JLP Digital Publications, Odessa Ont. - 2001
He also wrote the Book of Acts which he must have completed in Rome just before Paul was martyred by Nero in probably AD 64 (Acts 28:31). In that book he identified himself carefully by using the first person plural of the verb ("we" is part of the verb in Greek) from the time he joined Paul in Troas (Acts 16:10). He sailed with Paul across the Aegean to Philippi, and must have been left there to establish the church in that city (Acts 16:11-17). During the third missionary journey Paul came to Philippi (Acts 20:1) and Luke rejoined his team for the journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5-16, 21:1-17). Probably while Paul was imprisoned for two years in Caesarea (Acts 23:31, 24:27, 27:1) Paul told Luke to go and collect from eye-witnesses the material which became Luke's Gospel. The Gospel may have been distributed before Luke traveled with Paul to Rome in AD 59 (Acts 27:1) or completed while Paul was imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28:30-31).
The Gospel is addressed to "most excellent Theophilus." The name Theophilus means "Friend of God." This could have been a Greek birth name, or the name taken by one of Paul's converts. It appears again at the beginning of Acts. "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the day he was taken up to heaven" (Acts 1:1-2) It is also possible that Paul wanted this Gospel written for wide distribution in the Roman world, and the name "most excellent Friend of God" would appeal to inquirers who wanted to go deeper into what they had been taught (Luke 1:4). It would also hide the identity of the churches for whom it was written from the Roman authorities .
One could say that Mark was a brief account of the preaching of Peter. John's Gospel was written "that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah,, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Matthew was written for Jews to show how Jesus' teaching related to their laws and traditions. And Luke wrote for those who had become disciples and wanted to ground their faith in historical fact.
Many New Testament scholars assume that Mark's detailed description of the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem (Mark 13:1-23) cannot have been Jesus prophecy of that event in the lifetime of his hearers (Mark 13:30). So they take it as given that Mark's Gospel must have been written after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Since both Matthew and Luke use large parts of Mark's Gospel verbatim, those Gospels are often dated much later. There is not a shred of evidence for this (as proved in John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, London SCM Press, Westminster Press. 1976). Luke himself makes it absolutely clear that the early Christians knew that the fall of Jerusalem was still in the future (21:20-32, see the commentary on those verses, and the parallel passage in the commentary on Matthew 24:1-35).
Luke tells us he was very concerned to record the exact history of the events (Luke 2:1-4, 3:1-2).. He introduced his Gospel with the words "Many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1) But he tells us "I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account of the events" (Luke 1:3). The words "from the very first" point back to the stories of John's birth and the birth of Jesus in the first two chapters.
The difference in style suggests that he may have found an account of the birth of John the Baptist written in Hebrew among the disciples of the prophet (1:5-24, 57-80). It also seems likely that Luke interviewed Mary in person. From her he heard the message given to her by the angel Gabriel (1:26-38), and she recalled the prophecy (often sung as the Magnificat) that she was given (1:46-55). Luke was also interested in Mary's account of the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the Messiah there (2:11), the visit of the shepherds (2:8-20) , the prophetic words of Simeon and Anna (2:28-38), and Mary's account of Jesus' early years (2:39-52). None of these are found in the Gospel of Mark, so we can imagine Paul may have asked Luke to include this important information.
We will note again and again how Luke included about 350 verses from Mark's Gospel. Compared with Matthew who used 90% of Mark's Gospel, Luke used about half of Mark. What he includes and what he leaves out will help understand what he wanted his Gospel to achieve. In addition to filling in much that Mark had not recorded, Luke's purpose is "that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed
As the Gospel proceeds Luke makes clear that Jesus' conception was by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit (1:35), and the Spirit was involved in making him known (1:41, 67, 2:25, 27). He notes again and again the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus (3:16, 22, 23, 4:1, 14, 18, 5:17, 10:21, 11:13, 20, 12:10, 12, 24:49), and in the growth of the early churches (Acts 1:2, 2:4, 7-18, 38, 4:8, etc.). Luke must have learned the importance of living by the power of the Holy Spirit from Paul (Galatians 3:1-5, see the Commentary on Romans).
