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1. Birth of John the Baptist

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, 4That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

5There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. 26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 57Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

26. Now in the sixth month It was a wonderful dispensation of the divine purpose, and far removed from the ordinary judgment of men, that God determined to make the beginning of the generation of the herald more illustrious than that of his own Son. The prophecy respecting John was published in the temple and universally known: Christ is promised to a virgin in an obscure town of Judea, and this prophecy remains buried in the breast of a young woman. But it was proper that, even from the birth of Christ, that saying should be fulfilled,

it pleased God by foolishness to save them that believe,”
(1 Corinthians 1:21.)

The treasure of this mystery was committed by him to a virgin in such a manner, that at length, when the proper time came, it might be communicated to all the godly. It was, I own, a mean kind of guardianship; but whether for trying the humility of faith, or restraining the pride of the ungodly, it was the best adapted. Let us learn, even when the reason does not immediately appear, to submit modestly to God, and let us not be ashamed to receive instruction from her who carried in her womb Christ the eternal wisdom of God,” (1 Corinthians 1:24.) There is nothing which we should more carefully avoid than the proud contempt that would deprive us of the knowledge of the inestimable secret, which God has purposely “hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed” to the humble and “to babes,” (Luke 10:21.)

It was, I think, for the same reason that he chose a virgin betrothed to a man There is no foundation for Origen’s opinion, that he did this for the purpose of concealing from Satan the salvation which he was preparing to bestow on men. The marriage was a veil held out before the eyes of the world, that he who was commonly “supposed to be the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23) might at length be believed and acknowledged by the godly to be the Son of God. Yet the entrance of Christ into the world was not destitute of glory; for the splendor of his Godhead was manifested from the commencement by his heavenly Father. Angels announced that “a Savior was born,” (Luke 2:11;) but their voice was only heard by the shepherds, and traveled no farther. One miracle, — everywhere published by “the wise men who came from the east,” (Matthew 2:1) that they had seen a star which proclaimed the birth of the Highest King,—may have been highly celebrated. Yet we see how God kept his Son, as it were, in concealment, until the time of his full manifestation arrived, and then erected for him a platform, that he might be beheld by all.

The participle μεμνηστευμένην, which is employed by the Evangelist, signifies that the virgin had then been engaged to her bridegroom, but was not yet given as a wife to her husband. For it was customary among Jewish parents to keep their daughters some time at home, after they had been betrothed to men; otherwise, the law relating to the seduction of a betrothed damsel” (Deuteronomy 22:23) would have been unnecessary. Luke says that Joseph was of the house of David; for families are usually reckoned by the names of the men; but on this point we shall speak more fully in another place.

28. Hail, thou who hast obtained favor The angel’s commission being of an astonishing and almost incredible description, he opens it with a commendation of the grace of God. And certainly, since our limited capacities admit too slender a portion of knowledge for comprehending the vast greatness of the works of God, our best remedy is, to elevate them to meditation on his boundless grace. A conviction of the Divine goodness is the entrance of faith, and the angel properly observes this order, that, after preparing the heart of the virgin by meditation on the grace of God, he may enlarge it to receive an incomprehensible mystery. For the participle κεχαριτωμένη, which Luke employs, denotes the undeserved favor of God. This appears more clearly from the Epistle to the Ephesians, (1:6,) where, speaking of our reconciliation to God, Paul says, God hath made us accepted (ἐχαρίτωσεν) in the Beloved:” that is, he has received into his favor, and embraced with kindness, us who were formerly his enemies.

The angel adds, the Lord is with thee To those on whom he has once bestowed his love God shows himself gracious and kind, follows and crowns them with loving-kindness,” (Psalm 103:4.) Next comes the third clause, that she is blessed among women. Blessing is here put down as the result and proof of the Divine kindness. The word Blessed does not, in my opinion, mean, Worthy of praise; but rather means, Happy. Thus, Paul often supplicates for believers, first “grace” and then “peace,” (Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:2,) that is, every kind of blessings; implying that we shall then be truly happy and rich, when we are beloved by God, from whom all blessings proceed. But if Mary’s happiness, righteousness, and life, flow from the undeserved love of God, if her virtues and all her excellence are nothing more than the Divine kindness, it is the height of absurdity to tell us that we should seek from her what she derives from another quarter in the same manner as ourselves. With extraordinary ignorance have the Papists, by an enchanter’s trick, changed this salutation into a prayer, and have carried their folly so far, that their preachers are not permitted, in the pulpit, to implore the grace of the Spirit, except through their Hail, Mary2323     “Ave, Maria.” But not only are these words a simple congratulation. They unwarrantably assume an office which does not belong to them, and which God committed to none but an angel. Their silly ambition leads them into a second blunder, for they salute a person who is absent.

