“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:46ff

Luke 1:46ff

Today’s note will examine the famous hymn of Lk 1:46-55, the Magnificat. This is the first of the four hymns which punctuate the Lukan Infancy narrative, each of which came to be part of the Christian liturgy and are best known from the first word(s) of their rendering in Latin. When studying these hymns, there are three basic theories regarding their origin and composition (cf. also the article in the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”):

  • They are inspired poetic works, more or less as uttered by the speaker, according to the context of the narrative. While there may be some translation and editing, etc, by the author (and/or the underlying tradition), the attribution in the text is accepted and taken at face value. This would generally be the traditional-conservative view.
  • The author (trad. Luke) has incorporated earlier Jewish (Christian) hymns, adapting them and setting them in the mouth of the individual character within the context of the narrative. This is probably the dominant critical view.
  • The hymns are free/original compositions by the author, in imitation of similar Psalms and hymns in the Old Testament, which he has likewise integrated into the narrative. Many critical scholars tend toward this view as well, or at least grant it as a possibility.

In my view, only the first two are legitimate, viable options, and both need to be taken seriously by commentators and students. On objective grounds, the evidence perhaps favors the second view, but each interpreter will have differing opinions on the weight of the evidence, and how it relates to a particular understanding of the nature and extent of inspiration, as well as other factors. It is not possible to go into this subject in any detail in this brief article. Also, for the purposes of this study, I am assuming the majority reading which attributes the hymn to Mary (cf. “Did You Know?” below).

The structure of the hymn has been analyzed and divided various ways. I prefer to view it in two parts:

  • Vv. 46-50—A (personal) praise to God for what he has done (i.e. for the speaker)
  • Vv. 51-55—Praise for what God has done on behalf of His people (Israel)

Some commentators feel that verse 48 is of Lukan composition, having been inserted into the hymn, based on the theory (cf. above) that the author has adapted and made use of a pre-existing Jewish Christian (or Jewish) hymn. It must be admitted that v. 48 does seem to interrupt the rhythm and flow of the poetry somewhat; on the other hand, it fits the personal context of the opening lines, at v. 48a at least could easily have been part of an earlier hymn. Only v. 48b specifically requires the setting established in the narrative.

It is the first half (or strophe) of the hymn which I want to examine in this note, especially the opening couplet (vv. 46-47) which sets the tone and theme for the hymn—beginning with the personal viewpoint of the speaker (i.e. Mary):

“My soul declares (the) great(ness of) the Lord,
and my spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior”

There is a precise parallelism in this couplet; note each of the three elements:

My soulmakes/declares greatthe Lord
My spiritleaps (for joy) uponGod my Savior

The third element involves names and titles of God—specifically, Lord (ku/rio$) and Savior (swth/r). If we combine the two expressions here the result would be: “(the) Lord God my Savior”. We have already seen the combination Lord God (ku/rio$ o( qeo/$) in verse 32 (cf. the earlier note), where, as I discussed, the expression stems from the ancient Israelite (religious) identification of Yahweh with the (one) Creator God °E~l. Here Yahweh the God of Israel is also identified in the role of Savior of his people. This is essentially the theme of the hymn which follows, and draws upon the various episodes in Israelite history and tradition (as narrated in the Old Testament) where God acted to save/deliver his people. In fact, there a good number of Old Testament allusions in the hymn, beginning with the opening lines. Two passages, in particular, should be noted:

  • 1 Sam 2:1-2—The opening lines of Hannah’s hymn, upon which the Magnificat was patterned (at least in part). The Lukan Infancy narrative draws heavily upon the Samuel birth narrative (1 Sam 1-2), with Hannah serving as a type/pattern for Mary (and perhaps Elizabeth as well).
  • Hab 3:18—There is a more precise formal parallel in expression here:
    “I will leap (for joy) in YHWH, I will spin (joyfully) in the God of my salvation”

Mention should also be made of Psalm 35:9. If we were to blend together and distill these three passages, we would end up with wording not too different from that in Lk 1:46-47.