From many different angles Luke stresses the importance of eating in Jesus' ministry (5:29-30, 33, 7:36-37, 11:37-41, 12:37, 13:29. 14:13, 15, 16-24, 15:23, 16:19, 19:7, 22:14-19, 30, 24:30, 35, 41-43. Some of these occasions point to the church's breaking of bread (Acts 2:42, 10:28, 41, 11:3, 15:20, 29), probably weekly on Sunday (20:7, 11, see John 20:19, 26). And these gatherings (22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:6-17, 11:23-26) as the body of the Messiah would be where the Holy Spirit animated the church with a rich variety of gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3-13).
This is written in pure classical Greek, whereas the rest of the Gospel is written in the Hellenistic Greek that was current in New Testament times, and is found in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament.
1:1-2 Luke tells us that in the thirty years that had elapsed since the death and resurrection of Jesus many had written accounts of his life. It is certain that Luke had Mark's Gospel before him as he wrote. And we know that other gospels circulated which gave fanciful accounts, often with a very different slant (early Gnostic), which the early churches rejected as untrue to the apostolic witness. The importance of this witness is clear in the choice of a replacement for Judas. The twelfth apostle must be "One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until he was taken up" (Acts 1:21-22).
1:3-4 Luke's concern for historical accuracy involved "investigating everything carefully" (akribos as in Matthew 2:8, Acts 18:25-26). The words "from the very first" refer to his research into the birth of John the Baptist, and what must have been the personal interviews with Mary, which Luke gives us in the first two chapters. Every biographer sets out the story in an orderly way, but the selection of what is included and left out, and what sequence is appropriate, will vary according to the purpose of the book. So we will not be surprised if Luke's sequence differs at some points with the other Gospel writers. For the name Theophilus, see the introductory comments above.
1:5-24 The Birth of John the Baptist
Mark's Gospel begins with the preaching of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4, see Matthew 3:1-6), and John describes the way some of John's disciples began learning with Jesus (John1:35-51). But Luke takes us right back to John the Baptist's parents. Scholars say the style of this section may have a Hebrew source. If this was the case, Luke would have obtained it from some of the Baptist's followers who still treasured his memory (see Acts 19:1-7). The difference was that John the Baptist enrolled disciples by baptizing them with water as a sign of turning to prepare for the coming Messiah. After Jesus' baptism by John, the Messiah would enrol people, also by baptism with water (John 4:1), with a view to learning about the Holy Spirit (see comments on 3:16).
1:5 Herod the Great was one of the most ruthless tyrants in history. He died in 4 BC and the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus would have been say 5 BC (the AD and BC dating was about 5 years' later than the event). John the Baptist's father belonged to the Jerusalem priesthood, and his wife Elizabeth was also from the tribe of Levi and descended from Aaron.
1:6-7 Though they were righteous, as opposed to the obviously wicked (see Psalm 1:6, 7:8), and did their best to live blamelessly according to the law (not a statement about being sinless), they suffered the terrible shame in that day of being childless (see 1:25).
1:8-10 Priests served on a roster (1 Chronicles 24:1-6). During their period of duty they were expected to enter the holy place outside the holy of holies alone, and offer prayers on the altar of incense (1:11) while people prayed outside.
1:11-14 The sudden appearance of an angel terrified Zechariah, but he was told his prayer had been heard, his wife would bear a son, and he was to be named John. His prayer as a priest would have been for the blessing of his own people, but God added the blessing of a son in his old age.
1:15 John the Baptist would be the greatest of the prophets, and Jesus would say that "Among those born of women no one is greater than John" (7:26-28). He would live as an ascetic and, unlike Jesus, would avoid wine. The NRSV translates "even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit" which is perhaps supported by the baby leaping in Elizabeth's womb (1:41). But we could also translate "Even as he comes out of his mothers's womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit."
1:16 His task would be to turn many people to look to God (as reported in Matthew 3:5 & Mark 1:5).
1:17 The Old Testament prophets were empowered by the Holy Spirit, but the voice of prophecy had been silent for 400 years. Rather than describe his clothing (as in Mark 1:6) Luke tells us John the Baptist would come with "the spirit and power of Elijah". To make the connection with the Old Testament, the angel Gabriel (see 1:19) quoted the words about parents and children exactly from the last two verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6). Wisdom was also given by the Spirit (see James 3:17), and "the wisdom of the righteous" refers back to the invitations of the Spirit personified as sophia (wisdom) in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1:20-24, 8:1-21, 32-36). By making these very precise connections Gabriel was announcing that John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Messiah who would teach and empower people by the Spirit.
