Document Q). Generally speaking, it means: to be astonished, to be amazed. But wonder can occur in three different contexts.

  1. Astonishment can be related to something unheard of that triggers admiration or wonder, such as unexpected good news. Sometimes thaumazō is translated as: to be full of awe. For example:
    • Lk 4: 22: "All spoke well of him and were amazed (thaumazō) at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"
    • Lk 7: 9: "When Jesus heard this he was amazed (thaumazō) at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith"

  2. Astonishment is related to something unusual and incomprehensible that leaves one perplexed; one is neither admiring nor shocked, one is simply puzzled. For example:
    • Lk 1: 21: "Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and was amazed (thaumazō) at his delay in the sanctuary"
    • Lk 20: 26: "And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed (thaumazō) by his answer, they became silent"

  3. Astonishment is related to an unpleasant surprise, to something unusual that shocks. It provokes a reaction where one says: "It's not true! It can't be true! How dare he?" One could translate this as: being greatly disappointed.
    • Lk 11: 38: "The Pharisee was amazed (thaumazō) to see that he did not first wash before dinner."
    • Mk 6: 6: "And he was amazed (thaumazō) at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching"

Here, in v. 63, the context is one of astonishment at a puzzling situation: the usual rule of giving the father's name to the firstborn is departed from. I don't think people are shocked, as if it were something offensive; it is rather that they don't understand.

Who is the subject of this astonishment? From v. 58b onwards, Luke constantly writes "they". We have to go back to v. 58a to know who it is: the neighbors and relatives. They are the ones who are amazed.

Verb thaumazō in the Gospels-Acts
v. 64 [Immediately] his mouth opened and his tongue [was loosened], and he began to recognize the loving care of God.

Literally: Then, was opened (aneōchthē) the mouth (stoma) of him immediately (parachrēma) and the tongue (glōssa) of him, and he was talking (elalei) blessing (eulogōn) the God (theon).

aneōchthē (it was opened) Aneōchthē is the verb anoigō in the passive aorist tense, 3rd person singular. It means: to open. But since the verb is in the passive tense here, it should be translated: was opened. When a verb is in the passive in the Gospels, it is often a way of translating the action of God. Indeed, who opened Zechariah's mouth? Elsewhere in Luke, we will have phrases like, "Opening (anoigō) his mouth... Philip told him" (Acts 8:35); "Opening (anoigō) his mouth, Peter said..." (10: 34). Thus, if it had been Zechariah who had decided to speak, Luke would have written, Zechariah opened his mouth and said. But it was God who made Zechariah mute by his angel (Lk 1:20), and it is God who now gives him back his speech.

The verb anoigō is infrequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 11; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 10; Acts = 16; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It describes a reality that can be both physical and symbolic.

On the physical level, it is about doors or tombs that open, mouths that start to speak, or chests that are opened. Examples:

  • Lk 11: 10: "For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (anoigō)"
  • Acts 16: 27: "When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open (anoigō), he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped"
  • Mt 27: 52: "The tombs also were opened (anoigō), and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised"

On a symbolic level, it refers to eyes or ears that are opened, a way of translating the transformation of a person, the entry into the world of faith. In the same way, to speak of heaven opening is to affirm that communication between the world of God and the world of men is restored. Examples :

  • Lk 3: 21: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened (anoigō)"
  • Jn 9: 17: "So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened (anoigō)." He said, "He is a prophet"
  • Acts 14: 27: "When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened (anoigō) a door of faith for the Gentiles"

Here the significance is both physical and symbolic. On the physical level, Zechariah, who was mute until now, can make sounds by opening his mouth. On the symbolic level, Zechariah is transformed: he is no longer the unbelieving person who was the source of his disability.

Verb anoigō in the Gospels-Acts
stoma (mouth) The neuter noun stoma denotes the mouth. It is infrequent in the Gospels-Acts and is concentrated in Matthew and Luke: Mt = 11; Mk = 0; Lk = 9; Jn = 1; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 2. In the New Testament, and in particular in the Gospels and Acts (32 out of 37 occurrences), the mouth refers primarily to the seat of the word: the word of God made itself known through the mouth of the prophets (Lk 1:70; Acts 3:18) or through the mouth of David (Acts 1:16; 4:25), or through the mouth of God himself (Mt 4:4); during his ministry, words of grace come out of the mouth of Jesus (4:22), and his enemies laying traps for him to catch some word from his mouth (Lk 11:54), and this is what happens when they cry out, "Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own mouth!" (Lk 22: 71); in turn, the first Christians open their mouths to proclaim the good news (Acts 8: 35; 10: 34; 15: 7; 22: 14). The mouth and the heart of the human being are so intimately linked that they define his status: "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles" (Mt 15: 18)

There are only four instances where the mouth refers to eating or drinking (e.g., "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Mt 15:17; see also Mt 15:11 and Acts 11:8); "A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth" (Jn 19:29))

Let us note a unique expression found in 2 Jn 1:22 (see also 3 Jn 1:14), to express the fact of speaking to each other orally: "Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you mouth to mouth, so that our joy may be complete"

Here, in v. 64, the mouth is presented as the source of the word: Zechariah begins to speak, and as we will see later, he will proclaim a word of God in his own way.

Noun stoma in the Gospels-Acts
parachrēma (immediately) Parachrēma is an adverb that means: immediately, right away, at once, on the spot. In the entire New Testament, it appears only in Luke, with the exception of two occurrences in Matthew in the scene of the withered fig tree (Mt 21:19-20): Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 10; Jn = 0; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is thus a thoroughly Lucan adverb, which he prefers to the adverb euthys (immediately) used extensively by Mark.

When Luke uses parachrēma, he intends to strongly link a statement with what has come before. Let's take a closer look.

  • (4: 38-39) When Simon Peter's mother-in-law stands up and serves the family in the house immediately after being healed of a high fever by Jesus, Luke intends to link the ability to serve tables to a healing that has its source in Jesus
  • (5: 17-26) When the paralytic stands up immediately after Jesus' word to take up his mat and go home, Luke intends to link his healing to the power of Jesus' word (Mark uses the adverb euthys)
  • (8: 40-48) When the woman with hemorrhages sees the flow of her blood stop immediately after touching the fringe of Jesus' garment, Luke intends to link her healing to the strength of the contact with Jesus (Mark uses the adverb euthys)
  • (8: 49-56) When Jairus' daughter, considered dead, stands up at once when Jesus says to her, "Child, wake up," Luke intends to link her resuscitation to the power of Jesus' word (Mark uses the adverb euthys)
  • (13: 10-17) When the stooped woman becomes upright immediately when Jesus lays hands on her, Luke intends to link her healing to Jesus' gesture
  • (18: 35-43) When the blind man in Jericho begins at once to see when Jesus says to him, "See; your faith has saved you," Luke intends to link his healing to Jesus' word (Mark uses the adverb euthys)
  • (22: 60) When the rooster crows as soon as Peter said he did not know Jesus, Luke intends to link Peter's denial to the announcement made by Jesus, with the crowing of the rooster as a sign (Mark uses the adverb euthys)

This is the case here in v. 64: Zechariah speaks again immediately after writing that the child's name is John. What does this mean? The fact that he writes that his name is John is a sign that Zechariah has finally come to believe in the word of the angel Gabriel. It was his lack of faith that had rendered him mute (see 1:20), and it is now through his faith that he regains speech. Thus, with the adverb parachrēma, Luke makes a firm connection between the faith expressed by the writing of John's name and the recovered ability to speak and proclaim the word.

Adverb parachrēma in the New Testament
glōssa (tongue)
Glōssa is a feminine noun that means: tongue. It is rare in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 6; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In the whole New Testament (Ph = 1; 1Co = 21; Rm = 2; Jc = 4; 1P = 1; Rev = 8), it always refers to the tongue as the organ of speech, with the exception of Lk 16:24 ("Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames") and Rev 16:10 ("then his kingdom became darkness, and one bit his tongue with pain").

Here, in Luke's sentence, there is something awkward, for Luke writes literally: for his mouth opened (anoigō) immediately and his tongue (glōssa), and he spoke (laleō) praising God. It is understood that a mouth opens, but a tongue does not (nowhere in the New Testament or in the Septuagint is there any mention of a tongue opening). On this point, Mark 7:35 writes more accurately about the healing of a deaf-mute: "And his ears were opened (anoigō) and immediately the bond of his language (glōssa) was untied (luō) and he spoke (laleō) correctly." Yet Luke is proficient in Greek and usually writes with consummate art. At least we would have expected a sentence like LXX Job 33:2: "See I opened (anoigō) my mouth and my tongue (glōssa) began to speak (laleō)"; the verb "to speak"(laleō) is present, but is part of the other member of the sentence. In any case, according to R. Brown, this is considered a zeugma, i.e. a figure of speech where the verb affects two words that are not on the same semantic level. In our translation, we have added the word "to loosen": his tongue [was loosened].

All this does not change the fact that it is the tongue that speaks and it is the tongue that can make a prayer of praise for God's action. This role of the tongue is a common theme throughout the Bible. For example:

  • Phil 2: 11: "And let every language (glōssa) proclaim, of Jesus Christ, that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"
  • Ps 34: 28: "And my language (glōssa) shall celebrate thy righteousness; it shall sing thy praises every day"
  • Wis 10: 21: "For Wisdom opened the mouths of the dumb and made the language (glōssa) of the little ones eloquent"

Zechariah's tongue was loosened to celebrate God's blessings.

Noun glossa in the Gospels-Acts
elalei (he was talking) Elalei is the verb laleō in the imperfect tense, 3rd person singular. It means: to talk, to gossip, to chatter. As one might imagine, it is a frequent word, and Luke uses it extensively: Mt = 26; Mk = 21; Lk = 31; Jn = 59; Acts = 58; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0. When we examine closely the use he makes of it, we can create three categories :

  1. To speak means to preach, to announce the good news, to proclaim the word of God, to reveal the action of God, to speak under the action of the Spirit (21 occurrences). For example:
    • Lk 9: 11: "When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke (laleō) to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured"
    • Lk 24: 25: "Then he said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken (laleō) about'"

  2. To speak has the ordinary meaning of discussing, sharing thoughts, making assertions, or making some kind of speech (5 occurrences). For example:
    • Lk 6: 45: "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (laleō)"
    • Lk 22: 60: "But Peter said, 'Man, I do not know what you are talking about!' At that moment, while he was still speaking (laleō), the cock crowed

  3. To speak does not refer to any content, but only intends to express a change of state: not to speak means a particular state, and to start speaking means a change of state (5 occurrences). For example:
    • Lk 7: 15: "The dead man sat up and began to speak (laleō), and Jesus gave him to his mother"
    • Lk 11: 14: "Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke (laleō), and the crowds were amazed"

Here, in v. 64, Zechariah's speaking only expresses a change of state: the first change of state had taken place in v. 20 ("behold, you will be unable to speak (laleō)"), and now a second change of state takes place ("he spoke (laleō)"); note that we have no indication of the content of what he was saying, other than that he was praising God. Thus, the verb "to speak" is not intended here to introduce any content, but to signify a change in Zechariah's state: he is now a believer.

