Luke 1
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The beginning of the Gospel of Luke (chapter 1:1-7a), folio 102 in Minuscule 481, made in 10th century.
BookGospel of Luke
Christian Bible partNew Testament
Order in the Christian part3

Luke 1 is the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. With 80 verses, it is one of the longest chapters in the New Testament. This chapter describes the birth of John the Baptist and the events leading up to the birth of Jesus.[1] Two canticles, the canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) and the canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus), are both contained within this chapter. The unnamed author of Luke names its recipient, Theophilus, who is most likely a real (but unknown) person,[2] but the term could simply mean a fellow believer, since theo philus is Greek for God lover.[3] Early Christian tradition uniformly affirms that Luke composed this Gospel as well as the Acts of the Apostles,[4] the companion volume to Luke, which is addressed to Theophilus in the same way.[5] The title "The Gospel of Luke", found in many Bibles and some manuscripts, was added later with no indication that it was originally part of the text.


Luke 1:1-7 in Codex Nitriensis (c. 550), Tischendorf's edition.

The original text was written in Koine Greek. This chapter is divided into 80 verses.

Textual witnesses

Some early manuscripts containing the text of this chapter are:

Old Testament references

New Testament references

Prologue (1:1–4)

The evangelist, Luke, begins his "orderly account" with the following statement:

1Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.[10]

The narratives are claimed to be an accurate history and meant to confirm the things that Theophilus has already been taught about Jesus, being written by a believer for the purpose of confirming belief.[11]

The writer clearly states there are other accounts about Jesus circulating and he is aware of them. Protestant theologian Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer and Lutheran biblical commentator Johann Albrecht Bengel think that Mark is among those Luke has in mind,[12] but Bengel suggests that Matthew and John were not.[13] Luke also states he is not himself an eyewitness but belongs to another generation that received its information from "eyewitnesses" to these events in a previous generation. Some argue Luke thus states that he is getting his information from the disciples and Apostles, which the tradition about Luke being a follower of Paul accords with. Luke, however, does not say explicitly that he knew or interviewed Jesus' disciples, at least in the Gospel, and so some think "handed down to us" means the traditions and other documents about Jesus that came from witnesses of the previous generation, which Luke carefully researched, not necessarily from someone Luke actually knew. [11] Some sections of Acts, however, have the author relating events with the author and Paul together.[14]

According to Franciscan theologian Robert J. Karris,[15] "Luke alone of the evangelists introduces his work with ... finely crafted, periodic Greek."[16] The first sentence gives the "since" clause, the main clause is given in the first part of the second sentence, and the purpose clause is given by "so that you may know...". Luke uses the word Greek: επειδηπερ, epeidēper, "inasmuch as", or "since indeed", to commence his account. This literary word which does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament or in the Septuagint, the Greek text of the Hebrew Bible, although it was frequently used by other classical writers.[12] Luke uses diēgēsis for "an account", which taken alone seems to mean a personal storytelling, but when compared to other usages at the time, such as with the works of Josephus, is to be taken as meaning a well planned account, although he might use it in the original meaning in Luke 8:39. He uses the word καθεξης (kathexēs) for orderly account, which would mean a logical, spatial, or chronological account. Karris argues that the use of the word as well in Acts indicated that Luke is composing in a logical sequence, with Luke building a logical argument for his view of God fulfilling his promises through Jesus.[16] Many scholars have seen parallels between this style and the openings to the Greek histories of Herodotus and Thucydides as well as scientific manuals and treatises of the Hellenistic world.[11]

John the Baptist's parents (1:5–25)

The Latin text of Luke 1:5–8 in Codex Gigas (13th century).