1:18-19 When Zechariah wanted some proof that he and his wife would miraculously have a child in their old age, the angel introduced himself. Only two of the many messengers of God (Hebrew malak, Greek angelos meaning messenger) are named in the Bible. The archangel or chief angel is Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21, 12:1, Jude 9) who is particularly involved in warring against opposing forces. Gabriel (Hebrew "God is my strength, my man") seems to be charged with interpreting visions and giving "wisdom and understanding" (Daniel 8:16, 9:21-22). . After explaining what was about to happen, Gabriel said "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news" (Luke 1:19). Later Gabriel would also have the task of explaining to Mary that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would conceive the Messiah while she was still a virgin, and he would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
1:20-23 Zechariah found this too much to believe, and he was told he would be unable to speak till the birth of the child. After some delay the priest Zechariah came out from the temple, and people realized he had had a vision.
1:24-25 When Elizabeth became pregnant, she did not announce this, but she recognized that God had indeed intervened to removed the sense of disgrace she had experienced.
1:26-56 The Annunciation and visit to Elizabeth
1:26-27 The annunciation to Mary was six months after Elizabeth had miraculously become pregnant (1:24). Again Gabriel was charged with explaining the message (see 1:19). Mary's parents are never mentioned, so she may have been an orphan. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) who was descended from the royal line of David (2:4, see the genealogy in Matthew 1:16). The betrothal was a legal contract, usually arranged by the parents, but it did not come into force till the couple were married when they began their sexual relationship (see Matthew 1:18-20).
1:28-31 Mary was naturally perplexed by the unexpected visit of the angel Gabriel (Daniel 8:16, 9:21). He greets her as one who has been "favored highly." In herself Mary was nothing special (1:48) but she was willing to receive grace for her awesome task. . After giving her time to ponder his greeting, Gabriel told her not to be afraid because she had been chosen for a very special task. She would conceive a son that she must name Jesus (as in Matthew 1:21). In Hebrew the name is Jehoshua or Joshua which means "Jehovah is salvation." It was the name of Joshua who led the people into the promised land (Numbers 13:16) and also of the High Priest Joshua who was involved in the services of the restored temple after the exile (Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 3:1).
1:32-33 Like John the Baptist (1:15), Mary's son would be a great prophet. But far more than that he would be the Son of God. He would also occupy the throne of the royal line of David, but now the reign would never be ended by death. As Paul said, "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).
1:34-35 Mary asked how this could happen as she was still a virgin. Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would implant the male genes, so that the child would be both son of Mary and Son of God. As we proceed, Luke will make clear that Jesus was fully man (see Hebrews 2:17, 4:15) but he was able to fulfill his mission by the power of the Spirit (see1:80, 2:52, 3:22, 4:1). Paul will explain that even the Messiah's resurrection was by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:11). Those who doubt the virginal conception (rather than virgin birth) should realize that the giving of a resurrection body (as in the case of Jesus and ourselves) is a far greater miracle than a miraculous conception.
1:36-37 To help Mary believe this astonishing announcement Gabriel revealed that her relative Elizabeth was now six months pregnant. For of course nothing is impossible by the power of God.
1:38 God does not force us, and here the angel waits for Mary's willing response. She did not have to understand how the Spirit would do this. Her words are a model for all who are willing to serve God by being open to the power of the Holy Spirit. "What I am willed to ask, your own will has to answer; child, it lies within your power of choosing to conceive the Child who chooses you" (W.H.Auden, "For the Time Being : A Christmas Oratorio, 1944). As Paul explained, the good news is not just about forgiveness and resurrection but the power of God (Romans 1:4, 1:16, 5:5, 8:4-6, 11, 14:17). It is the power of the Holy Spirit working in us that gives us hope and assurance (Romans 15:13, Galatians 3:2-5, 1 John 3:24, 4:13).
1:39-40 Having been told that Elizabeth had conceived miraculously in her very old age (1:36), Mary traveled four days south from Nazareth to talk to her relative (Luke uses the same word suggenis in 1:58, 61, 2:44, 14:12, 21:16) in Judea (by tradition she lived at Ain Karem 7 kilometres west of Jerusalem).