Note that the verb is in the imperfect tense ("he was talking"): it is an action that has started, but not finished, and that will continue.

Verb laleō in the Gospels-Acts
eulogōn (blessing)
Eulogōn is the present participle of the verb eulogeō. The latter is formed from the adverb eu (well) and the verb legō (to say). It thus means Literally: to say good or say good things, hence the English verb "to praise." Now the Septuagint used this verb to translate the Hebrew bārak (to bless). So, one cannot understand eulogeō if one does not understand bārak.

The action of blessing in the Old Testament

To understand the verb to bless in the Old Testament, we will refer to the glossary. Let's summarize what it says there. Blessing is the exclusive prerogative of God by which he fills human beings with good things. Thus, from the very beginning, "God blessed them (bārak) and said, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth'"(Gen 1:22). A human being cannot bless another human being, except by delegation, except by praying that God blesses him; thus, when Isaac blesses his son Jacob, he says: "May God give you the dew of heaven and the fat land, wheat and wine in abundance! May the peoples serve you, may nations bow down to you! "(27: 29). The king himself is only a mediator, even though in the sentence he is the subject of the action of blessing: "Then the king (Solomon) turned around and blessed (bārak) the whole assembly of Israel, and the whole assembly of Israel stood" (1 Kings 8:14); it must be implied: in the name of God.

But there are also times when a person blesses God. For example, "Solomon said, 'Blessed (bārak) be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who has fulfilled with his hand what he promised with his mouth to my father David'" (1 Kings 8:15)? How can a human being bless God? In fact, such a sentence is always accompanied by a relative proposition "who" lists all the blessings granted by God. In other words, the sentence could be summarized as follows: This is how the man or the people were blessed. In this case, the word "blessed" is an acknowledgement of what God has done; it is part of a prayer of praise. But it cannot simply be translated by the verb "to praise", because it is more than a wish to say good words about God. It is a confession of faith in which someone acknowledges God's action, as seen for example in Psalm 135 which, after listing the wonders God has done for his people, ends with: "Blessed (bārak) be Yahweh from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem! " (Ps 135:21); it is a proclamation of faith.

The action of blessing in the Gospels

In the gospels, there is no scene like in the Old Testament where God speaks and blesses his creation; this type of anthropomorphism has been eliminated. But the idea remains that it is God and God alone who can bless. A typical example is found in the parable of the last judgment in Matthew: "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed (eulogeō) by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Mt 25:34); those whom God has blessed receive the inheritance of the kingdom.

There are two types of situations where we speak of "blessing". First, there is the situation where Jesus pronounces the blessing over the bread: "taking the five loaves and the two fish, looking up to heaven, he blessed (eulogeō), broke the loaves, and gave it to the disciples" (Mk 6:41 || Mt 14:19 || Lk 9:16); in Mark eulogeō has no direct object complement, and therefore cannot be translated: he blessed the loaves. Some have translated it as: he says the blessing, a reference to the eucharist. In fact, this is how John presents his version of the scene to us: "So Jesus took the loaves and, having given thanks (eucharistō), he distributed them"(Jn 6:11). In his second scene where Jesus feeds the crowd, Mark (as well as Luke who merges the two scenes into one) will say this time: he blesses them (the fish); but as we noted for "bless" in the Old Testament, this is a proclamation of faith that the loaves or fish are a gift from God. This vocabulary will be taken up by Mark and Matthew at Jesus' last meal with his disciples: "And while they were eating, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'Take, this is my body'" (Mk 14:22 || Mt 26:26). Luke preferred to use the verb "to give thanks"(eucharistō) for this scene, and kept the verb "to bless" for a meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples (Lk 24:50). Whether one speaks of "blessing" or "giving thanks," the idea is the same, the recognition in faith of the gift of God, the only one who can bless.

The other situation where "bless" appears is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where people say: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! "(Mk 11:9-10 || Mt 21:9 || Lk 19:38 || Jn 12:13). This is a citation from Psalm 118:26 (LXX 117:26: "Blessed (gr. eulogeō, Heb. bārak) be he who comes in the name of the Lord!"). The Document Q also gives us an echo of this scene: "Yes, I tell you, you will see me no more, until the day comes when you say, 'Blessed (eulogeō) be he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Mt 23:39 || Lk 11:35). This is a messianic interpretation of the psalm: the Messiah is blessed, i.e. he is a gift from God, and for the first Christian community, it is Jesus.

The action of blessing in Luke

Luke deserves a separate treatment. First of all, he is the one who uses this term the most: Mt = 5; Mk = 5; Lk = 13; Jn = 1; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But above all he offers us many other scenes than those of the other evangelists where "bless" is used. In particular, he is the only gospel writer to present us with people blessing God: in the infancy narrative, Simeon receives the infant Jesus in arms and blesses God (2:28), and his gospel ends with this phrase: "and they were continually in the temple blessing (eulogeō) God" (Lk 24: 53). As we saw earlier, this is not simply saying good words about God, but a proclamation of faith about what God is accomplishing, he the only one who can bless; we could paraphrase by saying: they were proclaiming their faith in how God has blessed us.

The other particularity of Luke is to present us with scenes where people are "blessed": Elizabeth blesses Mary and the fruit of her womb (1:42), Simeon blesses Joseph and Mary (2:28), Jesus asks us to bless those who curse us (6:28), Jesus blesses his disciples in Bethany (24:50-51), and finally, God has sent the risen Jesus to bless all those who turn away from their wickedness (Acts 3:26). What does it mean to bless a person? When Elizabeth blesses Mary and her child, she recognizes in faith that she has been blessed by God; when Simeon blesses Joseph and Mary, he recognizes the same for the whole couple; when Jesus asks to bless our enemies, he asks that we pray to God to do good to our enemies (the second part of the sentence reads: pray for those who defame you); when the risen Jesus blesses the disciples in Bethany, he recognizes that God will shower them with his blessings in their mission.

It is in this context that we need to place our verse 64 where Zechariah begins to speak, "blessing" God. It is a proclamation of faith in which Zechariah finally recognizes that God has intervened in his life. It is this faith that has enabled him to find his voice again, and it is this faith that will inspire his prayer of praise in v. 67.

Let's say a word about related words: the adjective eulogētos (blessed) and the noun eulogia (blessing). First, the adjective eulogētos appears only twice in the Gospels-Acts, and only six times in the rest of the New Testament. In Mark 14: 61, the word is used to refer to God in the Jewish world: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (eulogētos)"; for being the source of all blessing, God is the Blessed One. In Luke 1: 68, in Zechariah's prayer, it is the recognition of God's intervention in blessing his people by visiting them and bringing them salvation, and thus God is the Blessed One. As for eulogia (blessing), it is totally absent from the Gospels-Acts and appears only in the Epistles and Revelation.

Verb eulogeō in the Gospels-Acts

Adjective eulogētos in the New Testament

theon (God)
Theon is the masculine noun theos in the accusative. As one can easily imagine, it is extremely frequent in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Luke (289 occurrences when one combines his gospel and Acts): Mt = 51; Mk = 49; Lk = 122; Jn = 83; Acts = 167; 1Jn = 62; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 3.

It is the term theos that the translators of the Septuagint chose to translate the Hebrew term: ĕlōhîm (Gen 1:1: LXX "In the beginning God (Heb. ĕlōhîm, Greek theos) created heaven and earth"), which is a plural of majesty or fullness or excellence of the singular ʾēl (Gen. 14:18: LXX "And Melchizedek king of Salem offered bread and wine; for he was a priest of the God (Heb. ʾēl, Greek theos) Most High." This term ʾēl corresponds to the generic name for deity among the Semitic peoples neighboring Israel. One possible etymology would be the root ʾōl (to be powerful, to be preeminent) (see Jean-Pierre Prévost, ēl, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 125).

For the Jews, the word God is a generic term, but God also has a proper name, which is yhwh (translated into English as Yahweh) a word that comes from the verb hāyâ, which means: to be, to happen, to become (Gen 1:2: "Now the earth was (hāyâ) empty and vague"). According to Ex 3:14-15, it was to Moses at the burning bush that God is said to have revealed his name: "God (ĕlōhîm) said to Moses, "I am (hāyâ) the one who is (hāyâ)." And he said, "This is what you shall say to the Israelites: I am (hāyâ) has sent me to you. God (ĕlōhîm) said again to Moses, "Thus you shall speak to the Israelites: Yahweh (yhwh), the God (ĕlōhîm) of your fathers, the God (ĕlōhîm) of Abraham, the God (ĕlōhîm) of Isaac, and the God (ĕlōhîm) of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is how I will be called from generation to generation."

But since yhwh is an ineffable name and was forbidden to be pronounced, it was replaced by ʾādôn (Lord), or its emphatic form ʾădōnāy (Lord), in the verbal proclamation of the text of Scripture. The Septuagint, on the other hand, simply obliterated the first member of the phrase "Yahweh God," translating only the word God with theos; e.g., Gen 2:4 ("In the days when Yahweh (yhwh) God (ĕlōhîm) made the earth and the heaven" was translated: LXX "In the days when God (theos) made the earth and the sky." When the name Yahweh appears alone, it is simply replaced by theos (see, e.g., Gen 4:1) or by kyrios (Lord), the Greek equivalent of ʾădōnāy: for example, in Gen 4:13, the Hebrew "Then Cain said to Yahweh (yhwh)" becomes in Greek: "Cain said to the Lord (kyrios)."

This is the context for understanding God in the New Testament. In the Gospels-Acts, we will say either theos (God) or kyrios (Lord). As for the proper name Yahweh, it appears in the form of its definition in Ex 3:14-15, i.e., "I am (hāyâ)," which becomes in Greek: egō eimi (an expression used especially by John; on the subject see the glossary on the expression "I am").

