PROTESTANT SCHOLARSHIP ON LUKE 1:26-56 AND MARY AS GOD’S ARK

In this post, I will be citing the exegesis of Protestant expositors in regards to the language employed by Luke in recording the annunciation of, and subsequent reactions to, Jesus’ virginal conception. It has long been noted that Luke describes this miraculous event in a way that is strikingly reminiscent to the manner the Hebrew Bible speaks of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle/Temple, which symbolized God’s presence among his people. This has led many to conclude that Mary is being portrayed as the Ark due to the eternal Word of God tabernacling within her physical body and becoming flesh of her flesh and bones of her bones (Cf. Genesis 2:21-23).  

THE PASSAGE

I emphasize the key parts of the Lukan narrative, and include the relevant Greek terms, which all point to Mary being the Ark of God’s presence:

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one (kecharitomene)! The Lord is with you.’ But she was very perplexed at this statement, and was pondering what kind of greeting this was. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (episkiasei) you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth herself has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called infertile is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her. Now at this time Mary set out and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out (anephonesen) with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.’ And Mary said: ‘My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is to generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, And sent the rich away empty-handed. He has given help to His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, Just as He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.’ Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.” Luke 1:26-56

EXEGETICAL REMARKS

As I will show in the next section, even Protestant commentators acknowledge the facts which I will be mentioning here.

HIGHLY FAVORED

The Greek word rendered “highly favored,” charitoo, is used only one other time in a context which is quite remarkable:

“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He favored (echaritosen) us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Him, regarding His plan of the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in the Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:4-12

The favor which believers have received is that which will eventually result in their being completely transformed into becoming absolutely holy and sinless, which comes from their union with Christ.

In the case of the blessed Mother, she wasn’t only given the favor of being united to Christ in salvation. Mary was also graced by becoming the mother of the eternal Word of God, an act which caused God’s beloved Son to become united to her physical body for the purpose of taking on human flesh so as to become Man. This is a favor that shall be given to no other human being.

In light of this, why should it shock any one that Christians came to believe early on that God had set Mary apart from all sins and imperfections in order to make her a worthy and pure vessel for God’s all-holy and pure Son to tabernacle in?

“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Luke 1:34-35 English Standard Version (ESV)

“and a voice came from the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.’… Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘What business do you have with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God!’” Mark 1:11, 23-24

“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!’” Matthew 17:5

“Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have already believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:68-69  

“The one who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” John 7:18

“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to HimWhich one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” John 8:29, 46

“But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” Acts 3:14-15  

“Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have now become betrayers and murderers of Him;” Acts 7:52

“And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear a message from His mouth.’” Read full chapter Acts 22:14

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let’s hold firmly to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:14-15

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens;” Hebrews 7:26

“how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

“knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” 1 Peter 1:18-19

“For you have been called for this purpose, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you would follow in His steps, He whocommitted no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being abusively insulted, He did not insult in return; while suffering, He did not threaten, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself brought our sins in His body up on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25

“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all time, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” 1 Peter 3:18

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” 1 John 2:1

“And everyone who has this hope set on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure… You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin… Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;” 1 John 3:3, 5, 7

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:” Revelation 3:7

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Origin of the creation of God, says this:” Revelation 3:14

OVERSHADOW YOU

The term “overshadow” is employed in connection to God’s glory where he would appear in a visible cloud and/or fill the Tabernacle/Temple:

 “‘But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.’ About eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter, John, and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him. And as these two men were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here; and let’s make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not realizing what he was saying. But while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow (epeskiazen) them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And then a voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’” Luke 9:27-35

“And the cloud covered the tabernacle of witness, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord. And Moses was not able to enter into the tabernacle of testimony, because the cloud overshadowed (epeskiazen) it, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of the Lord. And when the cloud went up from the tabernacle, the children of Israel prepared to depart with their baggage. And if the cloud went not up, they did not prepare to depart, till the day when the cloud went up. For a cloud was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night before all Israel, in all their journeyings.” Exodus 40:28-32 LXX

“The children of Israel shall encamp by the command of the Lord, and by the command of the Lord they shall remove: all the days in which the cloud overshadows (skiazei) the tabernacle, the children of Israel shall encamp.” Numbers 9:18 LXX

“And the cloud overshadowed (skaizousa ep’) them by day, when they departed from the camp.” Numbers 10:36 LXX