29. When she had seen him, she was agitated Luke does not say that she was agitated by the presence of the angel, but by his address. Why then does he also mention his presence?2424     “Cur ergo aspectus etiam meminit?” Calvin's allusion is brought out more clearly in his own vernacular. “Pourquoy donc dit-il, Quand elle l'eut veu?” — “Why then does he say, When she had seen him?” The reason, I think, is this. Perceiving in the angel something of heavenly glory, she was seized with sudden dread arising out of reverence for God. She was agitated, because she felt that she had received a salutation, not from a mortal man, but from an angel of God. But Luke does not say that she was so agitated as to have lost recollection. On the contrary, he mentions an indication of an attentive and composed mind; for he afterwards adds, and was considering what that salutation would be: that is, what was its object, and what was its meaning. It instantly occurred to her that the angel had not been sent for a trifling purpose. This example reminds us, first, that we ought not to be careless observers of the works of God; and, secondly, that our consideration of them ought to be regulated by fear and reverence.

30. Fear not, Mary He bids her lay aside fear. Let us always remember—what arises from the weakness of the flesh—that, whenever the feeblest ray of the Divine glory bursts upon us, we cannot avoid being alarmed. When we become aware, in good earnest, of the presence of God, we cannot think of it apart from its effects.2525     “Neque otiosam imaginari licet.” — “Car nous ne pouvons point apprehender à bon escient la presence de Dieu, sinon avec ses effects.” Accordingly, as we are all amenable to his tribunal, fear gives rise to trembling, until God manifests himself as a Father. The holy virgin saw in her own nation such a mass of crimes, that she had good reason for dreading heavier punishments. To remove this fear, the angel declares that he has come to certify and announce an inestimable blessing. The Hebrew idiom, Thou hast found favor, is used by Luke instead of, “God has been merciful to thee:” for a person is said to find favor, not when he has sought it, but when it has been freely offered to him. Instances of this are so well known, that it would be of no use to quote them.

31. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb The angel adapts his words, first to Isaiah’s prophecy, (Isaiah 7:14,) and next to other passages of the Prophets, with the view of affecting more powerfully the mind of the virgin: for such prophecies were well known and highly esteemed among the godly. At the same time, it ought to be observed that the angel did not merely speak in private to the ear of the virgin, but brought glad tidings, (εὐαγγέλιον,) which were shortly afterwards to be published throughout the whole world. It was not without the purpose of God, that the agreement, between ancient prophecies and the present message respecting the manifestation of Christ, was so clearly pointed out. The word conceive is enough to set aside the dream of Marcion and Manichaeus: for it is easy to gather from it that Mary brought forth not an ethereal body or phantom, but the fruit which she had previously conceived in her womb.

Thou shalt call his name Jesus The reason of the name is given by Matthew: for he shall save his people from their sins, (Matthew 1:21.) And so the name contains a promise of salvation, and points out the object for which Christ was sent by the Father into the world, as he tells us that he “came not to judge the world, but to save the world,” (John 12:47.) Let us remember that not by the will of men, but by the command of God, was this name given to him by the angel, that our faith may have its foundation, not in earth, but in heaven. It is derived from the Hebrew word ישע, salvation, from which comes הושיע, which signifies to save. It is a waste of ingenuity to contend that it differs from the Hebrew name יהושוע, (Jehoshua or Joshua.) The Rabbins everywhere write the word Jesu; and they do this with evident malice, that they may not bestow on Christ an honorable name, but, on the contrary, may insinuate that he is some pretended Jew. Their manner of writing it, accordingly, is of no more importance than the barking of a dog. The objection that it is far beneath the dignity of the Son of God to have a name in common with others, might equally apply to the name Christ, or Anointed But the solution of both is easy. What was exhibited in shadow under the law is fully and actually manifested in the Son of God; or, what was then a figure is in him a substance. There is another objection of as little weight. They assert that the name of Jesus is not worthy of veneration and awe, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, (Philippians 2:9, 10,) if it does not belong exclusively to the Son of God. For Paul does not attribute to him a magical name, as if in its very syllables majesty resided, but his language simply means that Christ has received from the Father the highest authority, to which the whole world ought to submit. Let us then bid adieu to such imaginations, and know, that the name Jesus was given to Christ, in order that believers may be instructed to seek in him what had formerly been shadowed out under the Law.

32. He shall be great The angel had said the same thing about John the Baptist, and yet did not intend to make him equal to Christ. But the Baptist is great in his own class, while the greatness of Christ is immediately explained to be such as raises him above all creatures. For to him alone this belongs as his own peculiar prerogative to be called the Son of God. So the apostle argues.

Unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? (Hebrews 1:5.)

Angels and kings, I admit, are sometimes dignified with this title in Scripture; but they are denominated in common the sons of God, on account of their high rank. But it is perfectly clear and certain, that God distinguishes his own Son from all the others, when he thus addresses him particularly, Thou art my Son, (Psalm 2:7.) Christ is not confounded either with angels or with men, so as to be one of the multitude of the sons of God; but what is given to him no other has a right to claim. The sons of God are kings, not certainly by natural right, but because God has bestowed on them so great an honor. Even angels have no right to this distinction, except on account of their high rank among creatures, in subordination to the Great Head, (Ephesians 1:21.) We too are sons, but by adoption, which we obtain by faith; for we have it not from nature: Christ is the only Son, the only-begotten of the Father, (John 1:14.)