Let us now focus on Luke. At the outset, let us say that he is the one who uses both the word theos and both the word kyrios the most. We can imagine that he has been extensively influenced by the Septuagint.

The word theos is so frequent that it appears in almost every possible context. I thought I would group them under a number of themes, presented by the number of occurrences in his gospel, in descending order.

  1. God, as the finality of human life (42 occurrences, 36 of which are unique to him). It is God presented from the point of view of man for whom he is the ultimate reference, the criterion of life, the object of worship: all of life unfolds "before God." For example:
    • 1: 6: "Both of them were righteous before God (theos), living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord"
    • 5: 25: "Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God (theos)"

  2. God, in the phrase "kingdom of God" (32 occurrences, 22 of which are unique to him). It does seem that this kingdom was at the heart of Jesus' preaching, and it is natural that this is reflected in the gospels. So in various ways, this notion of a world in the image of God is spelled out. For example:
    • 10: 9: "cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God (theos) has come near to you.'"
    • 13: 29: "Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God (theos)"

  3. God as a subject of action, in his capacity to act and support believers (21 occurrences, 16 of which are unique to him). The evangelist presents God to us as a being who acts in the world, accomplishes his project, sends people, intervenes in situations, expresses his feelings, cares about people, is responsible for the existence of the Scriptures, in short a major actor in our world. For example:
    • 1: 26: "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God (theos) to a town in Galilee called Nazareth"
    • 7: 30: "But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God (theos)'s purpose for themselves.)"

  4. God as a source of identity (15 occurrences, 8 of which are unique to him). It is part of Jesus' identity so that he is called "son of God" or "God's chosen one", but also that of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob for whom He is their God, or that of many people who will taste the resurrection and be called "sons of God". For example:
    • 1: 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 (theos)'"
    • 23: 35: "And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God (theos), his chosen one!'"

  5. God as the source and content of what is taught (6 occurrences, 5 of which are unique to him). Most of the time Luke refers to it as the "word of God", or the way of God. For example:
    • 3: 2: "during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God (theos) came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness"
    • 8: 21: "But he said to them, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God (theos) and do it'"

  6. God as a person to whom objects, beings or realities are associated (4 occurrences, 3 of which are unique to him). Thus, we speak of "God's house", or of "God's angels" or "God's Church". For example:
    • 6: 4: "He entered the house of God (theos) and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?"
    • 12: 8: "And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God (theos)"

  7. God in his attributes (2 occurrences). Sometimes the gospel presents us with an attribute of God, without linking it to any event: his goodness or his power. For example:
    • 18: 19: "Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God (theos) alone'"
    • 22: 69: "But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God (theos)"

We can conclude that God is omnipresent in Luke's universe, and this is reflected in his gospel which begins in the temple (1:9) and ends in the temple (24:53). And in the seven categories we have identified for understanding the role God plays in Luke, it is the one of God as the end of human life that comes up most often. And this is exactly the role that God plays in v. 64: he is the object of Zechariah's faith and prayer, and he recognizes in him the source of all blessings.

Noun theos in the Gospels-Acts
v. 65 All the people in the neighborhood fell into a state of trembling, and in all the mountainous region of Judea were discussed these events.

Literally: And it happened upon all a fear (phobos) those dwelling around (perioikountas) them, and in the whole (holē) hill country (oreinē) of Judea (Ioudaias) were being talked about (dielaleito) all those words (rhēmata).

phobos (fear) Phobos is a masculine noun that is usually translated as "fear" or "dread"; it is this Greek word that has given us the English word: phobia and phobic. It is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts, but Luke uses it the most: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 3; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

When we carefully analyze the occurrences of phobos in the Gospels-Acts, we see that the translation "fear "or "dread" does not really capture what is happening and the feelings experienced. Also, we propose to group these occurrences into four categories.

  1. Phobos as shuddering or upset at an unusual event (11 occurrences, 9 in Luke). This unusual event is usually caused directly or indirectly by an action that is attributed to God. It is not fear, but an upset at something unfamiliar. Mark has only one scene (the stilling of the storm, 4:41) where people are upset by Jesus' action, as is Matthew (the women at the empty tomb, 28:8), but Luke multiplies them, whether through the action of angels (1:12; 2:9), Jesus' action (5:26; 7:16), the action of the apostles (2:43), or God's direct action (5:5,11). For example:
    • Lk 1: 12: "When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear (phobos) overwhelmed him"
    • Lk 7: 16: "Fear (phobos) seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has risen among us!'" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"

  2. Phobos as a feeling of fear and terror in the face of a threatening reality (4 occurrences, including 2 in Luke). It is real fear that makes us cry out. For example:
    • Mt 14: 26: "But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out in fear (phobos)"
    • Lk 21: 26: "People will faint from fear (phobos) and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken"

  3. Phobos as fear in the face of a potential negative situation and which prevents one from acting as one pleases (6 occurrences, only in John). The danger is not immediate. But one fears that a situation will deteriorate or that someone will intervene against one. For example:
    • Jean 7: 13: "Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear (phobos) of the Jews"
    • 1 Jean 4: 18: "There is no fear (phobos) in love, but perfect love casts out fear (phobos); for fear (phobos) has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love"

  4. Phobos as synonymous with respect, as the reverential fear of God that brings obedience to his word (1 occurrence). Thus, it is not about fear at all, but about heeding God and his word. It is especially with the verb phobeō (to fear) that this feeling will be expressed. Note that this feeling is very present in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa 11:3: "The spirit of fear (LXX: phobos, Heb.: yirʾâ) of the Lord will fill him (a scion of the stock of Jesse). He will not judge according to glory; he will not condemn according to common rumor"; and especially in such authors as Sirach, 1: 11-12.18.27, etc.).
    • Ac 9: 31: "Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear (phobos) of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers"

One cannot simply analyze the noun phobos without also analyzing the related verb phobeō (to fear, to be afraid), which is much more frequent. Again, Luke dominates its use: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 23; Jn = 5; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. As we did with phobos, we can group the various occurrences of phobeō into the same four categories (the various occurrences and their categories can be viewed via the link in the right margin).

Let us note that Luke uses a well-known expression from the Old Testament: do not be afraid, i.e. stop trembling. Indeed, when God makes his presence felt, man is upset, which we have put in the first category, and man must be reassured. For example:

  • Gn 15: 1: LXX "After these things, Abram in a vision heard the word of God saying to him, Do not be afraid (Greek Mē phobou, Heb. ʾal-tyrāʾ), Abram, I cover you with my protection; your reward will be great."
  • Gn 21: 17: LXX "And God heard the voice of the child from the place where he was; and an angel of God called Hagar from heaven, and said unto her, Hagar, what is the matter? Do not be afraid (Greek mē phobou, Heb. ʾal-tyreʾî); for God has heard the voice of the child from the place where he is."

Thus Luke presents us with similar scenes. For example:

  • 1: 13: "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid (phobeō), Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John'"
  • 2: 10: "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid (phobeō); for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people'"

Finally, the verb phobeō in Luke is used to refer to a category of people called: God-fearing. These are non-Jews, seduced by the monotheism of Judaism, adopting certain practices, such as the Sabbath, dietary prescriptions, tribute to the temple and annual pilgrimages, without going as far as circumcision. As we have already mentioned the word fear refers to the respect given to God and his precepts, which we have placed in the fourth category. For example:

  • Ac 10: 22: "They answered, 'Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing (phobeō) man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say'"
  • Ac 13: 16: "So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: 'You Israelites, and others who fear (phobeō) God, listen'"

In Luke, in general, the upheaval coming from God's intervention and the presence of pious people full of the fear of God is very present, especially in the infancy narratives.

Here, in v. 65, by mentioning that the people around experience a "shuddering" (phobos), Luke means that they not only experience a surprise about the name given to the child, especially the same name given by both parents before being able to communicate together, but recognize an intervention of God in the couple of Zacharias and Elizabeth.

Noun phobos in the New Testament

Verb phobeō in the New Testament

Noun phobētron in the Bible

Adverb aphobōs in the Bible

perioikountas (those dwelling around) Perioikountas is the present participle of the verb perioikeō. The latter is formed from the preposition peri (around) and the verb oikeō (to dwell), hence the translation: to dwell around, i.e. the neighbors. This is the only reference to this verb in the entire Greek Bible.

Luke suggests that the whole town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived was aware of the event and shared the same feelings.

Verb perioikeō in the Bible
holē (whole) Holē is the feminine dative singular of the adjective holos (whole, total, all). It is a fairly general word found regularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 22; Mk = 18; Lk = 17; Jn = 6; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In Luke, this reference to totality applies to different realities.

It is first applied to a geographical territory to designate the whole of a territory. In particular, he is the only evangelist to speak of "all Judea". For example:

  • Lk 7: 17: "This word about him spread throughout Judea and all (holos) the surrounding country"
  • Acts 9: 31: "Meanwhile the church of the whole (holos) Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers"

It also applies to the human being to designate the entirety of his being. For example:

  • Lk 10: 27: "He answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all (holos) your heart, and with all (holos) your soul, and with all (holos) your strength, and with all (holos) your mind; and your neighbor as yourself'"
  • Lk 11: 34: "Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole (holos) body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness"

It is also applied to a group of people to refer to the entire group. For example:

  • Acts 2: 47: "praising God and having the goodwill of all (holos) the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved"
  • Acts 15: 22: "Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole (holos) church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers"

Occasionally, it can be applied to a period of time to refer to the entirety of that period. For example:

  • Lk 5: 5: "Simon answered, 'Master, we have worked all (holos) night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets'"
  • Acts 28: 30: "He lived there two whole (holos) years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him"

Finally, it can designate material objects to designate their entirety.

  • Lk 8: 43: "Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all (holos) she had on physicians, no one could cure her"
  • Lk 13: 21: "It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all (holos) of it was leavened"

Here, in v. 65, holos refers to an entire territory, that of Judea. One might suspect a form of puffery typical of a popular narrative in suggesting that the entire population of Judea was aware of the event.

Adjective holos in Luke/Acts
oreinē (hill country) Oreinē is the adjective oreinos in the feminine dative and means: mountainous. It is used here as a noun and is usually translated as: hill country. The word is very rare in the entire New Testament and appears only in Luke's infancy narrative, here and in 1:39. And it is always associated with Judea.