“And to Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in confidence, and God overshadows (skiazei ep’) him always, and he rested between his shoulders.” Deuteronomy 33:12 LXX

He shall overshadow (episkiasei) thee with his shoulders, and thou shalt trust under his wings: his truth shall cover thee with a shield.” Psalm 90:4 LXX

THE BABY LEAPED

Interestingly, we are told in the Hebrew Bible that David leaped and danced before the Ark as he was dressed in priestly attire:

“And David was dancing before the Lord with all his strength, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with joyful shouting and the sound of the trumpet. Then it happened, as the ark of the Lord was coming into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked down through the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she was contemptuous of him in her heart.” 2 Samuel 6:14-16

It isn’t a coincidence that John the Baptist, who was a priest from the lineage of Aaron, also leaped in his mother’s womb when he heard the voice of Mary, the human Ark of God who had the Mighty God tabernacling in her physical body:

“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He will make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them… For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of armies will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7 – Cf. 10:20-21; Matthew 4:12-16; Luke 126-33, :78-79

“Now muster yourselves in troops, daughter of troops; They have laid siege against us; With a rod they will strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His times of coming forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has given birth. Then the remainder of His kinsmen Will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the Lord, In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.” Micah 5:1-4 – Cf. Matthew 2:1-6; Luke 2:1-7

AND SHE CRIED OUT WITH A LOUD VOICE

Elizabeth’s reaction is strikingly reminiscent to the way God’s people reacted before the Ark of the Covenant:

“And all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of a horn, and with trumpets, and with cymbals, playing loudly on lutes and harps. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord arrived, and came to the city of David; and Melchol the daughter of Saul looked down through the window, and saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart.” 1 Chronicles 15:28-29 LXX

“And he appointed before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, Levites to minister [and] lift up the voice, and to give thanks and praise the Lord God of Israel: Asaph [was] the chief, and next to him Zacharias, Jeiel, Semiramoth, and Jeiel, Mattathias, Eliab, and Banaeas, and Abdedom: and Jeiel sounding with musical instruments, lutes [and] harps, and Asaph with cymbals:” 1 Chronicles 16:4-5 LXX

“And it came to pass, when the priests went out of the holy place, (for all the priests that were found were sanctified, they were not [then] arranged according to their daily course,) that all the singing Levites [assigned] to the sons of Asaph, to Aeman, to Idithun, and to his sons, and to his brethren, of them that were clothed in linen garments, with cymbals and lutes and harps, [were] standing before the altar, and with them a hundred and twenty priests, blowing trumpets. And there was one voice in the trumpeting and in the psalm-singing, and in the loud utterance (anaphonein) with one voice to give thanks and praise the Lord; and when they raised their voice together with trumpets and cymbals, and instruments of music, and said, Give thanks to the Lord, for [it is] good, for his mercy [endures] for ever:– then the house was filled with the cloud of the glory of the Lord. And the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 LXX

THE MOTHER OF MY LORD COMES TO ME

We find David expressing a similar (though not identical) sentiment in respect to the Ark:

“But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, because the oxen nearly overturned it. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. Then David became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah; and that place has been called Perez-uzzah to this day. So David was afraid of the Lord that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’ And David was unwilling to move the ark of the Lord into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom, the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.” 2 Samuel 6:6-11

David’s and Elizabeth’s reactions were similar in that both of them realized how utterly unworthy they were to have God’s visible Presence come to them.

THE EXPOSITORS

In this section I will cite Protestant commentaries, which acknowledge the foregoing connections between the blessed Mother and God’s Ark/Tabernacle. All emphasis that is not in the original shall be mine.

Another point worth pondering here is the frank biological realism that undergirds Mary’s question in 1:34. The angel Gabriel does not, as in the case of Zacharias, regard her question as an expression of doubt in the authority of the divine word to her but rather as a genuine desire for clarification concerning something that she would recognize as without precedence even in biblical history. The clue is the verb episkiasei (“will overshadow”). In the Septuagint, as Bock, notes, this verb “refers either to the Shekinah cloud that rested on the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-35; Num. 9:18; 10:34) or to God’s presence in protecting his people (Ps. 91:4 [LXX 90:4]).” Thus, the divine presence in the holy of holies, which Zacharias did not himself encounter, is here made to “overshadow” and inhabit, as tabernacle, the person and womb of the Virgin. Thus, “the Holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” There is a doubling reiteration in these paired events, but also significant intensification. (David Lyle Jeffrey, Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) [Brazos Press, A Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI 2012], pp. 28-29)

