Here are some of my notes for Sunday December 21, 2008 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.
Books used to compile these notes include:
1. Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, (1994)
2. Raymond Brown, Birth of the Messiah, (1993)
3. S.T. Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, (1987)
4. Robert Bergen, 1,2 Samuel: New American Commentary, (1996)
Nazareth- A small town overwhelmed by the major city Sepphoris four miles away, Nazareth isn’t mentioned in non-biblical Jewish writing. Archaeological evidence shows a city continually occupied since the 600s BC, with a first century population of 1500 to 2000 people. (Brown, BBCNT)
betrothed- Mnesteuo means betrothed, engaged.
“The betrothed parties are called Arus and Arusa respectively, the state of being betrothed is called Arusin, and the act of betrothing, Kiddushin. The mode of betrothal is either by money [Kaseph], or by a written document [Shtar].
Between the betrothal and the nuptials an interval elapses, varying from a month for widows to a year for virgins. The nuptials are termed Chuppa [bridal chamber] or Nissuin [taking]. The essence of the nuptial ceremonies consists in conducting the bride from her home to that of the bridegroom, or a place representing his home. After this they are considered in all respects as husband and wife, though no conjugal intercourse has actually taken place.” (Gospel according to St. Matthew, A.J. Maas, S.J., B. Herder, 1898, p.10)
The whole marriage arrangement was a long, involved business. The first part, call it the “engagement”, was arranged when the couple were still very young children, either by their fathers alone, or with the services of a matchmaker. The second part, the betrothal, generally took place when the couple were teens, the ideal being a girl between about 12 or 13, and a boy 18 to 20 (boys were expected to start being adult when they reached puberty, around 13, so Joseph would have known something of how to behave in the wider world by time of marriage). It involved a public exchange of consent by the betrothed before witnesses, which then gave the boy legal rights over the girl, though she remained in her parents house for about a year. Part of the delay was simple economics: then as now the families had to scrap and save in order to throw the wedding banquet, which was part of the nisuin, the installation of the girl into the home of her husband. The technical term used at betrothal stage among Jews was indeed arusah “betrothed”, “fiance”, rather than “isha”, wife.(S.T. Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, Ktav, 1987, p.7)
As to how strict the ban was on separation of the engaged couple, later Jewish sources say in Judea a fiance might be alone with his fiancee at least once during the betrothal, but that Galileans allowed no private meetings. It is suspected that the custom mentioned for Judea may have evolved after 70 AD, when masses of Roman soldiers occupied Judea and might molest young girls. Otherwise why would there be such a scandal implied in Mary’ pregnancy? (Raymond Brown, S.S. The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 1993,p.124) It was commonly held in the ancient world that if a man and woman were alone together for more than twenty minutes, sex had occurred.(Brown, Lachs)
House of David- The Greek is unclear exactly who is specified here. Origen took it to refer to Mary, while J. Chrysostom thought it meant Mary and Joseph. Since the phrase is closer to Joseph and Mary is reintroduced in the clause, it presumably refers to Joseph. The only specific evidence of Mary’s lineage is the mention of Elizabeth, a Levite.There is mention in the Old Testament of Judahite/Levite marriages, so perhaps Mary’s parents or grandparents were such a mix. (Brown)
The Greek chaire kecharitomene is interesting to Brown, who notes that while chairein is the standard Greek greeting, kecharitomene is practically a translation of the name Hannah, whose story and hymn in 1 Samuel seems a model for Mary and her Magnificat. (Brown)
Mary troubled: This reaction has received many explanations:
1. Reaction to an angel
2. Maiden’s reaction to being alone with a strange man
3. Mary’s modesty(Brown)
While there were normal styles of greetings, they were dictated by one’s status. Mary, likely a very young woman, was near status-less. Thus to be called “favored” and “the Lord is with you” was totally out of keeping with her apparent status.(BBCNT)
you will conceive- In Hebrew, this phrase might be either a present (you have conceived) or a future (you will conceive).
you will name- This is a command, not a prophecy.
Jesus- Greek form of Yeshua, likely pronounced at the time as Yeshu. The original Hebrew Yehoshua/Joshua means “Yahweh helps”. Another derivation is from Hebrew root ys “to save”, and the noun yesua “salvation”. (Brown)
This verse follows standard OT style for divine birth announcements, in particular the very suggestive Is 7:14 that Matthew explicitly quotes in Matt 1:23. (BBCNT)
These verses seem to derive from 2 Sam 7:12-16, again highly suggestive as that is classically considered a Messianic prophecy.