In fact, one can refer to the topographic map of Palestine (link in the right margin) to see that Judea is indeed a mountainous region. For example, Jerusalem is 2,475 feet above sea level, Bethlehem 2,545 feet, Hebron 3,050 feet.

Tradition, which cannot be confirmed historically, places Elizabeth and Zechariah's residence in the village of Ein Karem, five miles from Jerusalem; this was a place reserved for the priests and Levites, allowing them to stay close to the temple and to travel for their six-monthly rounds. Today, two churches recall the events of which Luke speaks, the church of the Visitation and that of St. John the Baptist.

Adjective oreinos in the New Testament

To check that Judea is a mountainous region, see the map of Palestine

Ioudaias (Judea) Ioudaias is the noun Ioudaia in the genitive feminine singular and means: Judea. It is not very common in the New Testament and appears only in the Gospels-Acts, except for four occurrences in Paul: Mt = 8; Mk = 4; Lk = 10; Jn = 7; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. At the time of Jesus, it designates the region that constitutes the southern part of Palestine, and distinguishes it from Samaria in the center and Galilee in the north. This is the definition used by all the evangelists and Paul, with the exception of Luke, where the term sometimes refers to the entire territory of the Jews, i.e. Palestine (a usage probably widespread in the Roman world) and sometimes to this region of southern Palestine.

Southern region of Palestine

  • Lk 2: 4: "Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea (Ioudaia), to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David."
  • Lk 3: 1: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (Ioudaia), and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene"

All of Palestine

  • Lk 6: 17: "He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea (Ioudaia), Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon"
  • Acts 2: 9: "Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea (Ioudaia) and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia

Here, very clearly, Ioudaia refers to this southern part of Palestine, a mountainous region.

Noun Ioudaia in the Gospels-Acts
dielaleito (they were being talked about) Dielaleito is the verb dialaleō in the imperfect passive indicative tense, 3rd person plural. It is formed from the preposition dia (by means of, with) and the verb laleō (to speak), and thus means: to speak with, to discuss, to deliberate. It is very rare and appears only twice in the whole Greek Bible, and both times in Luke, here and in 6:11; in the first case it is a discussion to deepen the mystery of unusual events where we see an intervention of God, in the second case it is a discussion to get rid of Jesus.

Here, we note Luke's insistence on the community dimension of the reflection: we discuss with others. The verb is in the imperfect tense, because it is a reflection which is ongoing, which is not finished. The verb is in the passive tense, because the subject concerns events that are out of the ordinary and raise questions.

Verb dialaleō in the Bible
rhēmata (words) Rhēmata is the noun rhēma in the neuter plural nominative. It refers to the content of a spoken word or statement, and since this content can be about events, it can refer to the things that happened, or more generally, the subject that was spoken about. It is therefore translated in various ways according to the context: word, saying, statement, event, subject, matter. Let us give some examples from Luke.

  • The word refers to the detail of what was said: "For any word (rhēma) from God is not impossible." (1: 37), or "But they did not understand the word (rhēma) he said to them" (2: 50)

  • The word refers to the events spoken of: "the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this event (rhēma) that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us'" (2: 15), or "Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these events (rhēma) in her heart" (2:51)

  • The word refers to the subject spoken of: "And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by his words (rhēma); and being amazed by his answer, they became silent" (20:26), or "As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these matters (rhēma) again the next sabbath" (Acts 13:42).

This word appears a few times in the whole of the New Testament, and in the gospel-Acts it is especially Luke and John who use it: Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 19; Jn = 12; Acts = 14; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is completely Lucan, since of the 19 occurrences in his gospel, 17 are his own, i.e. only two occurrences are a copy of Mark.

Here, what does rhēma refer to? The above refers to the fact that Zechariah suddenly began to speak, whereas he had been mute until now. But there is also the fact of the child's name, John, which is very particular in not being a borrowing from the father's, and therefore a sign of a unique destiny. We must also add that the father and mother, without consulting each other, chose the same name for their child, a sign of God's hand, just as we must add the birth of a mother who was no longer of childbearing age, another sign of God's intervention. All of this is food for thought.

Noun rhēma in the Gospels-Acts
v. 66 All who learned this thing remembered it and wondered, "What will become of this child? The action of God supported him

Literally: And they placed (ethento) all those having heard in the heart (kardia) of them saying, "What there this child will be? And hand (cheir) of Lord was with him.

ethento (they placed) Ethento is the verb tithēmi in the middle aorist tense, 3rd person plural. Apart from Matthew, it is quite frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 5; Mk = 11; Lk = 15; Jn = 18; Acts = 23; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Basically, it means: to put. But as in English, "to put" can take on various meanings depending on the context: to place, to lay down, to set. Let's look at some examples in Luke.

Usually, it is about putting or placing an object somewhere, in the local sense.

  • Lk 5: 18: "Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay (tithēmi) him before Jesus;"
  • Lk 8: 16: "No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts (tithēmi) it under a bed, but puts (tithēmi) it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light"

But sometimes we put or place a person in a category or function.

  • Lk 12: 46: "the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put (tithēmi) him with the unfaithful"
  • Acts 13: 47: "For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set (tithēmi) you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

It also happens that intangible realities, such as words, feelings or ideas, are placed somewhere.

  • Lk 21: 14: "So make (tithēmi) up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance"
  • Acts 19: 21: "Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul put (tithēmi) in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, "After I have gone there, I must also see Rome"

Sometimes it's about establishing, putting down or setting something for a specific purpose.

  • Lk 6: 48: "That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid (tithēmi) the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built"
  • Acts 27: 12: "Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting (tithēmi) to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest"

Finally, let's mention the case where you put your money in the bank, or make a deposit there.

  • Lk 19: 21: "for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit (tithēmi), and reap what you did not sow"

Here, in v. 66, we are talking about putting in our heart what we have heard, and thus placing in ourselves intangible realities. It means to keep them in memory in order to try to grasp the unique identity of John the Baptist.

Verb tithēmi in the Gospels-Acts
kardia (heart) Kardia is the feminine dative singular of the noun kardia (heart). As one might imagine, it is a fairly frequent word throughout the New Testament, and especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 16; Mk = 11; Lk = 22; Jn = 7; Acts = 20; 1Jn = 4; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. But in this last case, the word never refers to the organ of the biological body. Except for the case of Mt 12:40 where it refers to the internal part of a thing ("the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights"), it always refers to that intimate part of the human being inhabited by emotions, feelings and desires, where the seat of knowledge, reflection, decisions, and the source of his actions is located. Let's take a closer look at what Luke tells us about it.

Human beings in their emotions, feelings and desires. For example:

  • Lk 24: 32: "They said to each other, 'Were not our hearts (kardia) burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?'"
  • Acts 2: 26: "therefore my heart (kardia) was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope"

The human being as a being of the word, first, in his ability to hear that word and memorize it, in order to reflect on it later. For example:

  • Lk 2: 51: "Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart (kardia)"
  • Lk 21: 14: "So put in your hearts (kardia) not to prepare your defense in advance"

The human being as a being of speech, and capable of asking questions, reflecting and understanding, in short, of thinking. For example:

  • Lk 3: 15: "As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts (kardia) concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah"
  • Lk 9: 47: "But Jesus, aware of what was discussed in their hearts (kardia), took a little child and put it by his side"

The human being in his moral aspect, which sometimes opens himself, sometimes closes himself in the face of what he sees and hears, and thus expresses a certain attitude and orientation to life. For examples:

  • Lk 8: 15: "But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart (kardia), and bear fruit with patient endurance"
  • Acts 8: 21: "You have no part or share in this, for your heart (kardia) is not right before God"

The human being in his moral aspect where his interests and values are expressed, where his decisions are made which are the source of his free action. For example:

  • Lk 21: 34: "Be on guard so that your hearts (kardia) are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly"
  • Acts 7: 23: "When he was forty years old, it came into his heart (kardia) to visit his relatives, the Israelites"

Here, in v. 66, the heart refers to the intimate part of all those who have heard what has been said about the events surrounding Elizabeth and Zechariah and where questioning and reflection take place. For Luke, the heart plays an important role because it is the place where God can intervene: through unusual events, he leads people to question, to reflect, and eventually to open up to faith. And it is there that the risen Jesus makes his presence felt: "Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way, as he explained the Scriptures to us?" (Lk 24:32). And it is the heart that distinguishes human beings before God: "So he said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God'" (Lk 16:15).

Noun kardia in the Gospels-Acts
cheir (hand) Cheir is the feminine nominative singular of the noun cheir (hand). Of course, it is very common in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 24; Mk = 26; Lk = 26; Jn = 15; Acts = 45; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Its meaning seems obvious in designating the hand, but as we see in the Old Testament, this hand is sometimes physical, i.e. it performs a concrete and practical action, sometimes symbolic, i.e. it appears in a context where its symbolic meaning prevails. Indeed, the hand is what allows a person to act, to make things or to make signs, and from there it can take on a meaning that goes beyond the simple concrete gesture and translates the idea of power or control. Let us examine how Luke uses this word. Let us note that in his gospel and Acts, out of the 71 occurrences of the word, almost 70% of them appear in a context where the hand takes on a symbolic meaning.

Let us begin with the physical hand. It "holds the shovel" (Lk 1:71) or the plough (Lk 9:52); it enables the disciples to crush the ears of corn (Lk 6:1); a man's right hand, which was crippled, is healed by Jesus (Lk 6:8, 10); a father puts a ring on his son's hand (Lk 15:22); the marks on his hands and feet identify Jesus after the resurrection (Lk 24:39-40); Peter heals or rise someone by taking their hand (Acts 3:7; 9:41); the Jews made a golden calf with their hands or the Ephesians made idols (Acts 7:71; 19:26); an angel removes the chains from the hands when Peter is in prison, and the Agabus binds his hands to transmit a message (Acts 12: 7; 21: 11); it is by the hand that the tribune takes the son of Paul's sister to bring him aside and listen to him (Acts 23: 19); It was by the hand of the apostles and elders that the letter to the Church was written after the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:23); and it was by the hand of Paul that a viper was hooked (Acts 28:3-4).

But it is in its symbolic function that Luke uses this word the most.