Gabriel’s opening words to Mary – “Rejoice, favored one!” – are related by alliteration in the Greek and by their conjoining of two motifs interwoven throughout the Gospel: God acts graciously, people respond (appropriately) with joy and praise. Many translations read the initial word as a common greeting rather than as an invitation to rejoice, and this is possible. However, apart from the use of the word in openings to letters intended for Greek audiences in Acts 15:23; 23:26, Luke uses the Semitic term “peace” as a formula for greeting. This suggests that this greeting fills in further the picture of rejoicing that will pervade the Third Gospel (e.g., 1:14, 47, 58; 2:10). Moreover, his greeting is reminiscent of Zeph 3:14-15; Zech 9:9; Joel 2:21, where the formula is found: rejoice! + address + reference to the divine action or attitude which joy is the proper response. “Favored one,” then, functions as a name for Mary, designating her as the object of divine benefaction. This reality is accented and clarified by its repetition in v. 30, then celebrated (with rejoicing! – v 47) by Mary in v 48. God has given his favor to one who had no claim to worthy status, raised her up from a position of lowliness, and has chosen her to have a central role in salvation history.

This message is confirmed by the angel’s declaratory promise, “The Lord is with you.” This is much more than a greeting, for this language is purpose in salvation history; in such contexts this phrase assures human agents of divine resources and protection. (Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Luke [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K. 1997], pp. 86-87)      

These parallel affirmations do not suggest sexual activity, but do connote divine agency. The Holy Spirit is identified with God’s power in a way that anticipates Acts 1:8. The verb “to come upon” also anticipates Acts 1:8, and, then, the Pentecost event. The text may call to mind Isa 32:15, which anticipates the Spirit’s being poured out upon God’s people as a mark of the age of peace. The second phrase has connections with the transfiguration scene in 9:34, and more broadly with scriptural accounts of manifestations of the glory of God (e.g., Exod 40:35; Num 9:18, 22). (Ibid., p. 90)

“Highly favored” renders kecharitomene (from charitoo, GK 5923), which has the same root as the words for “greeting” (chairo, mGK 5897), and “favor” (charis, GK 5921; v.30).  Mary is “highly favored” because she is the recipient of God’s grace. A similar combination of words occurs in Ephesians 1:6–”his glorious grace, which he has freely given [same Greek word as for “highly favored”] us.” Some suggest that Luke implies a certain grace has been found in Mary’s character. While this could be so, the parallel in Ephesians (the only other occurrence of the verb charitoo in the NT) shows that the grace in view here is that which is given to all believers apart from any merit of their own. Mary has “found favor with God” (v.30); she is a recipient of his grace (v.28), and she can therefore say, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (v.47). “The Lord is with you” recalls the way the angel of the Lord addressed Gideon to assure him of God’s help in the assignment he was about to receive (Jdg 6:12)…  

35 Once again (cf. v.15), Luke mentions the Holy Spirit, as he does six more times in his first two chapters (1:41, 67, 80 [TNIV text note]; 2:25, 26, 27). The word for “overshadow” (episkazo, mGk 2173) carries the sense of the holy, powerful presence of God, as in the description of the cloud that “covered” (He. sakan, GK 8905; NIV, “settled upon”) the tabernacle when the tent was filled with the glory of God (Ex 40:35; cf. Ps 91:4). The word is used in all three accounts of the transfiguration to describe the overshadowing of the cloud (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34). Likewise, in each account the voice comes out of the cloud, identifying Jesus as God’s Son–a striking reminder of Luke 1:35, where the life that results from the enveloping cloud is identified as “the Son of God.” The phrase “will be called the Son of God” does not mean that Jesus will later be recognized by those around him as the Son of God. To be called “Son of God” means simply that he is “the Son of God” (see John J. Kilgallen, “The Conception of Jesus [Luke 1:35],” Bib 78 [1997]” 232). (Walter L. Leifeld & David W. Pao, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke-Acts [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Volume 10)