1:41-45 Elizabeth was obviously deeply moved by the visit, and she felt her baby (John the Baptist) jumping in her womb (compare 1:15, 44). She was immediately filled with the Spirit and spoke prophetically. This was apparently the first sign of renewed prophetic utterance after 400 years of silence since Malachi (see 1:67, 2:25-32 for other examples). She knew without being told that Mary was the mother of her Lord, and that she had believed Gabriel's annunciation. The word Lord is important because it indicates that Jesus the Messiah was the one addressed as Lord in the Psalms (2:2-6, 3:1-4, 5:1-3, etc.).
1:46-50 Mary's response, also by the Spirit, is usually called the Magnificat. Old Testament faith moved from the certainty that the Lord was reigning among the nations as God's anointed King (Messiah) to faith that this great Lord was also interested in the person praying (see Psalms 2, 5, 7, 9, etc.). But Mary reverses the sequence to praise God for what has happened to her and then remembering the way the Lord intervenes among the nations.
1:51-53 Mary's faith is in the reigning Lord of the Old Testament (Psalm 110:1). Again and again he acts against the proud (as in Psalm 94:2, 101:5, Proverbs 15:25, 16:5, Isaiah 2:11-17, 10:33-34. 13:11, 14:12-15, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Throughout history he allows powerful dictators to reign for a time, but when they oppress the poor and weak it is only a matter of time before he topples them in a Day of the Lord (Isaiah 13:6, 9, 22:5, 25:9, 34:8). Mary echoes Hannah's prayer "He raises up the poor from the dust" (1 Samuel 2:8, see Psalm 107:41, 113:7, 132:15, Isaiah 3:14-15). Those who misuse and rely on their riches are headed for trouble (see 6:24, 16:19-31).
1:54-55 Mary's faith is Abrahamic faith looking back to the promises of Genesis 12:1-3 (see Romans 4:12, 16-21, Hebrews 11:8-12), see 1:72.
1:56 -57 Mary came when Elizabeth was six months pregnant (1:36), so it seems likely Mary stayed with her till John the Baptist was born. Mary would have returned to Nazareth when she was three or four months pregnant. Accepting her task as mother of the Messiah would now involve the cost of that decision. She would have to explain to Joseph what had happened (Matthew 1:18). He had decided to terminate the betrothal, but he obeyed an angel of the Lord who told him to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:19-21) though he did not have sexual relations with her till after the baby was born (Matthew 1:24-25).
1:57-80 The Birth of John the Baptist
1:57-64 As was the custom (Genesis17:9-12) the baby was to be circumcised on the eight day. And Zechariah insisted on naming him John, as he had been told by the angel Gabriel (1:13, 19). The moment he wrote the name on a tablet his tongue was freed after nine months of being dumb (1:20).
1:65-66 The events of John the Baptist's birth became common knowledge in the whole area of Judea. The result was that when he began preaching thirty years later the crowds remembered and were ready to listen (3:2-3, see Mark 1:5).
1:67-71 After the naming and circumsion of his son John, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and delivered a prophecy in the same style as the Old Testament prophets. His praise is first about God's blessing on his people, and only later (1:76) about the son in his old age. In Hebrew the past tense was often used to indicate an assurance of the redemption (a freeing as in the Exodus from Egypt) that would happen. There would be a visit (wrongly translated as "looked favorably" in NRSV), which is another word for a coming (see the many comings and visitations of the Lord in the OT beginning with Genesis 3:8, 11:6, 12:1, etc.) The savior redeemer would be the "horn of salvation" (Psalm 132:17, again wrongly translated "mighty Savior"), from the royal line of David (1:32-33, 69, 2:4, Isaiah 9:7, 11:1, 16:5, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:14-17, Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24, as in Matthew 1:20, John 7:47), and he would save his people from the enemies that hated them.
1:72-75 As Mary had done (1:55) Zechariah looked back to the covenant made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) where the third part about a blessing to all nations was fulfilled by the Messiah. And the result would be a freedom to serve the Lord "in holiness and righteousness" (by the power of the Holy Spirit).
1:76-77 Speaking of his son, just named John who was later known as John the Baptizer, Zechariah saw that he would be a prophet (actually the greatest of the prophets) of the Most High (the same word as in 1:32, 35) to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. And an essential part of the message would be a turning to experience God's forgiveness (see note on 3:3).
1:78-79 The hopeless darkness of the time (Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16) would be dispelled by the light of the world (2:32, see John 1:5, 9, 3:19, 8:12).
1:80 We know nothing about John the Baptist's childhood. We might guess that his very old parents had him sent to the boarding school in the Qumran monastery where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
Chapter 2 ....