  • The hand expresses strength, control and action, and therefore offers a clear symbol to translate the intervention in the events
    • Thus it is by his hand that God intervenes in history (Lk 1:66; Acts 4:28; Acts 7:25; 11:21; 13:11) or that he made creation (Acts 7:50); he can intervene through the hand of an angel (Acts 7:35)
    • In the same way, it was through the hands of the apostles (Acts 5:12) and of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:3) that many signs and wonders were performed among the people; it was through the hands of Paul and Barnabas that help was sent to the Church in Judea (Acts 11:30)
    • It is from the hand of the enemies that we pray to God to deliver us (Lk 1: 71.74), just as Peter was snatched from the hands of Herod (Acts 12: 11)
    • It is into the hands of men (Lk 9: 44), of Judas (Lk 22: 21), of sinners (Lk 24: 27), of the ungodly (Acts 2: 23) that Jesus is given over, it is into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21: 11) and the Romans (Acts 28: 17) that Paul was given over
    • It is into the hands of his father that Jesus commends his spirit (Lk 23: 46)
    • Finally, God does not need to be served by human hands (Acts 17:25)

  • In a similar way, the expression "to lay hands on" or "to put hands on" that Luke regularly uses translates the idea of seizing him, of putting him under arrest (Lk 20:19; 21:12; 22:53; 9:44; Acts 3:7; Acts 5:18; 12:1; 21:17)

  • In another sense, the fact of putting or laying hands on someone is meant to signify the transmission of a power, either the Holy Spirit or a healing power (Lk 4:40; 5:13; 13:13; Acts 4:30; 6:6; 8:17,18,19; 9:12,17; 13:3; 19:6; 28:8)

  • By lifting up the hands, on set himself in a position of prayer (Lk 24: 50)

In short, Luke makes extensive use of the symbolic function of the hand, and in his gospel, of the 14 occurrences in a symbolic context, 12 are his own (not a copy of Mark). This is the case here in v. 66: the use of the expression "the hand of the Lord" takes up what is regularly found in the Old Testament (e.g. Ezekiel 8:1: "In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, I was sitting at home, and the elders of Judah were sitting before me; there the hand of the Lord Yahweh came down on me") to express God's intervention in history; this time, God manifests his action through John the Baptist

Noun cheir in Luke/Acts
v. 80 The child grew and his intelligence strengthened while he lived in the desert until he became known in Israel.

Literally: Then, the child was growing up (ēuxanen) and he was strengthening (ekrataiouto) in spirit (pneumati), and he was in the desert places (erēmois heōs) until day of showing forth (anadeixeōs) of him to Israel (Israēl).

ēuxanen (he was growing up) Ēuxanen is the verb auxanō in the imperfect active indicative tense and means: to grow, to increase. It is quite rare in the New Testament as a whole (23 occurrences), and especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. If we wanted to be more precise, we would have to mention that the two occurrences in Matthew are a copy of Mark and Document Q, as are two of the four occurrences in the Gospel of Luke; thus we end up with two occurrences in the Gospel of Luke that are from his pen, one occurrence in John, and four in Acts. We might also mention the verb synauxanō, formed from the preposition syn (with) and the verb auxanō, and which thus means: to grow with, to grow together; but it appears only once in the whole Bible, in Mt 13:30 ("Let both grow together (synauxanō) until the harvest; and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'Gather the chaff first and bind it in bundles to be burned; as for the wheat, gather it into my barn'"). In short, auxanō is an infrequent verb, and is present primarily in Luke.

The verb to grow in the Gospels-Acts appears in four different contexts.

  1. First, there is the physical growth, for example of a plant, or of a child. This context exists only in the synoptic gospels.
    • Lk 13: 19: "It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew (auxanō) and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches"
    • Lk 2: 40: "The child grew (auxanō) and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him"

  2. Then there is the quantitative growth in numbers of people. This context is exclusively that of the Acts of the Apostles where the growth of the word of God refers to the number of people who join the community.
    • Acts 6: 7: "The word of God continued to grow (auxanō); the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith"
    • Acts 12: 24: "But the word of God continued to grow (auxanō) and gain adherents"

  3. There is also spiritual growth. This is a context found only in the so-called Pauline epistles and those of Peter.
    • 2 Cor 10: 15: "We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases (auxanō), our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged"
    • 2 Pet 3: 18: "But grow (auxanō) in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."

  4. Finally, there is the unique case of John's gospel where the role of both John the Baptist and Jesus is paralleled: John the Baptist's role was to introduce Jesus; with this role completed, Jesus can begin his mission, while John the Baptist can retire.
    • Jn 3: 30: "He must increase (auxanō), but I must decrease."

In v. 80, it is primarily about the physical growth of the child John the Baptist, but this growth also allows his psychological, intellectual and spiritual growth. Throughout his gospel, Luke likes to underline the journeys of life, such as going into the depth of the cross meaning with the disciples who are on the road with Jesus from 9:51 to the arrival in Jerusalem ("And it happened, as the time was fulfilled when he was to be taken up, that he set out resolutely on the road to Jerusalem"), or like the disciples of Emmaus who experience the risen Jesus as they travel along the road (24:13: "two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaüs"). To speak of a journey is to speak of growth. And here, the verb is in the imperfect tense, and thus conveys the idea of ongoing growth.

Verb auxanō in the New Testament
ekrataiouto (he was strengthening) Ekrataiouto is the imperfect middle indicative tense of krataioō which means: to become strong. Here the verb is in the middle voice, and thus becomes a reflexive verb, hence the English translation: he was strengthening (himself). In the whole New Testament, we find only four occurrences of this word, two in the so-called Pauline epistles, and two in the Gospel according to Luke.

What is strengthened, what becomes stronger? In the so-called Pauline epistles, it is the faith of the believer (1 Cor 16:13: "Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong"), and this is only possible by allowing the Holy Spirit to act in us (Eph 3:16: "he may grant that you may become strong in your inner being with power through his Spirit"). But here, with the child John the Baptist, we are on another level: it is the spirit of John the Baptist that is strengthened. So let us turn to the meaning of the word "spirit" in this context.

Verb krataioō in the New Testament
pneumati (spirit)
Pneumati is the dative of the neuter noun pneuma and is usually translated as: spirit. For a presentation of pneuma, one can consult the Glossary. Let's summarize the main points. The word is derived from the verb pneō which means: to blow, to exhale a smell, to breathe. In classical Greek authors, the neuter noun pneuma refers first to the breath of the wind, then to breathing, breath or the smell of perfume. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, pneuma translates the Hebrew word rûaḥ which refers to
  1. sometimes the puff of the wind,
  2. sometimes the human being who is alive by his breathing,
  3. and sometimes God in his power of action.

In the latter case, if we rely on the book of Wisdom, human beings are able to grasp God's intentions, because they have received from him this immaterial and dynamic reality: "And your breath (pneuma) incorruptible is in all beings" (12: 1).

In the Gospels-Acts-epistles of John, it is a frequent word, especially in Luke: Mt = 19; Mk = 23; Lk = 36; Acts = 24; Ac = 70; 1Jn = 12 (more than 240 occurrences in the entire New Testament). When we go through the Gospels-Acts, the word pneuma is used to designate three different realities.

  1. It most often refers to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God. For example:
    • Lk 4: 1: "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit (pneuma), returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit (pneuma) in the wilderness"
    • Acts 10: 44: "While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit (pneuma) fell upon all who heard the word"

  2. Sometimes it designates a spiritual force, external to the person; more often it is an evil force, called: unclean spirit. For example:
    • Lk 4: 33: "In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit (pneuma) of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice"
    • Acts 19: 16: "Then the man with the evil spirit (pneuma) leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded"

  3. Finally, it can designate the human being who lives thanks to this breath of life, and this breath of life allows him to feel emotions, to think and to act. For example:
    • Lk 23: 46: "Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (pneuma)." Having said this, he breathed his last"
    • Acts 19: 21: "Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit (pneuma) to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, "After I have gone there, I must also see Rome."

Here, in v. 80, pneuma refers to this latter category of human being endowed with a breath of life: it is this pneuma of the child John the Baptist that becomes stronger. But how can a breath of life become stronger? In fact, the pneuma of the human being refers to the whole human being as a being who is sentient, who thinks and acts. When we go through the Gospel-Acts, we notice that this aspect of the pneuma is often synonymous with "heart" (kardia). Thus, everything we have said about the heart sometimes applies to pneuma in human beings.

We have said that the heart refers to the human being in his emotions, feelings and desires. The same can sometimes be said of pneuma when it refers to the human being. Let us compare these two references:

HeartSpirit
Ac 2: 26: "therefore my heart (kardia) was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope"Lk 1: 47: "and my spirit (pneuma) rejoices in God my Savior"

We have said that the heart refers to the human being as a being of speech, and capable of asking questions, reflecting and understanding, in short, of thinking. The same can sometimes be said of pneuma when it refers to the human being. Let us compare these two references:

HeartSpirit
Lk 9: 47: "But Jesus, aware of what was discussed in their hearts (kardia), took a little child and put it by his side"Mk 2: 8: "And immediately, perceiving by his spirit (pneuma) that they were thinking thus in themselves, Jesus said to them, "Why are such thoughts in your hearts?"

We have said that the heart refers to the human being in its moral aspect, which sometimes opens, sometimes closes in the face of what it sees and hears, and thus expresses a certain attitude and orientation to life. The same can sometimes be said of pneuma when it refers to the human being. Let us compare these two references:

HeartSpirit
Lk 8: 15: "But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart (kardia), and bear fruit with patient endurance"Mt 5: 3: "Blessed are those who have a heart (pneuma) of the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"

We have said that the heart refers to the human being in his moral aspect where his interests and values are expressed, where his decisions are made which are the source of his free action. The same can sometimes be said of pneuma when it refers to the human being. Let us compare these two references:

HeartSpirit
Ac 7: 23: "When he was forty years old, it came into his heart (kardia) to visit his relatives, the Israelites"Ac 19: 21: "Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the spirit (pneuma) to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, "After I have gone there, I must also see Rome."

While the two terms often appear synonymous, are they equivalent or identical? Not quite.

Let us first consider this word in Mark 14:38: "Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation: the spirit (pneuma) is fiery, but the flesh is weak." In other words, the human being in his moral aspect can have the most beautiful values and the best intentions in the world, it happens that he is unable to act according to these values and intentions. But never do we have similar considerations when speaking of the heart and contrasting heart and mind; the heart is the concrete and existential human being, sometimes with a honest and good heart (Lk 8: 15), sometimes with a proud heart (Lk 1: 51), sometimes with a pure heart (Mt 5: 8), sometimes with a hardened heart (Mk 6: 52) or a heart that is not upright (Acts 8: 21). The spirit, on the other hand, is that breath received from God by the human being and which allows him to resemble him; we are at the level of the definition of the human being, not at the existential level.

