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.
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 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.
|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:
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:
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):
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:
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|
|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.
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.
It also means a point in time or a specific moment, i.e. a date.
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:
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:
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:
(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:
(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:
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 :
To listen means to learn something new, to hear about something. Examples :
Listening means opening up to a word and welcoming it in faith. Examples :
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:
We can also make the thing itself big by enlarging it. For example:
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|
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:
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:
Kyrios designates a master, for example the master of the house (24 times, often in the parables of Jesus). For example:
Kyrios designates the Messiah (2 times, when quoting Psalm 110)
Kyrios is an adjective meaning: "to be master of" (1 time). Example:
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.
Here are some observations on this table.
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 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:
In Matthew we find a similar idea as Jesus multiplies his reproaches against the Pharisees who specialize in religious matters:
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:
A specific time or date, often in the future. For example:
An era or period of the past (always plural). For example:
Day versus night. For example:
Refers to the years of a life, or the age of a person. For example:
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|
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.
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|
|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:
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.
|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.
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.
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|
|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 yâ (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)
Example 2 (context: Pharisees and scribes are shocked that Jesus is eating with sinners)
Example 3 (context: the Pharisees are shocked that the disciples are pulling ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath)
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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. Its 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:
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 :
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:
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:
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 :
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.
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 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:
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 :
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 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|
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.
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.
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:
Thus Luke presents us with similar scenes. For example:
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:
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|
|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:
It also applies to the human being to designate the entirety of his being. For example:
It is also applied to a group of people to refer to the entire group. For example:
Occasionally, it can be applied to a period of time to refer to the entirety of that period. For example:
Finally, it can designate material objects to designate their entirety.
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|
|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
All of Palestine
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.
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.
But sometimes we put or place a person in a category or function.
It also happens that intangible realities, such as words, feelings or ideas, are placed somewhere.
Sometimes it's about establishing, putting down or setting something for a specific purpose.
Finally, let's mention the case where you put your money in the bank, or make a deposit there.
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:
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:
The human being as a being of speech, and capable of asking questions, reflecting and understanding, in short, of thinking. For example:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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|
|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|
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, September 2019