35 The language kai apokritheis ho angelos eipen aute, “and the angel, answering, said to her,” has probably been conformed to that of v 19. The anarthrous, “Holy Spirit,” is Semitic (cf. at 1:15) and is never used in the subject position by Luke. eperchesthai epi, “to come upon,” is Septuagintal idiom but is used in connection with the Spirit only at Isa 32: 15 (A N) where the MT has ye’areh (“will be poured out”). Acts 1:8 has epelthontos tou hagiou pnematos eph hymas, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Since Luke nowhere else refers to the coming of the Spirit in these terms, he is probably drawing attention to the Greek text of Isa 32:15 in both cases: this is the eschatological coming of the Spirit that will cause the wilderness to become a fruitful field. Luke links pneuma, “Spirit,” and dynamis, “power,” closely (Luke 4: 14; Acts 1:8; 10:38) but never identifies them quite as here. Also, the secondary formation “spirit and power” the sake of a parallel with v 35, which is noted at v 17, supports an origin in tradition and not Lukan redaction for the parallel clauses of v 35. Note also the traditional linking of “Spirit” and ” power” in Rom 1:4. hypsistou, “of the Most High,” could be Lukan (6:35; Acts 7:48), but the parallel uses of hypsistos and theos in vv 32 and 35 suggest otherwise. episkiasei, “will overshadow,” like epeleusetai, “will come upon,” has probably been influenced by the LXX text of Exod 40:35, perhaps via the transfiguration account (Luke 9:34): Mary’s experience is to be compared to the dramatic way in which God’s glory and the cloud marking his presence came down upon the completed tabernacle. dio kai, “therefore,” could be Lukan (Acts 10:29; 24:26). Only the plainly secondary text of Eccl 3:15(A) offers a parallel to (lit., “the being born”). The use here of hagion, “holy,” in connection with Jesus is not Lukan (Luke 4:34 repeats Mark 1:24; Acts 3: 14 is traditional [ef. 4:27, 30]). Just possibly hagion klethesetai, “will be called holy,” reflects the qadosh ye’amer, of Isa 4:3 (LXX has plural). klethesetai hyios theou, “will be called Son of God,” repeats the Semitism of v 32 (see there). Overall, then, v 35 would seem to have a Semitic base and structure which has been subjected to considerable Lukan editing. (John Nolland, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 1:1-9:20 [Zondervan Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2016], Volume 35A, p. 54)

V 34 has been understood in many ways. It seems best to take it that Mary understood the angel to be speaking about the conception of a child while her existing marital situation continued: “I have no sexual relationship with a man.” Well might she ask, “How can this be?”

The answer is that a yet greater miracle than in the case of Elizabeth will occur. The Spirit will come upon her as promised for the eschatological period that Spirit by means of which the wilderness will become a fruitful field (Isa 32:15, esp. LXX). God’s power will overshadow her as in the dramatic coming down of God’s glory and the cloud to overshadow in the wilderness the newly completed tabernacle (Exod 40:35). By the sheer creative power of God a child will be born whose origin is not that of normal human generation. The child’s incredible origin marks him out as destined for a quite special role in the purposes of God. This special role is first expressed more generally in the recognition that he is “holy” (the holy is that to which God has special claim [Luke 2:23; cf. Exod 13:2,12] and to which he is particularly connected [Exod 4:5; 25:8]), and then more specifically in the messianically colored affirmation that he is “Son of God.” We are left with a good measure of mystery. What is emphasized is the total initiative of God in providing the messianic Son. (Ibid., p. 59)

Elizabeth’s intensity reflects her state of inspiration. anaphonein, “to cry out,” is used in the LXX (5 times) only in connection with the loud noise of worship, hut that is probably not in view here. Mary may be consciously set in the tradition of Jael and Judith (Judg 5:24; Jdt 13: 18) as a weak woman through whom God brings deliverance (R. E. Brown, Birth, 342). Elizabeth does not wish or offer blessing, but recognizes blessedness. Spitta (ZNW 7 [1906] 282-85) disputes Mary’s pregnancy at this point, on the basis of its later mention at 2:5, but that is from a separately transmitted tradition. The nature of the blessedness of the mother and child remains unspecified in Elizabeth’s words of blessing but is clearly betrayed in the question of v 43.