And above all, when one dies, one gives back one's spirit (Lk 23: 46 || Mt 27: 50), and when Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus, the evangelist writes: "Her spirit returned, and she got up at once" (Lk 8: 55). We never hand over our hearts when we die.

In short, within the range of meanings of the heart and mind, some elements overlap, others diverge.

Let us return to v. 80 and the expression: his spirit was strengthening. This means that the breath received from God that allows him to be like him by having feelings, by being able to open up to the word and to reality, to understand and to think, to make decisions and to act, all this was developing. And this development went in parallel with the physical development.

Noun pneuma in Luke/Acts
erēmois (desert places) Erēmois is the feminine plural dative of the adjective erēmos: desert, empty, desolate, barren, vacant. Here it is used in a nominal form, implying: (place) deserted, uninhabited. It is found regularly in the Gospels-Acts, often in scenes referring to John the Baptist or Jesus or to the Jewish people's stay in the desert: Mt = 8; Mk = 9; Lk = 10; Jn = 5; Acts = 9; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.

One should not imagine a sandy place like the Sahara. It is rather an uninhabited, isolated, wild place. Moreover, the word is in the plural and must therefore be translated: desert places or regions, i.e. isolated, uninhabited places. Now, if we rely on Isaiah, the Jordan region contained isolated places: "And the deserts (erēmos) of the Jordan shall flourish, and they shall rejoice: the glory of Lebanon has been given them, and the honors of Carmel; and my people shall see the glory of the Lord and the greatness of God" (35:2).

Why does Luke insist that John the Baptist's youth takes place in a remote place? One can imagine that it is for the same reason that he wrote the infancy narrative: to prefigure through the child all that the adult will be. In fact, John the Baptist will lead an ascetic life, according to the way of the Nazirs (Lk 1:15). And above all, his mission will take place far from the cities and villages; it is the people who will come to listen to him in the desert regions not far from the Jordan.

Adjective erēmos in the New Testament
anadeixeōs (showing forth) Anadeixeōs is the feminine noun anadeixis in the genitive singular. It is formed from the preposition ana (describes a downward movement) and the verb deiknymi (to show), and thus means to show something by bringing it out of its hiding place into the open, hence the usual translation: showing forth or manifestation; one could also translate: revelation. This is the only occurrence in the entire New Testament, and the only other occurrence in the Greek Bible is in Sirach 46:3 where the moon is spoken of as an indicator of the times.

One cannot analyze the noun anadeixis without including the verb anadeiknymi. This verb means above all "to show clearly" or "to appoint", in the sense of making explicit, or identifying or indicating something or someone: thus Jesus "appoints" 72 disciples to send on a mission (Lk 10:1), and the apostles pray that God will "show clearly" to them who will take Judas's place in order to reconstitute the group of Twelve (Acts 1:24). This verb appears only in Luke.

Thus anadeixis conveys both the idea of revelation of a person who was not known, and at the same time the idea of assignment to a mission; in Luke, it is obviously God who appoints John the Baptist to a specific mission. Thus, when Luke writes that John the Baptist was in the desert regions until the days of his showing forth to Israel, he implies not only that at some point John the Baptist made himself known, but that this point was also an assignment by God to a mission.

Noun anadeixis in the Bible

Verb anadeiknymi in the Bible

Verb deiknymi in the Gospels-Acts

Israēl (Israel) Israēl is a proper name for the political-religious entity of the territory of the Jews, which includes Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. It is composed of the Hebrew noun el "purpose, domain, ruler," hence "god," and the verb from the root either ssr (to shine, enlighten, save, rule) or srh (to fight, struggle). The name Israēl was first attributed to Jacob, using a popular etymology: "He (the stranger against whom Jacob had wrestled all night) said again, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have been strong against God and against men and have prevailed.'"

The word recurs regularly in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 12; Mk = 2; Lk = 12; Jn = 4; Acts = 15; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Septuagint of the twelve occurrences in Luke appear in his infancy narrative. This is indicative of the evangelist's intention: the birth of John the Baptist is an expression of God's intervention on behalf of Israel (1:68: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and delivered his people") and his mission is aimed solely at Israel (1:16: "and he will bring back many sons of Israel to the Lord their God"); the birth of Jesus is a response to Israel's expectation of a Messiah (2:25: "Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel"), and thus is seen as a merciful action of God for Israel (1:54: "He came to the aid of Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy") and his mission targets Israel first and foremost (2:34: "this child is to bring about the downfall and uplift of many in Israel"). Of course, Jesus' action has an impact that goes beyond Israel (2:32: "light to enlighten the nations and glory to your people Israel"). But this impact is long term and will only be presented in the Acts of the Apostles.

What is that? Luke's plan is clear. John the Baptist and Jesus belong to the hope of a Messiah for all Israel. But while Jesus' action will be the foundation for a later opening to the world, John the Baptist's action is presented only as oriented towards Israel and the preparation of Jesus' mission. For Luke, John the Baptist represents the best of the Old Testament and the pivot to the New Testament.

Noun Israēl in the Gospels-Acts
  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    The proposed structure of the narrative is based on the division made by the liturgy, which begins after Mary's visit to Elizabeth and ends just before Zechariah's prayer of praise, to which a summary on the growth of John the Baptist serves as a conclusion.

    1. Setting : v. 57-58
      • Elizabeth gives birth to a son at the end of her pregnancy, v. 57
      • neighbors and relatives rejoice in God's action v. 58

    2. Circumcision of the child : v. 59-66
      • Framework: plan to circumcise the child on the 8th day and give him the name Zechariah v. 59
      • Action 1, Elizabeth's intervention: he will instead be called John v. 60
      • Reactions: it's unusual to do this v. 61
      • Action 2, appeal to Zechariah's decision:
        • They speak to him by sign v. 62
        • Zechariah writes the name John on a tablet v. 63a
        • Reaction: amazement v. 63b
      • Action 3, healing of Zechariah: he begins to speak in praise of God v. 64
      • Various reactions
        • Shivers before God's intervention v. 65
        • Question about the child's identity v. 66

    3. Conclusion : v. 80
      • The child develops physically and mentally
      • He comes to stay in the uninhabited places where his mission will take place

    The general structure is quite simple. The setting defines the event, the birth of John the Baptist, as well as the characters: Elizabeth, parents and neighbors. This setting is followed by the core of the action: the circumcision of the child. The story concludes with a look at the child's future: his physical and mental development, and his move to the place of his mission.

    Let us consider the core of the action which has its own structure. It begins with the establishment of the framework of the action: to give the name of the father to the child as is the custom. The first action is the intervention of Elizabeth to oppose the custom and propose John as the name. This first action is followed by a reaction of surprise at something unusual. The second action takes place around Zechariah's decision to support Elizabeth's proposal, followed by the astonishment of those around him. The third action is the healing of Zechariah who begins to speak. The whole thing ends with a general reaction of great amazement at something unusual, a sign of God's intervention, which leads to the question of the child's identity.

    As we can see, the core of the action is around the name of the child who does not follow the norm, and the role of the audience is to underline its unusual character, a sign of the action of God. This action of God reaches its peak with the healing of Zechariah, when he supports Elizabeth's proposal, and thus makes a gesture of faith by accepting God's plan.

    The liturgy, by adding v. 80 as a conclusion, suggests that the answer to the question about the identity of the child is coming soon.

  2. Context Analysis

    Let us proceed in two steps, first by considering a possible outline of the whole of the gospel and of Acts, and by observing where our passage (indicated in red and in bold type) fits into this outline, then by considering the immediate context of our story, i.e. what precedes and what follows.

    1. General Context

      There is no agreement on a plan for the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. We propose one, if we exclude the infancy narrative, which follows the geography of the scenes and is probably not far from Luke's intention. The infancy narrative, on the other hand, represents a kind of conclusion of the Old Testament: all the main characters are pious Jews, the best of the Old Testament, and their prayers are made up of Old Testament material, especially the psalms. For Luke, the Old Testament is part of the larger salvation story, and his infancy narrative creates a kind of pivot through which one can move into the New Testament. In this framework, the mission of Jesus appears as the middle of the story that follows the Old Testament, and will be followed by the time of the Church.