Verse 5

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.[17]

Luke begins to show what he thinks of as the fulfillment of God's promises. He gives us a description of John the Baptist's parents, Zechariah, a priest of the Abijah priestly division (1 Chronicles 24:10), and Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. They are both getting old and have no children. Luke says this all occurs during the reign of "Herod king of Judea" (Luke 1:5), who is identified as Herod the Great (reign: 37–4 BCE).[18]

Zechariah is on duty one day and goes into the Temple to light incense. During this time, priests served in the temple once a week twice a year, there being twenty four divisions of priests. Luke says εγενετο δε (egeneto de, " so happened...") that he was on duty at the time.[19] Some scholars[who?] see this as Luke imitating the style of the Septuagint in order to make his book sound like the Jewish scriptures. The majority of modern English translations choose not to include this phrase.[18]

The Angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him he will soon have a son, to name him John, and to not allow him any alcoholic drinks, and that "he will be great in the sight of Jehovah" (verse 15). Numbers 6:3 has abstaining from alcohol as a requirement to be a nazarite. Zechariah doubts Gabriel and Gabriel takes away his power of speech until this happens. Zechariah leaves the temple, unable to speak, and goes home. Elizabeth is soon pregnant. She declares "he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people" (verse 25). Infertility was often believed to be proof of disfavor with God.[20] Similarly Rachel, wife of Jacob, had said “God has taken away my reproach", when she bore a son.[21]

Luke thus starts with the Temple and then ends the book at the Temple in Luke 24:53: they were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.[22] Zechariah, being unable to speak and so complete his liturgy, may be contrasted with the "good news" brought by Jesus.[23]

There is much debate on the historicity of this information, as skeptics would reject appearances by angels and God's intervention in history in this manner. Whether one believes in such things or not, it is entirely possible that John's parents were childless throughout most of their life until John's birth. Some see Luke as taking a historical event or tradition he received and interpreting it in terms of events in the Old Testament. Very similar narratives recounting the birth of Samson in Judges 13:2–5, as well as Samuel in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel are alluded to. Luke seems to follow an Old Testament pattern in the sequence of his information here, specifically an announcement of impending birth, the child being given a name, and then discussion of their destiny.[24] This pattern can be seen in Genesis with Ishmael in 16:11–12 and Isaac in 17:19. Abraham and Sarah were also childless well into their old age. Josiah is announced this way in 1 Kings 13:2, King Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22:9–10, and the Immanuel prediction, used in Matthew 1:23, from Isaiah 7:14–17. Others see a five step pattern, with two extra steps of objections and confirmatory signs.[23] Gabriel appeared to Daniel in the Book of Daniel 9:21.[25]

The annunciation (1:26–38)

The Annunciation, by El Greco (completed 1575)

Main article: Annunciation

Luke then tells the story of Gabriel's visit to Mary, informing her that she will soon have a virgin conception by God. The account is recorded differently in Matthew 1:20, where an unnamed angel appears to Joseph after he has discovered that Mary is pregnant. Gabriel goes to Nazareth and visits Mary, who Luke tells us is a virgin engaged or betrothed to Joseph. The name Mary means "excellence", while Joseph means "May Yahweh add".[23]

Verse 28

And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"[26]

Gabriel greets her with the word κεχαριτωμενη, kecharitōmenē, meaning favored or graced, presumably by God. The Textus Receptus and some ancient manuscripts have here, "Blessed are you among women",[27] which is omitted in NU.[28] Mary does not seem to understand why she is favored, but Gabriel then tells her:

Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.[29]

This announcement seems to follow the same pattern as the announcement of John's birth and is also about fulfillment of God's promises. Theologian Eric Franklin notes that there are parallels in the two accounts, but suggests that the narrative of the annunciation to Mary is the "climax" to which the annunciation to Zechariah only acts as a "prelude".[2]

Verse 31

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.

The name "Jesus", or ιησουν in the Greek text,[30] means "God Saves".[23] Irish Archbishop John McEvilly notes that Mary was to name him, rather than Joseph (cf. Luke 2:21 in some translations, they gave him the name Jesus,[31] and Matthew 1:25, where Joseph gives the child his name).[32]