43 Elizabeth’s question could echo the language of either 2 Sam 6:9 or 24:21. The former is to be preferred as closer in language, but especially as reflecting reverence (fear) in the face of God’s action and presence. The MT is closer than the LXX. “My Lord” is a court expression (cf. Dan 4: 19) and reflects the messianic use of Ps 110:1 (cf. Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:34). Luke would have used tou Kyriou, “the Lord.” Occasionally v 43 is considered to be a Lukan intrusion breaking the flow of vv 42,44 (Raisanen, Mutter Jesu, 108-9). The difficulty is real, but without v 43 the nature of the blessedness remains unexpressed. It is vv 44-45 which lie under suspicion of Lukan expansion. Elizabeth here expresses her overwhelmed realization that she is being visited by the one who is pregnant with the messianic child. (Ibid., p. 67)

Echoes of 2 Sam 6:2-19 are to be found in vv 41,43,44, and possibly v 56. Except for the last, what we have is a taking up of language that expresses a paradigmatic response to that which marks the presence and activity of God. If the last be granted (v 56; cf. 2 Sam 6: 11), then we must go further and say that this taking up of paradigmatic responses has been artistically carried through by treating the presence of Mary (or the unborn Jesus) as equivalent to the presence of the ark of the covenant

Alerted to Elizabeth’s pregnancy by the angel Gabriel, Mary sets out eagerly to make the lengthy journey to be with her, sensing her own shared destiny with Elizabeth in miraculous motherhood. Reaching Zechariah’s house, Mary greets Elizabeth, and it is her moment of greeting which precipitates the action of the pericope. In line with a Jewish tradition of such things (Gen 25:2223; Tg. Ket. Ps 68:27) the unborn John anticipates prenatally his later position in relation to Jesus (cf. John 3:29). The language of John’s action echoes that in 2 Sam 6: 16 of David’s leaping before the ark of the covenant. While Elizabeth responds to the greeting, the unborn John responds directly to the presence of the unborn Jesus: Elizabeth’s inspired blessing in v 42 takes account of both. Elizabeth’s words are a Spirit-inspired interpretation of the movement of her unborn child (v 44).

Elizabeth does not wish or offer blessing, but recognizes blessedness. Mary’s blessedness is that she is carrying the messianic child who is in turn blessed because of his unique identity and role. Mary may be being consciously set in the tradition of Jael and Judith (Judg 5:24; Jdt 13:8) as a weak woman through whom God brings deliverance. Elizabeth’s question (v 43) echoes 2 Sam 6:9 in its expression of reverence (fear) in the face of God’s action and presence. “My Lord” is a court expression (cf. Dan 4: 19) and reflects the messianic use of Ps 110:1 (cf. Luke 20:41-44). The importance of the action of the unborn John is underlined by the extra attention drawn to it in v 44. Both Zechariah and Mary have been singled out for angelic revelation. Elizabeth, in eulogizing Mary’s faith, is implicitly contrasting Mary’s glad surrender to the will of God (v 38) with her own husband’s unbelief (vv 18,20): just as Jesus’ conception is a greater miracle than is that of John, so also God’s move to set it in motion was met by a more appropriate readiness on the part of the human parent than was the case with John. (Ibid., pp. 74-75)

Luke 1:28χαρεκεχαριτωμένηave plena gratiâ, Vulg[4], on which Farrar (C. G. T.) comments: “not gratiâ plena, but gratiâ cumulata”; much graced or favoured by God.—χαριτόω is Hellenistic, and is found, besides here, only in Ephesians 1:6 in N. T. Κύριος μετ σο, the Lord (Jehovah) is or be with thee, στί or στω understood; the two renderings come practically to the same thing.

[4] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version). (Expositor’s Greek Testament)

28. highly favoured—a word only once used elsewhere (Eph 1:6, “made accepted”): compare Lu 1:30, “Thou hast found favour with God.” The mistake of the Vulgate’s rendering, “full of grace,” has been taken abundant advantage of by the Romish Church. As the mother of our Lord, she was the most “blessed among women” in external distinction; but let them listen to the Lord’s own words. “Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” (See on [1537] Lu 11:27). (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