The title Savior (Swth/r) is especially significant as a thematic keyword, since it relates to the very name of Jesus (Yeshua)—the person through whom God will act to save his people. This aspect of Jesus as Savior will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes on Matt 1:21 and Luke 2:11. The word swth/r is actually rather rare in the New Testament, occurring just 24 times, and, somewhat surprisingly, only 5 times in the Gospels and Acts. Four of these occurrences are in Luke-Acts (the other being Jn 4:42)—Acts 5:31; 13:23, and here in the Infancy narrative (Lk 1:47 and 2:11). Much more common is the verb sw/zw, indicating the action of saving, delivering, protecting, etc, and which is used in the explanation of the name Yeshua in Matt 1:21. There is also the noun swthri/a (“salvation”) which occurs three times in the hymn of Zechariah (1:69, 71, 77), the Benedictus, a hymn which has many points in common with the Magnificat.

Turning to verse 49, we find, embedded in the line, another couplet which may be viewed as parallel to vv. 46-47:

“the Powerful (One) did great (thing)s for me,
and Holy is His name”

There are three adjectives in this verse which need to be examined:

“Great” (me/ga$)—It was previously stated of Jesus that he will be great [me/ga$] (v. 32, and cp. the qualified use with John the Baptist in v. 15). As I discussed in the note on v. 32, the absolute use of this adjective (as a descriptive title) is essentially reserved for God and reflects the fundamental meaning of the word °E~l (“Mighty One,” i.e. “God”). Here the reference is to the mighty and miraculous things God has done—i.e. his deeds and actions (cf. Deut 10:21)—using the prolonged (neuter) form mega/la as a substantive (“great [thing]s”). Applied to Mary, of course, it relates to the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus, and to his identity as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior.

“Powerful” (dunato/$)—Here the adjective is used as a substantive, with the definite article (“the Powerful [One]”), and is virtually synonymous with the title “Mighty (One)”, presumed to be the fundamental meaning of the name °E~l. Probably there is an allusion here to Zeph 3:17, where the Hebrew roBG] (“strong”) is translated in the LXX as dunato/$: “The Lord your God is in/among you, (the) Powerful (One) will save you”. In the New Testament, dunato/$ frequently refers to God’s ability to work miraculously on behalf of Christ (and through him), as well as other believers—e.g., Mk 10:27 par; 14:36; Acts 2:24; Rom 4:21.

“Holy” (a%gio$)—As an adjective, holy (Heb vdq, Grk a%gio$) is commonly used in reference to God, going back to the fundamental statement of Israelite religious life and identity in Leviticus 19:2. God’s holiness is frequently emphasized in the Scriptures, but vodq* (q¹dôš, “holy”) as a specific title is rather less common. Most likely there is an allusion here to Psalm 111:9, but see also Ps 99:3: “Let them raise hand(s) to [i.e. praise] your great and frightening Name—it is Holy [Q¹dôš]”. It is not entirely clear whether such references mean that God’s name (Yahweh) is holy, or that “Holy (One)” is to be regarded as a name/title of God. Later Israelites and Jews would likely have assumed the former, but, in the ancient context of the Psalms, the latter is a distinct possibility as well. Q¹dôš (or something equivalent) is known as a separate name, or as the name of a separate deity, in the Semitic world. The Greek a%gio$ (“Holy”) was used as a name for Jesus in Lk 1:35—”he will be called (the) Holy (one), the son of God”.

These words—”Powerful” and “Holy”—also occur in tandem, as a (synonymous) pairing, in verse 35 (cf. the earlier note). Recall the words of the Angel to Mary:

“the holy [a%gio$] Spirit will come upon you
and the power [du/nami$] of the Highest will cast shade upon you”

This surely is no coincidence, for the terms and attributes are essential to an understanding of God and his manifestation to human beings (His people). They come together most completely, and perfectly, in the person of Jesus Christ, the child born of Mary. Consider the concrete idiom used to express the conception of Jesus: “you will take/receive together [sullh/myh|] in the womb”. This same conception is described in verse 35—the holiness and power of God come upon Mary, and she conceives (in the womb) the holy child who is called the Son of God.