Verses 34-38

Mary asks Gabriel how this can be, since she is a virgin, but Gabriel says God will give her the child, and thus he will be the Son of God. He then points out how her relative Elizabeth, though old, is now carrying a child, and how "nothing is impossible with God".(Luke 1:37) He then leaves her (verse 38). Luke states Mary is a virgin, and that she is somehow descended from Aaron (since she is a cousin with Elizabeth, descendant of Aaron), but here says Jesus will inherit his "father"'s throne, or David's. According to Luke's genealogy, Jesus' descent from David comes via Joseph.[33] Since David is not of Aaron's line, this may indicate that Mary's mother was a descendant of Aaron and her father a descendant of David.[23]

In Daniel 9:24–27 Gabriel gives a prophecy about seventy weeks and the "Anointed One". If one adds the 180 days that Elizabeth was pregnant before Mary's conception plus the 270 days of Mary's pregnancy plus the forty days of "purification" in Luke 2:22, one gets 490 days, or seventy weeks.[34] Many Christians have seen this as a fulfillment of prophecy, but skeptics tend to counter that Luke could be constructing his story to fit what he sees as fulfillments of prophecy, whether real or not. God's promise of a messiah from the house of David is foretold in 2 Samuel 7.[35]

It is significant that Luke states that Mary lives in Nazareth, considered a small backwater town. He thus has God's grace bestowed on a young, unmarried woman living in an insignificant town. Luke frequently has favor shown on women, sinners, and various "unimportant" people. [34]

Paul never mentions a virgin birth for Jesus, but in Romans 1:3–4 he speaks of him as the Son of God by virtue of his resurrection, and states he had a more than human nature. Luke here has Jesus' divine nature declared from the first moment of his conception.[23]

Mary and Elizabeth (1:39–56)

The Latin text of Luke 1:8–3:23 in Codex Gigas (13th century).

Main article: Visitation (Christianity)

Mary then goes and visits her relative Elizabeth. Upon meeting the pregnant Mary, Elizabeth feels John move in her womb and is "filled with the Holy Spirit" (verse 41). This may be related to Genesis 25:22. Elizabeth gives praise to Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!", words which echo Moses' declaration to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 7:13: "[God] will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb". Mary, in her Magnificat, then gives praise to God: she first thanks God for favoring one so "humble" as herself, then praises God for his "mercy" and "help" to all people. God's mercy (το ελεος αυτου, to eleos autou) is mentioned five times within the Magnificat and Zechariah's Benedictus hymn. Many see the Magnificat patterned on Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10.[36]

In verses 51–53 Luke uses the past tense six times, implying Jesus' conception has fulfilled or is fulfilling these actions of God. These verses speak of the downfall of the proud and rich and the favor of the downtrodden. This might be a general statement, or an allusion to Israel and its Gentile rulers. Some have speculated these represent Ebionite views. Mary then mentions Abraham, again linking this with God's original covenant.[34] Mary stays for three months and leaves shortly before John's birth. Some find the idea of a young pregnant woman making the trip from the Judean hills to Nazareth improbable, but it is certainly not impossible.

John the Baptist's birth (1:57–79)

Main article: Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Friends and neighbors come to circumcise him and try to name him after his father, but his mother protests and then his father writes down that his name will be John, and is suddenly allowed to speak again. He becomes "...filled with the Holy Spirit...", as his wife before him. He sings a song, the Canticle of Zechariah, praising God. Karris sees relating the circumcision, as Luke also does for Jesus in Luke 2, as Luke's way of linking John and Jesus, and therefore Christianity, to a fulfillment of Israel.[36]

The first part of Zechariah's song praises the still unborn Jesus in verses 68–75. He says "He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David", with a horn representing strength, such as in Psalms 89:17 and 92:10. (Miller 120) There is then a praising and foretelling of John in verses 76–77, then the song switches back to Jesus in 78–79. Raymond E. Brown thought these sections might have been Jewish Christian hymns linked together by Luke.[36] It is a common thesis that the Magnificat, the Canticle, and the two songs in chapter 2, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo and the Nunc dimittis, were added by Luke to his original composition from a collection of hymns written in Greek. A minority of scholars think the Magnificat and Canticle might be Jewish hymns taken by the Christians, but Jewish hymns of the period reflect a future hope of God's help whereas these refer to it already having been fulfilled. Another group of scholars, also a minority, argue these were originally composed in Aramaic or Hebrew and so might come from original testimony and so usually argue for these songs' historicity. Scholars often see these as primitive and so probably composed before other songs in the New Testament, such as Philippians 2:6–11.[37] David is mentioned in the first section, once again linking Jesus to fulfillment of Israel's past. The song ends with a note of peace, a common Lukan theme. "Peace" is the first thing he says to all the gathered Apostles in Luke 24.