And the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. By “the power of the Highest” is not meant the Lord Jesus Christ, who is sometimes called the power of God; but rather the Holy Ghost, as before, who is styled the finger of God, and power from on high, Luke 11:20 unless it should be thought that the perfection of divine power common to all the three persons is intended: and so points out the means by which the wondrous thing should be performed, even by the power of God; and which should not only be employed in forming the human nature of Christ, but in protecting the virgin from any suspicion and charge of sin, and defending her innocence and virtue, by moving upon Joseph to take her to wife. In the word, “overshadow”, some think there is an allusion to the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters, in Genesis 1:2 when, he brooded upon them, as the word may be rendered; and which is the sense of it, according to the Jewish writers (y) as a hen, or any other bird broods on its eggs to exclude its young: and others have thought the allusion may be to , (z), “the nuptial covering”: which was a veil, or canopy, like a tent, supported on four staves, under which the bridegroom and bride were betrothed; or, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, it is a modest phrase alluding to the conjugal embraces, signified by a man’s spreading the skirt of his garment over the woman, which Ruth desired of Boaz, Ruth 3:9 though the Jewish writers say (a), that phrase is expressive of the act of marriage, or taking to wife. The phrase of being “overshadowed”, or “covered with the spirit of prophecy”, as the virgin also was, is used by the Targumist, on 1 Chronicles 2:55. (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Verse 35. – The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Again the angel makes use of the term “Highest” when alluding to the eternal Father. The expression of Gabriel, “the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee,” reminds us of the opening words of Genesis, where the writer describes the dawn of life in creation in the words, “The Spirit of God moved [or, ‘brooded’] over the face of the deep.” “The Word was conceived in the womb of a woman, not after the manner of men, but by the singular, powerful, invisible, immediate operation of the Holy Ghost, whereby a virgin was, beyond the law of nature, enabled to conceive, and that which was conceived in her was originally and completely sanctified” (art. 3, Bishop Pearson on the Creed). Luke 1:35 (Pulpit Commentary)

Shall overshadow

“Denoting the mildest and most gentle operation of divine power, that the divine fire should not consume Mary, but make her fruitful” (Bengel). Compare Exodus 33:22Mark 9:7. Compare the classical legend of Semele, who, being beloved of Jove, besought him to appear to her as he appeared in heaven, in all the terrors of the thunderer, and was consumed by his lightning. The metaphor in the word is taken from a cloud, in which God had appeared (Exodus 40:341 Kings 8:10). (Vincent’s Word Studies)

35shall overshadow thee] as with the Shechinah and Cloud of Glory (see on Luke 2:9Luke 9:34). See the treatise on the Shechinah in Meuschen, pp. 701–739. On the high theological mystery see Pearson On the Creed, Art. iii. See on Luke 2:9.

that holy thing] “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” Hebrews 7:26. “Who did no sin,” 1 Peter 2:22.

which shall be born of thee] Rather, which is in thy wombGalatians 4:4, “born of a woman.”

the Son of God] This title is given to our Lord by almost every one of the sacred writers in the N. T. and in a multitude of passages. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

28–33 It was normally taboo for a man to greet an unknown woman in Judaism. To approach and greet an engaged woman might even be understood to challenge the fiancé’s authority. Gabriel’s mission of informing an unmarried and ineligible young woman in an insignificant village that she will bear a child is fraught with social obstacles. How ironic, therefore, the address of Gabriel: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (v. 28). What in Mary’s circumstances is favorable? Origen marveled at Gabriel’s address, finding nothing like it in all Scripture.75 Aquinas marveled that the angelic blessing is the first instance in Scripture of an angel showing reverence to a human being. The word for “greetings” (Gk. chaire) is the customary Greek greeting, but the word for “highly favored” (kecharitōmenē) occurs only here and in Eph 1:6. This second word is derived from the Greek word for “grace” and is more important, for in the NT grace is reserved solely for divine acts. Kecharitōmenē (perfect passive participle) carries the sense, “you who have been favored with grace,” with the accent on anticipatory or prevenient grace. Mary is not earning God’s favor, but like Gideon (Judg 6:12), in this unusual address and unusual visitation, she is receiving God’s predetermined blessing. The assurance that “the Lord is with you,” which also can be found in Judg 6:12 and Ruth 2:4, is almost certainly a declaration rather than the expression of a wish (i.e., “May the Lord be with you”). It assures Mary of a factual condition: God is with her. It does not direct her attention to a what (a set of outcomes), but to a whom—to the personal agency of the Lord who is with you, recalling perhaps God’s revelation to Moses in Exod 3 as the God who hears and sees and knows, the “with-you-God” who breaks into the human arena. Like Moses, Mary is the recipient of God’s unexpected, undeserved, and overwhelming grace. Bengel captured the surprise of the annunciation in saying that Mary is “not the mother of grace, but the daughter of grace.”78