The future tense of the verb, he shall be called the Son of the Highest, is tortured by that filthy dog2626     The use of such epithets may not be easily reconciled to the refinements of modern taste; but, three centuries ago, few readers would be startled by them, and they are much more sparingly employed by Calvin than by many of his contemporaries. Not to mention that Paul says, Beware of dogs, (Philippians 3:2,) and that the statement, Without are dogs, (Revelation 22:15,) bears the impress of the Alpha and Omega, (Revelation 22:13,) Servetus, to whom the epithet “filthy” is applied, had denied the fundamental doctrine of our Lord's supreme Divinity, and had luxuriated in the most revolting and blasphemous expressions. — Ed. Servetus to prove that Christ is not the eternal Son of God, but began to be so considered, when he took upon him our flesh. This is an intolerable slander. He argues that Christ was not the Son of God before he appeared in the world clothed with flesh; because the angel says, He shall be called On the contrary, I maintain, the words of the angel mean nothing more than that he, who had been the Son of God from eternity, would be manifested as such in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16;) for to be called denotes clear knowledge. There is a wide difference between the two statements, — that Christ began to be the Son of God, which he was not before, — and that he was manifested among men, in order that they might know him to be the person who had been formerly promised. Certainly, in every age God has been addressed by his people as a Father, and hence it follows, that he had a Son in heaven, from whom and by whom men obtained the sonship. For men take too much upon them, if they venture to boast of being the sons of God, in any other respect than as members of the only-begotten Son, (John 1:18.) Certain it is, that confidence in the Son alone, as Mediator, inspired the holy fathers with confidence to employ so honorable an address. That more complete knowledge, of which we are now speaking, is elsewhere explained by Paul to mean, that we are now at liberty not only to call God our Father, but boldly to cry, Abba, Father, (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.)

The Lord God will give unto him the throne of his father David We have said that the angel borrows from the prophets the titles which he bestows on Christ, in order that the holy virgin might more readily acknowledge him to be the Redeemer formerly promised to the fathers. Whenever the prophets speak of the restoration of the church, they direct all the hope of believers to the kingdom of David, so that it became a common maxim among the Jews, that the safety of the church would depend on the prosperous condition of that kingdom, and that nothing was more fitting and suitable to the office of the Messiah than to raise up anew the kingdom of David. Accordingly, the name of David is sometimes applied to the Messiah. They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king,” (Jeremiah 30:9.) Again, “my servant David shall be a prince among them,” (Ezekiel 34:24; 37:24.) “They shall seek the Lord their God, and David their king,” (Hosea 3:5.) The passages in which he is called the son of David” are sufficiently well known. In a word, the angel declares that in the person of Christ would be fulfilled the prediction of Amos, In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen,” (Amos 9:11.)

33. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob As salvation was promised, in a peculiar manner, to the Jews, (the covenant having been made with their father Abraham, Genesis 17:7,) and Christ, as Paul informs us, “was a minister of the circumcision,” (Romans 15:8,) the angel properly fixed his reign in that nation, as its peculiar seat and residence. But this is in perfect accordance with other predictions, which spread and extend the kingdom of Christ to the utmost limits of the earth. By a new and wonderful adoption, God has admitted into the family of Jacob the Gentiles, who formerly were strangers; though in such a manner that the Jews, as the first-born, held a preferable rank; as it is said, “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion,” (Psalm 110:3.) Christ’s throne was, therefore, erected among the people of Israel, that he might thence subdue the whole world. All whom he has joined by faith to the children of Abraham are accounted the true Israel. Though the Jews, by their revolt, have separated themselves from the church of God, yet the Lord will always preserve till the end some “remnants” (Romans 11:5;) for his “calling is without repentances” (Romans 11:29.) The body of the people is apparently cut off; but we ought to remember the mystery of which Paul speaks, (Romans 11:25,) that God will at length gather some of the Jews out of the dispersion. Meanwhile, the church, which is scattered through the whole world, is the spiritual house of Jacob; for it drew its origin from Zion.

For ever The angel points out the sense in which it was so frequently predicted by the prophets that the kingdom of David would be without end. It was only during his own reign and that of Solomon, that it remained wealthy and powerful Rehoboam, the third successor, hardly retained a tribe and a half. The angel now declares that, when it has been established in the person of Christ, it will not be liable to destruction, and, to prove this, employs the words of Daniel, (7:14,) of his kingdom there shall be no end2727     Daniel's prediction referred to runs thus: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” The angel does not employ these words; but his departure from them is not strongly marked, and it can scarcely be doubted that he had this passage in his eye. — Ed. Though the meaning of the words is, that God will for ever protect and defend the kingdom of Christ and the church, so that it shall not perish on the earth “as long as the sun and moon endure,” (Psalm 72:5, 17,) yet its true perpetuity relates to the glory to come. So then, believers follow each other in this life, by an uninterrupted succession, till at length they are gathered together in heaven, where they shall reign without end.


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