Sunday, December 12, 2021

Two Prophetic Women, a Lord, and a Leaper

Below is a rough translation and some exegetical notes for Luke 1:39-48, the gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent, year C. It is a familiar story for this time of year. I am doing my best to pay attention to those characteristics of how Luke tells that story that I have often overlooked. This is a rare event in the gospels, when two women are front and center. There are no men in the conversation and their not-yet-born children are mostly in the background. As such, I find both of them to be incredibly aware and courageously ready to participate and proclaim what God is doing. I welcome your comments.

Luke 1:39-48
39 Ἀναστᾶσα δὲ Μαριὰμ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὴν ὀρεινὴν μετὰ σπουδῆς  εἰς πόλιν Ἰούδα, 
Yet having risen up in those days Mary went into the hill country with haste into a city of Judah,
Ἀναστᾶσα: AAPart nsf, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down 
ἐπορεύθη: API 3s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey 
1. It is curious that Luke would provide the detail of haste (which shows up again when the shepherds hear of Jesus’ birth) and the hilly country, but not the name of the city itself.

40 καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον Ζαχαρίου καὶ ἠσπάσατο τὴν Ἐλισάβετ. 
and entered into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elisabeth.
εἰσῆλθεν: AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ἠσπάσατο: AMI 3s, ἀσπάζομαι, 1) to draw to one's self  1a) to salute one, greet, bid welcome, wish well to  1b) to receive joyfully, welcome 
1. Luke has described Elisabeth as a descendent of Aaron and a righteous woman, who has been in seclusion since becoming pregnant. She interpreted her pregnancy as God taking away the disgrace of barrenness from her.

41 καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤκουσεν τὸν ἀσπασμὸν τῆς Μαρίας ἡ Ἐλισάβετ, ἐσκίρτησεν τὸ 
βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ αὐτῆς, καὶ ἐπλήσθη πνεύματος ἁγίου ἡ Ἐλισάβετ, 
And it happened that as Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the babe in her womb leaped, and Elizabeth was filled with a holy spirit,
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
ἤκουσεν: AAI 3s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
ἐσκίρτησεν: AAI 3s, σκιρτάω, 1) to leap 
ἐπλήσθη: API 3s, πίμπλημι to fill, fill up. Passive to become full of, be satisfied, have enough of, with Genitive of what filled with.

42 καὶ ἀνεφώνησεν κραυγῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εἶπενΕὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν, 
καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου. 
and cried out in a loud cry and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
ἀνεφώνησεν: AAI 3s, ἀναφωνέω, 1) to cry out with a loud voice, call aloud, exclaim 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Εὐλογημένη: PerfPPart nsf, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  2) to invoke blessings
εὐλογημένος: PerfPPar nsm, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises  2) to invoke blessings
1. The word “cry” (κραυγῇ) often describes a cry of sorrow or pain. Is it related to the fact that the babe in Elisabeth’s womb is breakdancing? The words that follow certainly don’t seem to reflect pain.
2. The proclamation “Blessed” is a perfect passive/middle participle. As such, it modifies the nouns rather than simply showing action. That is why it comes out as a pronouncement with a “to be” verb supplied.
3. I’m trying to understand the significance of saying that Elisabeth was filled with a holy spirit. Perhaps it explains a) how she knew that the movement within her was a leap of joy, or b) that Mary was with child, or c) that Mary’s child was her lord, or d) why she was ecstatically pronouncing a blessing. Others?

43 καὶ πόθεν μοι τοῦτο ἵνα ἔλθῃ ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ κυρίου μου πρὸς ἐμέ; 
And whence is this to me that the mother of my lord should come to me?
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons
1. Modern translations interpret the conjunction πόθεν as “why?” because it reads more easily that way. It is, in fact, a conjunction of place, usually “where” or “whence.”
2. Since the ἵνα sets off a clause, often with “in order that” or at times simply with “that,” the first clause of the verse needs a verb supplied to read smoothly.
3. Elisabeth’s question is interesting. It could read as an expression of humility, that even though her own baby has been proclaimed by an angel, conceived in menopause, taken away Elisabeth’s disgrace, and is a sign from God, she subordinates herself and her baby to Mary and her baby. In that respect, it is a wonder of sorts, “How is it to little ole’ me, that the mother...?” Or, maybe it is a real question, since Mary was not, in fact, instructed to go and visit Elisabeth, “From where came this action, that you should come to me?” I think the first pronoun, “... whence is this to me,” indicates that the question has more to do with Elisabeth’s honor and joy than with the origin of Mary’s action.

44 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ὡς ἐγένετο ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ ἀσπασμοῦ σου εἰς τὰ ὦτά μου, ἐσκίρτησενἐν 
ἀγαλλιάσει τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ μου. 
For behold as the voice of your greeting began in my ears, the babe in my womb leaped in joy.
ἰδοὺ: imperative of aorist, middle of εἶδον (to see), a particle serving to call attention
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἐσκίρτησενἐν: AAI 3s, σκιρτάω, 1) to leap 
1. I’m a little skeptical about listing ἰδοὺ as a verb here and in v.48. It is one of those words that originally was a verb, but the imperative form of that verb evolved into a particle. It is the word that the KJV often translates as “Behold!” Somehow that seems right for here and v.48, but I may be under the influence of Christmas pageantry in feeling that way.
2. This is a very body-minded verse that speaks of Mary’s voice and Elisabeth’s ears, the babe and Elisabeth’s womb.