Critically important in understanding the glorious eschatological pronouncement of v. 35 is the word “overshadow” (Gk. episkiazein), which recalls the divine cloud that overshadowed the tabernacle in Exod 40:35 (LXX). When all work on the tabernacle had been completed (Exod 40:33), God overshadowed (episkiazein) it and infused it with his presence and glory. In the tabernacle, God chose to materialize and localize himself within a particular time and space. Luke uses this otherwise inconsequential word, which occurs in only three other places in the OT, to describe the divine overshadowing of Mary (v. 35). The divine cloud that established his presence in a place now does so in a person. The divine overshadowing of the earthly tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the living tabernacle, the incarnation. John’s inimitable declaration that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) repeats this motif, for the Greek word behind “dwelt,” skēnoun—“to pitch a tent”—recalls the tabernacle. Episkiazein reappears at the transfiguration (9:34–36) when the divine cloud overshadows them—Jesus and Peter, James, and John—signifying divine empowerment of the apostles for mission, an event recalled in 2 Pet 1:16–18. The divine cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness and infused the tabernacle at Sinai completes the drama of salvation by infusing Mary’s womb with Jesus, the Son of God, and through Jesus, the apostolic community of faith.89

89 The discussion of the Divine Shadow in Brown, Birth, 327–28 underestimates this creative motif, and also the significant use of episkiazein with reference to it. Irenaeus, Haer. 3.11.3, captures the uniqueness of the incarnation by contrasting it to all forms of Greek and Gnostic religion: “According to the opinion of none of the heretics [Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, etc.] was the Word of God made flesh. For if any one carefully examines the systems of them all, he will find that the Word of God is brought in by all of them not as having become incarnate [Lat. sine carne] and impassible, as is also the Christ from above. Others consider him to have been manifested as a transfigured man; but they maintain him to have been neither born nor to have become incarnate, while others hold that he did not assume a human form at all, but that, as a dove, he did descend upon that Jesus who was born from Mary.” (James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K. 2015)

Elizabeth is exemplary in her response. She is the “amazed saint.” Her attitude is summarized in the question “Why am I so favored?” Here is humble amazement at being able to participate directly in God’s plan and see him at work (2 Sam 6:9; 24:21). All who have a role in God’s plan should share this wonder. (Darrel Bock, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Grant R. Osborne series editor, D. Stuart Briscoe &Haddon Robinson consulting editors, published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois/ Leicester, England 1994)

1:42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry. The verb anaphōneō [400, 430] is used only here in the NT; it is sometimes used in the LXX in contexts of worship and praise (1 Chr 15:28; 16:4–5, 42; 2 Chr 5:13). The theme of joy is certainly prominent in these nativity stories. (Allison A. Trites & William J. Larkin, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary with the Entire Text of the New Living Translation: Luke-Acts, General Editor Philip W. Comfort, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL 2006)

1:43 My Lord. This indicates that the focus in this account is upon Mary’s child more than Mary herself. Here “Lord” is clearly a Christological title and refers to Jesus. The title is used in our account (and in Luke 1–2 in general) both for God (1:46) and Jesus (1:43; cf. Acts 2:36), and it reveals the greatness of Mary’s child already before his birth. Whereas the title “Lord” is used for Jesus only six times in Mark, 60 it is used over twenty times in Luke. 61 To these can be added the nineteen times Jesus is addressed in the vocative as Lord. It is above all by the resurrection that Mary’s child is recognized as Lord (Acts 2:36), although this verse indicates that from his conception he was already Lord. The use of the title “Lord” indicates that Luke understood Jesus as standing on a different level from others. He, like God, is deserving of the title “Lord.”

61 Luke 1:76; 2:11; 3:4; 6:5; 7:13, 19; 10:1, 39, 41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:5–6; 18:6; 19:8, 31, 34; 20:42–44; 22:61 [twice]; 24:3, 34. (Robert H. Stein, The New American Commentary: Luke, Volume 24, published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 1992)

Unless noted otherwise, biblical references are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

FURTHER READING

NOTES FOR THE DISCUSSION ON THE MARIAN DOCTRINES

What the Early Church Believed: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

One thought on “PROTESTANT SCHOLARSHIP ON LUKE 1:26-56 AND MARY AS GOD’S ARK

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s