2 Sam 7:12-16
The verses have huge implications for both Jews and Christians. On the Christian side, the NT refers back to these verses repeatedly as foundation for seven NT teachings about Jesus:
1. Son of David (Matt 1:1, Acts 13:22-23; Rom 1:3, 2 Tim 2:8, Rev 22:16)
2. Who rises from the dead (Acts 2:30, 13:23)
3. Builder of the House of God (John 2:19-22, Heb 3:3-4)
4. Possessor of a Throne (Heb 1:8, Rev 3:21)
5.Possesor of an eternal kingdom (1 Cor 15:24-25; Eph 5:5; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:11)
6. Son of God (Mark 1:1, John 20 :31; Acts 9:20; Heb 4:14; Rev 2:18)
7. Immaculately conceived as son of God (Luk 1:32-35) (Bergen)
OT links include Is 9:6-7, Is 10:21, Dan 2:44, 4:3, 6:26, 7:14. (BBCNT)
come upon you- Greek operachestai, used in Acts 1:8, Isa 32:15, 1 Sam 16:13
power- another way of saying Holy Spirit
holy – Greek hagion, this might modify the subject “holy child” or predicate “the child will be holy”.(Brown)
Hastily- Why the haste? Presumably to see the pregnant Elizabeth. Was she eager to see Elizabeth’s blessing, or was she actually looking for confirmation of the angel’s report to her?
hill country of Judah- It is estimated only twenty percent of priest lived in Jerusalem.
1.Iouda might be a mistake for Yutah, a priestly city in Josh 21:16
2. City- Greek polis, this might be a mistake for an original medinah, “province”
3. Pliny calls “hill country” a division of Judea near Jerusalem
4. Tradition (esp. The Protoevangelium of James) mistakenly makes Zechariah a high priest, and thus picks Kerim, a sort of Jerusalem suburb, about 5 miles from the big city, for Zechariah and Elizabeth’s town.(Brown)
The journey from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s home would have taken three to five days. Given the prevalence of bandits on roads in those days, one wonders exactly how Mary got there. Did she have a chaperone? Almost certainly she traveled with a caravan of some sort for protection. (BBCNT)
The Greek skirtan “jumped” is commonly used for skipping or jumping, like sheep would do. It is previously applied to a baby in Gen 25:22.(Brown)
Not surprisingly, the ancients were well aware that foetuses moved within their mothers, and folklore attributed things like singing, sinning, dancing and speaking within the womb. (BBCNT)
proclaimed- This is a form of anaphonein in the Greek, a word regularly used in the Greek OT (LXX Septuagint) for liturgical music (1 Chr 15:28, 16:4,5, 42). Thus you have 2 poetic praises, Elizabeth’s and Mary’s.
Blessed- The Greek is eulogenenos. If simply “happy, fortunate”, the Greek would be makarios, as in the Sermon on the Mount. Mary is blessed, but the term is used of others (Judges 5:24, Judith 13:18)
blessed fruit of womb- Again the Greek is eulogenenos, this phrase a Greek carry-over of a Hebrew original.(Brown)
My Lord- This is in fact Luke’s first use of Greek kurios, “lord”, for Jesus.(Brown)
Blessed- More likely here “fortunate, happy”, as the Greek this time is a form of makarios.(Brown)
The overwhelming plurality of textual evidence says “Mary said” here, but a few Latin texts say Elizabeth. One neutral idea is that the original text said “she” and people added the name that seemed to fit. Still, there are arguments pro and con for thinking “Elizabeth said” original:
1. “Low estate” in 48a better fits barren Elizabeth, and matches her “disgrace among men in 1:25
2. “Has done great things for me” in 49a matches “the Lord has shown great mercy” to Elizabeth in 1:58
3. It is awkward to mention Mary in v. 46 then rename her in v. 56.
4. Elizabeth better fits the model for the Magnificat, Hannah in 1 Sam, for both women were barren before God gave them children.
5. Very difficult to imagine scribes substituting Elizabeth for Mary, for high respect for Mary appeared in Christianity quite early on.
1. Overwhelming manuscript support for Mary
2. Handmaid, slave, Greek “doule”, fits Mary better than Elizabeth
3. Blessing in 48b matches 45a
4. Literary design is not awkward, but works well if Mary’s Magnificat is seen as response, Spirit-driven, to Spirit-driven Elizabeth’s hymn just before.
5. Why is there no mention of the parallel of Elizabeth’s barrenness here, when it is a strong component of the obvious model, Hannah’s hymn of 1 Sam 2:1-10?
6. A literary argument is that Luke arranged Zechariah’s Benedictus in Lk 1:68-79 and Mary’s Magnificat here as responses to the two Annunciations of John the Baptist and Jesus within this literary unit.(Brown)
Savior- In the Greek Bible, “soter” is applied to God thirty-five times, to men a mere five times.(Brown)
Henceforth- Greek apo tou nyn occurs seven times in the Greek NT, and six of those times are in Luke/Acts. In most of Luke’s uses, the phrase relates to a salvific moment.(Brown)
Here and back in 1:32 we see the importance ancient culture placed on status and honor, even after death. (BBCNT)
Mercy- Greek eleos is the normal Greek OT translation of the Hebrew hesed, God’s covenantal love.(Brown)
He has helped- The Greek antilambanein means something like “grabbing hold to support, to hold up, to prevent from falling”. (Brown)
It is entirely possible by count (six months, then three months) that Mary saw John born, but strange she is not mentioned as being there if so. I speculate that one reason Mary went to Elizabeth was for pregnancy education and moral support from an elder who also was experiencing miraculous things in her life. Presumably Joseph’s part in the story must then occur after Mary returns, when the pregnancy is more evident.
Home- Mary’s parents, based on Matthew’s account, for Joseph had yet to finish the engagement by taken Mary into his own home (Mat 1:20, 24).
The Magnificat borrows from a number of Psalms to weave together its hymn of praise to God.