45 καὶ μακαρία ἡ πιστεύσασα ὅτι ἔσται τελείωσις τοῖς λελαλημένοις αὐτῇ παρὰ κυρίου. 
And blessed is she who believed that there will be a fulfillment of the things spoken to her from by lord.
πιστεύσασα: AAPart nsf, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, place confidence in
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λελαλημένοις: PerfPPart dpn, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak
1. It is interesting that Luke/Elisabeth uses the word μακαρία “blessed” here instead of Εὐλογημένη “blessed” as in v.42. I don’t know how one differs from the other.
2. The word ὅτι can mean “that” or “because.” As such, it could be translated two ways: a) It could signify the object of what Mary believes (as I have translated it – “that there will be a fulfillment ...”) or b) it could signify the cause of her blessedness (as in, “because there will be a fulfillment of ...). It is a judgment call, I believe.
3. Some translations, for clarity, treat “fulfillment” as a verb, “will be fulfilled.”
4. How Elisabeth knows that Mary believed may be what the “filled with a holy spirit” indicates in v.41, or a combination of that filling and the baby in her womb leaping for joy. Remembering that all Mary has said to this point is a greeting, Elisabeth displays a lot of insight into what God is up to among them. Perhaps what it means to be filled with a holy spirit is to be attuned to what God is doing in one's moment. I like that idea! 
46 Καὶ εἶπεν Μαριάμ, Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον, 
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the lord,
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
Μεγαλύνει: PAI 3s, μεγαλύνω, 1) to make great, magnify 
1. It is interesting to ponder what it means to “magnify the lord” or to “make the lord great.” “The lord” is the direct object of the transitive verb “magnify”, where one might expect an indirect object of an intransitive, like “My soul marvels at the lord,” or something like that. Grammatically anyway this verse suggests that God is an object that is affected by Mary’s action. Mary magnifies – an active verb – and God is magnified as a result, being the direct object of that verb. It raises questions: Can one’s soul ‘diminish’ God? Is worship our calling to participate in making God great, and not just to acknowledge greatness? I know that these are odd questions, but they are my way of trying to appreciate why Luke tells this story was he does. Mary’s soul is magnifying God. That is quite a statement.

47 καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου, 
and my spirit rejoiced in the God of my salvation,
ἠγαλλίασεν: AAI 3s, ἀγαλλιάω, 1) to exult, rejoice exceedingly, be exceeding glad
1. Here are the intransitive verb and indirect object combination that one might have expected in the last verse.
2. But, the verb – surprisingly – is aorist. Most modern translations make it present for some reason. The question should be, why would Luke – an excellent writer – follow the present verb “magnifies” in the last verse with a past tense verb in this verse?
3. “my” salvation? Does Luke/Mary see salvation for Mary in this birth? Or, is it Mary’s salvation as one who participates in the greater salvation for all?

48 ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ. ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν 
μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί: 
because he has looked on the lowliness of his servant. For behold from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
ἐπέβλεψεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιβλέπω, 1) to turn the eyes upon, to look upon, gaze upon  2) to look up to, regard
ἰδοὺ: See v.44 above.
μακαριοῦσίν: FAI 3p, μακαρίζω, 1) to pronounce blessed 
1. Is Mary’s “salvation” the fact that God has looked on her lowliness and has given her a child for whom all nations will call her blessed? That kind of salvation would seem completely appropriate for Elisabeth, who carried the disgrace of being barren for many years. Mary, as far as we know, has not had such disgrace, except for what we often suppose to be the case with an unwed pregnancy. The ‘unwed but pregnant’ disgrace seems more warranted in Matthew’s gospel, where Joseph considers putting Mary away, but there is no mention of any such disgrace in Luke’s gospel.
2. Another possibility is that Mary is speaking on behalf of all of the lowly – after all she is living under Roman occupation, as Luke noted in v.5 and will note again at the beginning of c.2. Moving from lowliness to blessed is a reason for magnifying God and rejoicing in one’s salvation.
3. If all generations will call Mary “blessed,” then Elisabeth is like the mother, the forerunner, of future generations, because she has already pronounced Mary to be blessed. 


  1. re: aorist beginning in v. 47 - according to my Smyth's Greek Grammar and A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek NT, it and the following are the gnomic aorist, describing God's customary way of acting, or it lets the reader infer that what has happened once will occur often. (I love my reference books!) (I love your blog, too.)

  2. Does the 'hilly country' related to the Jeremiah passages?

  3. I have always assumed that Elizabeth's feeling her baby "leap for joy" was the quickening, the moment, usually in the 5th month or so, when the pregnant person first feels movement of the fetus. It's a powerful moment for the mother and here in Luke, it's tied to Elizabeth hearing Mary's voice. I wonder if Elizabeth doubted whether she would carry John to term, or if something would go wrong—a common enough worry, particularly if she had experienced miscarriages before. What I see in this text is Mary's greeting coincides with that moment that tends to mean the pregnancy is going well. The fun part (that I have to figure out for my sermon) is what that means theologically.

  4. It is Mary's ψυχή - translit. psyche - that makes the 'lord' great. Interesting Luke doesn't use 'G-d'. But what the psyche/soul makes great (magnifies) may or may not affect the external object. Like a magnifying glass, it can expose aspects of reality not otherwise easily visible. The magnification is linked to having been seen (ἐπέβλεψεν) herself as 'low.' Having been seen, she sees greatly?


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