Luke's source for this information is unknown and frequently debated. Even if the Q hypothesis is correct, these stories of John's and Jesus's birth were not in it, nor are they in Mark. Luke does not mention anything about an Angel visiting Joseph, which suggests that either Matthew and Luke received their information on this subject from different sources, or Luke has access to both stories, knows Matthew is already circulating, and is filling in the story told in Matthew. If Luke is right, Jesus and John were cousins of some sort.

Verse 76

[Zechariah said:] "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,"[38]

John's development (1:80)

So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.[41]

Luke states in verse 80 that John grew up and went into the deserts (Greek: ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις, en tais heremais, plural), more specifically the desert of Judah.[12] This is the only near contemporary account of John's family found anywhere. Raymond E. Brown sees this verse as an echo of the births of Samson in Judges 13:24–25 and Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:21.[42]

See also


  1. ^ Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook: an Abbreviated Bible Commentary. 23rd edition. Zondervan Publishing House. 1962.
  2. ^ a b Franklin, E., 58. Luke in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, pp. 926-7
  3. ^ Marshall, I. Howard (1978). NIGTC: The Gospel of Luke. Paternoster Press; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. pp. 43–44. ISBN 0-8028-3512-0.
  4. ^ Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook. Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. 2012.
  5. ^ Acts 1:1
  6. ^ Aland, Kurt; Aland, Barbara (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Erroll F. Rhodes (trans.). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-8028-4098-1.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kirkpatrick 1901, p. 839.
  8. ^ Kirkpatrick 1901, p. 838.
  9. ^ Kirkpatrick 1901, p. 840.
  10. ^ Luke 1:1–4 NKJV
  11. ^ a b c Brown 1997, p. 227.
  12. ^ a b c Meyer, H. A. W. (1880), Meyer's NT Commentary on Luke 1, translated from the German sixth edition, accessed 17 December 2021
  13. ^ Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament on Luke 1, accessed 13 May 2018
  14. ^ Acts 20:5, 7, 13–15
  15. ^ Noted Scripture scholar Robert Karris develops book of reflections for 30 days, published 17 September 2012, accessed 13 May 2018
  16. ^ a b Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1990, p. 678.
  17. ^ Luke 1:5 MEV
  18. ^ a b Miller 1992, p. 118.
  19. ^ Luke 1:8
  20. ^ Miller 1992, p. 119.
  21. ^ Genesis 30:23; Farrar, F. W. (1891), Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Luke 1, accessed 1 July 2020
  22. ^ Luke 24:53
  23. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1990, p. 680.
  24. ^ Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1990, p. 679.
  25. ^ Daniel 9:21
  26. ^ Luke 1:28 NKJV
  27. ^ Footnote at Luke 1:28, New Revised Standard Version
  28. ^ Note on Luke 1:28 in NKJV
  29. ^ Luke 1:30–33
  30. ^ Luke 1:31: 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament
  31. ^ Jerusalem Bible (1966), Luke 2:21
  32. ^ McEvilly, J., An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D. on Luke 1:31, accessed 19 August 2023
  33. ^ Luke 3:23–31
  34. ^ a b c Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1990, p. 681.
  35. ^ 2 Samuel 7
  36. ^ a b c Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1990, p. 682.
  37. ^ Brown 1997, p. 232.
  38. ^ Luke 1:76 MEV
  39. ^ Note [a] on Luke 1:76 in NET Bible
  40. ^ Note [c] on Luke 1:76 in NET Bible
  41. ^ Luke 1:80 NKJV
  42. ^ Brown 1997, p. 233.


Preceded by
Mark 16
Chapters of the Bible
Gospel of Luke
Succeeded by
Luke 2