      VersesDescriptionContentGeography
      Old Testament
      1: 1 – 2: 39Contribution of the Old Testament and infancy narratives
      • Luke's intention (1: 1-4)
      • Annunciation to Zechariah (1: 5-25)
      • Annunciation to Mary (1: 26-38)
      • Mary's visit to Elizabeth and prayer of praise (1: 39-56)
      • Birth of John the Baptist (1: 57-58)
      • Circumcision of John the Baptist (1: 59-66)
      • Zechariah's Prayer of Praise (1: 67-79)
      • Summary on John the Baptist (1: 80)
      • Birth of Jesus and visit of the shepherds (2: 1-20)
      • Circumcision of Jesus (2: 21)
      • Presentation of Jesus in the temple: prophecies of Simeon and Anna (2: 22-39)
      • Summary on Jesus as a child (2: 40)
      • Jesus in the midst of the temple teachers (2: 41-52)
      Judea (Jerusalem) and Galilee (Nazareth)
      The middle of time: the Jesus event
      3: 1 – 4: 13Prelude to the mission
      • The baptism of Jesus (3: 21-22)
      • The genealogy of Jesus (3: 23-30)
      • The temptations of Jesus (4: 1-13)
      Galilee
      4: 14 – 9: 50The initial mission
      • Jesus' initial preaching (4: 16-30)
      • Jesus in Capernaüm: preaching and healings (4: 31-44)
      • Miraculous fishing and the calling of the first disciples (5: 1-11)
      • Healings: a leper, a paralyzed man (5: 12-26)
      • Calling Levi and the sinners (5: 27-32)
      • Debates: fasting, the old and the new, the Sabbath (5: 33 – 6: 11)
      • Selection of the twelve apostles (6: 12-16)
      • Sermon in the plain (6: 17-49)
      • Healings: centurion's slave, young man from Nain (7: 1-17)
      • Questioning of John the Baptist and discussions about him (7: 18-35)
      • Jesus and the sinner (7: 36-50)
      • The women who accompany Jesus (8: 1-3).
      • Predication in parables: the seed (8: 4-18)
      • Speech about the true family of Jesus (8: 19-31)
      • Miraculous interventions of Jesus: storm stilling, a woman, daughter of Jairus (8: 32-56)
      • Sending the Twelve on a mission (9: 1-6).
      • Herod and Jesus (9: 7-9)
      • Jesus feeds a crowd (9: 10-17)
      • Peter's confession and first announcement of the passion (9: 18-22)
      • Following Jesus and the cross (9: 23-27).
      • Transfiguration (9: 28-36)
      • Healing of a possessed man (9: 37-43)
      • Second announcement of the passion (9: 44-45)
      • Questions of the disciples to Jesus: the greatest, the other exorcists (9: 46-50)
      9: 51 – 19: 28The journey to Jerusalem
      • Sending disciples to Samaria (9: 51-56)
      • Demands of discipleship (9: 57-62)
      • Sending the 72 disciples (10: 1-20)
      • The revelation to the infants (10: 21-24)
      • Love of God and neighbor (10: 25-37)
      • Marthe and Mary: priority of the word (10: 38-42)
      • Teaching on prayer (11: 1-13)
      • Debate on the exorcisms of Jesus (11: 14-23)
      • Miscellaneous teachings: risks of relapse, true happiness, on discerning signs, on the Pharisees, on riches, on vigilance and discerning signs, on conversion and calling for results (11: 24 – 13: 9)
      • Healing of a woman on the Sabbath (13: 10-17)
      • Teachings about the kingdom and Jerusalem (13: 18-35)
      • Healing of a hydropic man on the Sabbath (14: 1-6)
      • Teachings on humility, on preference for the poor, on renunciation, on welcoming sinners, on managing money, on marriage, on the afterlife, on scandal, on forgiveness, on service (14: 7 – 17: 10)
      • The healing of the ten lepers (17: 11-19)
      • The coming of the kingdom and the son of man (17: 20-37)
      • Teaching in parables: on prayer and on the attitude to be justified before God (18: 1-14)
      • Teaching on the attitude required to enter the kingdom (18: 15-30)
      • Third announcement of the passion (18: 31-34)
      • Healing of a blind man in Jericho (18: 35-43)
      • The conversion of Zacchaeus (19: 1-9)
      • The parable of the pounds on the need to make fruitful what has been received (19: 10-28)
      On the way to Jerusalem
      19: 29 – 24: 53 The activity in Jerusalem, the passion and the Easter day
      • The entry into Jerusalem (19: 29-44)
      • Jesus in the temple: cleansing and teaching (19: 45-48)
      • Debate with Jews: his authority, their rejection of God, question of tax to Caesar, resurrection, Messiah as son of David (20: 1-47)
      • Teaching about the poor widow who gave everything (21: 1-4)
      • Teaching about the end times (21: 5-38)
      • Jesus' last meal (22: 1-38).
      • Jesus' prayer at the Mount of Olives (22: 39-46).
      • Arrest of Jesus (22: 47-65)
      • Jewish trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (22: 66-71)
      • Trial before Pilate and Herod (23: 1-25).
      • Crucifixion and death of Jesus (23: 26-56)
      • The scene of the empty tomb (24: 1-12)
      • The disciples of Emmaus (24: 13-35)
      • Meeting of the eleven with the risen Jesus (24: 36-53)
      Jerusalem
      The time of the Church (Acts of the Apostles)
      1: 1 – 5: 42The Jerusalem community
      • Introduction: Jesus makes ready his disciples
      • Selection of Matthias
      • Pentecost
      • Activities of Peter and John
      • The pooling of assets
      • Arrest of the apostles and speech of Peter
      Jerusalem
      6: 1 – 15: 35Towards an Open Church
      • Missionary activity of the Hellenists
      • Peter's missionary activity
      • Missionary activity of the Church of Antioch: first mission of Paul
      • The Council of Jerusalem and the decision on non-Jews
      Outside Jerusalem
      15: 36 – 28: 31Paul's mission up to Rome
      • Paul's second mission
      • Paul's third mission
      • Paul is taken prisoner in Jerusalem
      • Paul is taken to Rome to be tried
      Out of Palestine to the ends of the earth

      Our passage belongs to the infancy narrative, thus to that section which bears the imprint of the Old Testament, and many scenes follow its template.

      • It begins in the temple with the obligations of the priests
      • The event of the birth of John the Baptist from a barren woman recalls in its own way the births of Isaac (Gen 11:30), Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21), Joseph and Benjamin (Gen 29:31), Samson (Judg 13:2-3), and Samuel (1 Sam 1:5).
      • Zechariah and Elizabeth are old like Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18:11).
      • The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist takes up the one found in Gen 17:19 (God announces to Abraham that his barren wife, Sarah, will give birth to a son and he will have to call him Isaac), Judg 13:3-5 (the angel announces to the barren wife of Manoah that she will give birth to a son, Samson), Isa 7:14 (Yahweh announces that a young woman will give birth to a son, called Emmanuel)
      • The angel Gabriel is the one found in Dan 8:16-17; 9:21-27
      • The content of the angel's words to Mary bears the imprint of Isa 7:14 ("Behold, the young woman is with child, and shall bring forth a son, and shall call his name Immanuel"), 2 Sam 7:16 ("Thy house and thy kingdom shall stand before me forever, and thy throne shall be established for ever.
      • Mary's prayer of thanksgiving is woven with references to the Psalms, including: 35:9 ("And my soul will exult in Yahweh, rejoice in his salvation"), 18:28 ("you who save the people of the humble, and bring down the haughty eyes"), 113:7 ("From the dust he raises the weak, from the dunghill he raises the poor") 107:9 ("He satisfied the greedy soul, the hungry soul, he filled it with good things") 98:3 ("remembering his love and faithfulness for the house of Israel. All the far corners of the earth have seen the salvation of our God")
      • Zechariah's prayer of praise is also woven with references to the Old Testament, beginning with the traditional formula of blessing (see Gen 14:20) and referring to God's visitation (Gen 21:1), using the vocabulary of several Psalms, e.g., 18:3 ("Yahweh is my rock and my fortress, my deliverer, he is my God. I will take refuge in him, my rock", 132:17 ("There I will raise up a lineage for David, I will prepare a lamp for my messiah"), 106:10 ("saved them from the hand of the enemy, redeemed them from the hand of the adversary"), 105:8 ("He remembers his covenant for ever, a word spoken for a thousand generations").

      Luke's intention is clear: the Jesus event must be understood in the light of the Old Testament, it is a response to God's promise of a Messiah from the line of King David.

    2. Immediate Context

      As we can see, our pericope follows the two announcements of the birth of a son, and the meeting of the two mothers which ends with the prayer of thanksgiving of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Right away we sense Luke's intention to create a parallel between the two births, while insisting on the superiority of Jesus' birth: Elizabeth will focus on Mary's baby, and Mary's Magnificat announces the great work that God is doing through her. With this clarification, Luke can calmly recount the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, to show that he is part of God's overall plan. After that, everything will focus on the birth of Jesus.

  3. Parallels

    There is no real parallel with any other gospel for this passage. Only Matthew also gives us an infancy narrative, this time centered on Joseph, and his narrative is really different from Luke's. On the other hand, Luke himself offers us a parallel account of the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. We will therefore first consider the parallel he draws between the two men in the whole infancy narrative, before looking in detail at our pericope.

    1. The John the Baptist/Jesus parallel in the whole infancy narrative

      John the BaptistJesus
      1: 5-25Annunciation to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel1: 26-28Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel
      1: 41-45Elizabeth proclaims her blessing and beatitude over Mary1: 46-56Mary proclaims her gratitude
      1: 57-58Birth of Jean-Baptiste and visit of the neighbors2: 1-20Birth of Jesus and visit of the shepherds
      1: 59-63Circumcision on the eighth day2: 21-28Circumcision on the eighth day and presentation in the temple
      1: 64-79Prophecy of Zechariah2: 29-38Prophecies of Simeon and Anna
      1: 80Hidden life of John the Baptist2: 39-52Hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth and anticipation of his service of the word at the age of twelve

      A number of observations are in order.

      • Luke clearly wanted to draw a parallel picture of Jesus and John the Baptist
      • The two mothers are presented as women of faith: Elizabeth recognizes in Mary the mother of her Lord, and Mary welcomes the word of the angel
      • The two tables follow a similar structure:
        1. Annunciation of the birth of a child by the angel Gabriel when it seems impossible, and decision of their name by God
        2. Canticle of praise from the two mothers
        3. Mention of the birth of two boys and visit of the people around
        4. Mention of the circumcision of the two boys on the 8th day
        5. Prophecy about the future of these two boys
        6. A summary of the childhood of the two boys
      • The two "miraculous" births are presented as the work of God
      • Both births are presented as a source of joy for all
      • Both births are an opportunity to praise God for visiting his people
      • Both stories are full of excerpts from the Old Testament

      Thus, by bringing Jesus and John the Baptist together through the parallel of their birth, Luke happens to show the greatness of John the Baptist: he too is part of God's plan. Let's not forget that for the Christian community, John the Baptist has long been a troublesome figure (see the glossary on John the Baptist), and Luke is doing a work of reconciliation: John the Baptist is a part of God's plan.

    2. Parallel John the Baptist and Jesus in relation to our pericope

      In the following table, we have underlined the identical words in the narrative about John the Baptist and Jesus. For the sake of comparison, we have opted for a literal translation of the Greek text.

      John the BaptistJesus
      1: 57 Then for Elizabeth the time was fulfilled for her to give birth and she gave birth to a son.2: 6 Then it happened that while they were there, the days to give birth were fulfilled for her (Mary).
       2: 7 And she bore her son, the firstborn, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the lodging...
      1: 58 And the people around and her parents heard that the Lord had made his mercy great for her and they were joyful with her.2: 10 And the angel said to them (the shepherds), "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all the people...
      1: 59 And it came to pass on the eighth day that they went to have the child circumcised and called him by the name of his father Zechariah.2: 21 And when eight days were filled to circumcise him, and his name was called Jesus of which he had been called by the angel before being conceived in the womb.
      1: 60 And having answered his mother said: "No, but he will be called John. 
      1: 61 And they said to him, "No one of your relatives is called by that name. 
      1: 63 And having asked for a tablet, he wrote, saying: John is his name. And all were astonished. 
      1: 64 Then, his mouth opened immediately as well as his tongue, and he spoke blessing God. 
      1: 65 And a fear came upon all the people around, and in the whole mountainous region of Judea all these things were discussed. 
      1: 66 And all those who heard them said in their hearts, "What will this child be? "For the hand of the Lord was with him. 
       2: 22 And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
      (Canticle of Zechariah)2: 23 as it was written in [the] law of the Lord: every male opening [the] womb shall be called holy
      (follows the episode with Simeon and Anna).
      1: 80 Then the child grew and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the desert regions until the days of his manifestation to Israel.2: 40 Then the child grew and was strengthened and filled with wisdom, and God's favor was upon him.
       (After the episode of Jesus at age 12 with the temple theologians)
      2: 52 And Jesus continued to grow in wisdom and stature and favor with [God] and with [men].

