The Infancy Narratives in Luke's Gospel
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Overview of the Contents of Luke 1—2:


Prologue: Literary Introduction to the Gospel


Angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce the birth of John (the Baptist)


Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus (the “Annunciation”)


Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth (the “Visitation”; incl. Mary's “Magnificat”)


Elizabeth gives birth to her son (John the Baptist)

1:59-80 8th day: circumcision & naming of John the Baptist (incl. Zechariah's “Benedictus”)

Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem


Mary gives birth to her baby in Bethlehem of Judea (the “Nativity”)

2:8-14 Angels appear to some shepherds (incl. the angels' “Gloria”)

Shepherds visit Mary and Joseph and their infant


8th day: circumcision and naming of Jesus


40th day: Jesus is presented to God in the Jerusalem Temple (the “Presentation”)


Jesus' family returns to Nazareth


Twelve-year-old Jesus is found in the Temple (incl. Simeon's “Nunc Dimittis”)

Parallels in Biblical Birth Narratives:

. Birth of Ishmael
(Gen 15:1-21; 16:1-16)
Birth of Isaac
(Gen 17:15-22; 18:9-15; 21:1-8)
Birth of Samson
(Judg 13:2-25)
Birth of Samuel
(1 Sam 1:1—2:11)
Birth of John
(Luke 1:5-25, 57-80)
Birth of Jesus
(Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-40)

Mother's Situation

Sarai: barren (11:30; 16:1-2) Sarah: old (17:17; 18:11-12) Anonymous Wife: barren Hannah: barren Elizabeth: barren, old Mary: virgin, not yet married
Father's Role Abram: questions God Abraham: listens to God Manoah: dialogues with wife Elkanah: comforts Hannah Zechariah: priest in temple Joseph: no major role
Child Requested by Abram (15:3) (not explicit) (not explicit) by Hannah's prayer by Zechariah's prayer (implicit) (not requested)
Announcement of Birth* many descendants (15:5) by God to Abraham by an angel to the woman by Eli's assurance to Hannah by angel Gabriel to Zechariah by angel Gabriel to Mary
Initial Reaction Abram believed (15:6) Abraham laughs Woman tells her husband Eli thinks Hannah is drunk Zechariah questions / doubts Mary questions / believes
Result of Announcement Sarai gives Hagar to Abram delay of several chapters Angel appears again to both Hannah conceives from husband Elizabeth conceives from husband Mary conceives from Holy Spirit
Birth of Child conflict before birth (16:4-16) brief mention (21:1-3) brief mention (13:24a) very brief mention (1:20) brief narration (1:57-58) extensive narration (2:1-20)
Circumcision first instituted (17:1-27) brief mention (21:4) (not mentioned) (not mentioned) extensive narration (1:59-79) brief mention (2:21)
Boy's Name Ishmael (16:11, 15-16) Isaac (17:19; 21:3-5) Samson (13:24a) Samuel (1:20) John (1:13, 59-63) Jesus (1:31, 35; 2:21)
Reaction [Praising God] (not explicit) by Sarah (21:6-7) (sacrifice offered before birth) by Hannah (2:1-10) by Zechariah (1:67-79) by Mary (1:46-55);
by angels (2:8-14);
by shepherds (2:20);
by Simeon (2:28-32)
Child Grows driven away (21:9-21) great feast (21:8) brief mention (13:24b-25) (1:24-28; 2:11) brief mention (1:80) incident at age twelve (2:40-52)

*Note: Raymond Brown (Birth of the Messiah, p. 156) subdivides these Biblical Annunciations into five steps, most of which occur in most of the above stories:

  1. The appearance of an angel of the Lord (or appearance of the Lord)
  2. Fear or prostration of the visionary confronted by this supernatural presence
  3. The divine message:
    1. The visionary is addressed by name
    2. A qualifying phrase describing the visionary
    3. The visionary is urged not to be afraid
    4. A woman is with child, or about to be with child
    5. She will give birth to the (male) child
    6. The name by which the child is to be called
    7. An etymology interpreting the name
    8. The future accomplishments of the child
  4. An objection by the visionary as to how this can be, or a request for a sign
  5. The giving of a sign to reassure the visionary

Biblical Hymns Compared:

Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55 - NAB) Hannah's Song of Praise (1 Sam 2:1-10 - NAB)
46 And Mary said: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
48 For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
49 The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
51 He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
53 The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
55 according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
1 And Hannah prayed: "My heart exults in the LORD, my horn is exalted by my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in your victory.
2 There is no Holy One like the LORD; there is no Rock like our God.
3 Speak boastfully no longer, Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths.
For an all-knowing God is the LORD, a God who weighs actions.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength.
5 The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry no longer have to toil.
The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes.
6 The LORD puts to death and gives life, casts down to Sheol and brings up again.
7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich, humbles, and also exalts.
8 He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he has set the world upon them.
9 He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall perish in the darkness;
for not by strength does one prevail.
10 The LORD's foes shall be shattered; the Most High in heaven thunders;
the LORD judges the ends of the earth.
May he give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed!"
Zechariah's Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79 - NAB) Various OT Texts (NAB)

68 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.

69 He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,
70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:

71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that,
74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Ps 41:14 - Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from all eternity and forever. Amen. Amen.
Ps 72:18 - Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful deeds.
Ps 111:9 - He sent release to his people, decreed his covenant forever; holy and fearsome is his name.

1 Sam 2:10b - May he give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed!"
2 Sam 22:3 - my God, my rock of refuge! My shield, my saving horn, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior....
Ps 18:3 - LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!

Ps 106:10 - He rescued them from hostile hands, freed them from the power of the enemy.

Gen 17:7 - I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages
as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. (cf. Lev 26:42; Ps 105:8-9; Mic 7:20)
Ps 106:45-46 - For their sake he remembered his covenant and relented in his abundant mercy, /
Winning for them compassion from all who held them captive.

Gen 22:16-18 - "I swear by my very self-- oracle of the LORD--
that because you [Abraham] acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, /
I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, /
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command."

Wis 9:3 - And to govern the world in holiness and righteousness, and to render judgment in integrity of heart:

Isa 40:3 - A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Mal 3:1 - Now I am sending my messenger-- he will prepare the way before me;
And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple;
The messenger of the covenant whom you desire-- see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts.

Isa 60:1-2 - Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you. /
Though darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds, the peoples, Upon you the LORD will dawn, and over you his glory will be seen.
Mal 3:20 - But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings;
And you will go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Ps 23:4 - Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me. (cf. Ps 44:20; 107:14)

Note: MANY more OT texts also parallel such common concepts as God's mercy, forgiveness, peace, and salvation.

Nazareth & Bethlehem:

Related Resources:

Electronic New Testament Educational Resources
Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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