      What can be said by identifying what is the same and what is different?

      • First of all, we find the vocabulary that Luke likes to use, such as the expression "when was fulfilled", here in reference to time and days.
      • Both events concern the birth of a son, which is privileged in a patriarchal society
      • Both events bring great joy, a major theme in Luke's Gospel
      • Luke refers to God as "Lord", as he does regularly in his gospel
      • The name of each child plays a major role, because it already indicates what will be his vocation
      • In the same way, both children grow physically and become stronger as well morally
      • On the other hand, the differences are notable:
        • John the Baptist will be born at home, Jesus will be born in transit in a manger of animals
        • John the Baptist is surrounded by relatives and neighbors, Jesus is surrounded by poor shepherds
        • The circumcision and the name of the child take up all the space in the account of John the Baptist, because Zechariah did not believe in the word of the angel at first, while the circumcision of Jesus and the mention of his name go almost unnoticed, Mary having believed in the word of the angel from the beginning
        • A good part of the story of Jesus' birth takes place in the temple: Simeon and Anne, representatives of Jewish tradition, suggest that he is the promised Messiah, and Jesus will meet with the teachers of the temple to discuss with them, a sign announcing his mission around the word of God
        • John the Baptist is strengthened in the spirit in a general way as a prophet, Jesus is strengthened by his wisdom, which will allow him to be the man of the word that he was
      • In short, the similarities show that both men are part of God's plan of salvation, their differences anticipate their mission, John will be the man of the uninhabited places, Jesus will be the man of the word, and above all they show the superiority of Jesus.

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    We are around the year 80 or 85 of the Christian era. This means that we are about 50 years after the events surrounding Jesus' ministry and death, and more than 80 after his birth. Luke, who is the author of this third gospel according to tradition, a man of Greek culture and a collaborator of Paul (see Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 1:24), has before him a set of elements of the tradition, a version of the gospel according to Mark, and a version of the source Q that Matthew also knows, and he has his own experience of the Church, having worked with Paul. He decides to offer his own version of the Jesus event. His vision of things is universalist and grandiose, because it covers all peoples and all times. In this vision, he sees the history of the Jewish people presented in the Old Testament as a time of preparation for what was to follow with Jesus, who is the center of human history, the savior of mankind, and this historical center is followed by the time of the Church, which is called to reach mankind to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. This vision is reflected in his two works, his gospel, which begins with the infancy narrative, a complement to Mark's gospel, which does not have one, and which allows him to anchor the Jesus event in the hope of the Old Testament, and his Acts of the Apostles, which allows him to narrate the power of propagation of the word of salvation through the history of the Church.

    It is not known what materials he used to compose his infancy narrative, except the canticles that he seems to have borrowed from the early Jewish Christian communities. Much of his infancy narratives are influenced by the Old Testament. It is possible that there are some historical details here and there, but it is impossible to confirm. On the other hand, the pattern he envisions is clear enough: since Jesus came out of the Baptist movement of John, and it was this that revealed his mission and made him known to the people, and since Mark presented John as the forerunner of Jesus, he composes a parallel picture of the birth of the two men. This allows him both to emphasize Jewish traditions and his great hope in a Messiah, and at the same time to rehabilitate John the Baptist (one should refer to the glossary on John the Baptist to understand the full context) and to show that he is an essential part of God’s plan.

    Around the birth of John the Baptist, Luke presents two figures, Zechariah (God remembers), an elderly priest who took his turn in the temple, and his wife Elizabeth (My God is fullness), a childless and elderly woman. These two figures are presented as pious and exemplary Jews. And Luke adds that Elizabeth was a relative of Mary (i.e., an aunt or close cousin). Are these details historical? Impossible to verify. Luke's interest is catechetical: Zechariah becomes the figure of the man who is slow to believe and who rallies late, Elizabeth is the figure of the woman who is quick to believe and quickly rallies to God's plan (Luke likes to emphasize the woman at the expense of the man, especially on the level of faith: see his sentence in 24: 11 ("but these words (of the women about the risen Jesus) seemed to them to be drivel, and they did not believe them")).

    Luke addresses Greek readers, represented by Theophilus at the beginning of his gospel (1:3). Since the Greek world regularly saw figures in authority presenting themselves as the savior of the people, Luke borrows this language to speak of a God who comes to visit humanity to offer his salvation, a salvation made up of benefits, transformation and immense joy. It is in this context that we must read his presentation of the birth of John the Baptist. To do this, he uses the familiar Old Testament pattern of the birth of Isaac to an elderly and barren mother. To the main characters of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he adds relatives and neighbors, the figure of the Jewish people: the birth of the Baptist concerns all Jews, and they therefore share the joy of the parents.

    In the account of the birth of John the Baptist, Luke emphasizes the event of circumcision and the moment when the child received his name, a revelation of his identity and his future. The entourage, which already calls the child with the name of the father, represent the propagators of the tradition. But it is in the mouth of a woman that Luke first puts the transmission of God’s plan through a name that will not be that of the father. It is useless to try to find out how Elizabeth knew that this was the name proposed by the angel Gabriel; we must stick to the words of Luke, which present Elizabeth proposing the very name desired by God. The very fact that it is a name different from normal expectations is a sign of God's irruption in history.

    To accentuate the drama around the child's name, Luke creates a little scenario around Zechariah. This scenario begins with the invitation of the entourage for the father to say his word. Here, two things are surprising. First, Zechariah is not asked to make a decision as the head of the family, but is only asked what he wants; perhaps Luke was a feminist before his time in mitigating the father's authority. Secondly, it is strange that Zechariah is spoken to by sign, for Luke simply says that he is mute, not deaf; perhaps one must imagine that in his milieu a mute was also deaf. This drama reaches its climax with the writing of John's name: it is the sign that Zechariah has become a believer, for he has just recognized God's blessings and has rallied to his plan. By having Zechariah regain the use of speech, Luke emphasizes not only the action of God, but the fact that by becoming a believer, Zechariah is able to proclaim the word of God.

    The next two verses are about the reaction of those around. Two verses are a lot. Why is this so? Let's not forget that Luke is addressing his readers, he is addressing us, and he wants us to identify with those around, to become aware that what is happening is not usual, to open ourselves to the possibility that we are before a benevolent action of God, and that the child John the Baptist is not an ordinary person, and that we are therefore prepared to listen to him.

    The liturgy has added Luke's summary of the childhood of John the Baptist who grows physically and morally like every human being, but already positions himself for his mission in an uninhabited environment, withdrawn in some way from society, to better proclaim his message of change.

    Thus, for Luke, God's visit to our humanity, however benevolent it may be, does not take place without clashing with some of our habits of life and our expectations, symbolized here by the name of the child. And to believe is to accept being overcome, as Elizabeth did spontaneously, as Zechariah did more painfully.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      • The birth of a child is the first symbol that jumps out. It is a new being who enters the human adventure, it is the joy of the parents to have given life. Even if this birth is a human decision, are we not faced with a mystery that is beyond us? Shouldn't we take some distance in order to be, not owner of this mystery, but at the service of this mystery?

      • In our story, the birth is a source of joy not only for the parents, but for everyone around them. Is it not a characteristic of our humanity to share our joy with others? Of course, for parents who desire a child, but without success, it can be a difficult moment. But can we not grow up being able to rejoice of the joy of others?

      • The choice of the child's name is an important moment. Today, we try to be original, to underline the uniqueness of our child. But beyond the child's name, we carry the desire that he or she will continue us, that he or she will carry our values, that he or she will be another us, even if we proclaim that we want him or her to be himself or herself. What is the challenge of transmitting our values and at the same time respecting our child's choices?

      • John does not bear the name of his father Zacharias. This is a strong symbol of a break with family expectations. We all have the experience of such a break. How do we live it? And above all, what can guide us to live these moments well?

      • The people around Elizabeth and Zechariah fall into a state of trembling before unusual things: it is a bit scary. Our life is marked out by unusual things. There are several possible reactions: between the denial of what is happening and the fear that paralyses, there is room to be challenged and to meditate. Luke proposes to us an entourage that questions and meditates on the events. And what about us?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • Hurricane Dorian destroyed everything in its path, especially several islands in the Bahamas. Many people are homeless, many children are out of school, not to mention the many deaths. How can anyone listen to Luke talking about God's benevolence? Of course, God had nothing to do with this disaster. But how can a believer experience these events? Does today's gospel offer some light?

      • The political event known as Brexit is discussed around the world. Behind this event, there is in particular the discomfort of a nation in front of the massive entry of immigrants that has changed its face. It is legitimate to feel shaken in one's self-perception. But what is the best reaction? Elizabeth, Zechariah and their entourage felt shaken. Can't their attitude guide us?

      • A 16-year-old Swedish teenager, known as Greta Thumberg, is on a crusade against climate change. In her own way, she is trying to create a shock wave. This is another news item among a thousand that is trying to get our attention. How do we respond? Dismiss her as autistic anyway? Become a fan, because climate change is a hot topic? Or accept the questions asked and find out what it all means? Could the neighborhood of Elizabeth and Zechariah show us the way?

      • The young people in Hong Kong are in turmoil and refuse what the political authority wants to impose on them. One cannot help but draw a parallel between the name of the father that is to be given to the child in the gospel, and the intervention of the mother who refuses and proposes the name of John. Of course, the framework is different, one is political and the other is religious. But isn't what is fundamentally human is also fundamentally divine? Doesn't Zechariah's journey of finally opening himself to what God proposes offer the desirable path, and a way to pray for the future of Hong Kong?

      • I know a couple with two children who had great plans. These great plans collapsed like a house of cards: the mother is afflicted with a neurological disease, with chronic fatigue, which has made her unfit for work, and obliges the grandparents to intervene to see to the children. How to live such a situation without collapsing completely? How to welcome and live this new reality. Does today's gospel offer some light?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, September 2019