In a few (Latin) manuscripts (a b l) and writings (or translations) of the Church Fathers, the Magnificat is attributed in v. 46 not to Mary, but to Elizabeth. A few commentators have accepted this as the original reading, on the assumption that scribes were much more likely to change the text from “Elizabeth” to “Mary”, rather than the other way around. More plausible, in my view, is the theory that originally no name was specified, with the text reading simply “she said” (ei@pen). If one were to accept this premise, the specification of Mary as the speaker should still be regarded as an authoritative tradition, even if not part of the original text. However, based on the overwhelming evidence of the Greek MSS, it is probably best to maintain “Mary said” as the most likely original reading.

“And you shall call His Name…”: Luke 1:43

Luke 1:43

Following the annunciation scenes in 1:8-23 and 26-38, the Gospel writer brings together the two narrative strands—related to John the Baptist and Jesus respectively—into a single episode (vv. 39-56). It may be outlined as follows:

  • Narrative introduction, establishing the unifying motif—Elizabeth and Mary in the same house (vv. 39-40)
  • Elizabeth’s reaction and blessing (vv. 41-45)
  • Mary’s hymn of praise to God (vv. 46-55)
  • The narrative conclusion, with a notice of Mary’s separation from Elizabeth (v. 56)

There is a wonderful symmetry—in between the two short narrations, Elizabeth and Mary, while they are together, each are depicted uttering inspired (hymnic) poetry, as befitting the grand and lofty occasion established by the narrative context. Today I will be looking at the first portion—the words of Elizabeth—before turning to the hymn of Mary (the Magnificat) in the next note. Elizabeth’s reaction is described in verse 41:

“And it came to be, as Elisheba heard the welcome of Maryam, the baby in her belly jumped and Elisheba was filled by the holy Spirit”

The dramatic character of the scene is increased as the description continues in verse 42:

“and she raised up (her) voice (with) a great cry, and said…”

Elizabeth utters a two-fold blessing to Mary, in vv. 42 and 45. The first is a blessing proper, addressed both to Mary and her child:

  • “Well counted [eu)loghme/nh] are you among women,
    and well counted [eu)loghme/no$] is the fruit of your belly!”

The verb eu)loge/w means “to give a good account (of someone), speak well (of him/her)”. In a religious or ritual context, it commonly refers to giving praise and honor (in speech) to God; or, in the reverse direction, it can indicate God showing favor to (i.e. speaking blessing upon) a person. The idea of praise and honor (given to Mary) is certainly present in the use of the verb—she will be spoken well of and highly regarded, by both God and His people. Moreover, it relates specifically to the favor (xa/ri$) which God has shown to Mary (cf. the Angelic annunciation in vv. 28ff), by the conception of Jesus within her (“the fruit of [her] belly”). The second blessing in verse 45 is more generalized, but certainly relates to Mary’s words in v. 38; it uses the parallel adjective maka/rio$ (“happy”):

“and happy [makari/a] (is) the (one) trusting that there will be a completion [i.e. fulfillment] to the (thing)s spoken to her (from) alongside the Lord!”

The blessed and favored status of Mary has touched Elizabeth as well. According to the narrative, both women have experienced a miraculous conception, and each will give birth to a child who will play a major role in God’s plan of salvation for His people. The reason for Elizabeth’s inspired reaction is expressed in verse 43, with wonder and amazement:

“how has this (happened) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me?”

The specific phrase “the mother of my Lord” (h( mh/thr tou= kuri/ou mou) is of utmost significance in the context of the passage, and must be examined in more detail.

The word ku/rio$ (“lord”) has already been used 10 times in the Lukan Infancy narrative to this point (vv. 6, 9, 11, 15-17, 25, 28, 32, 38), but always in reference to God the Father, the God of Israel (Yahweh). This is the first time that the title (“Lord”) is used of Jesus. In the earlier article on Yahweh, I discussed the traditional use of °A_dœn¹y (yn`d)a&), “My Lord”, as a divine name, substituting for the name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). This is literally what Elizabeth says here—o( ku/rio$ mou (“my Lord”). Yet one must be cautious about assuming that Jesus is being identified here with God the Father. The only other occurrences of the specific phrase “my Lord” in either the Synoptic Gospels or Luke-Acts as whole involve the citation of Psalm 110:1 (Luke 20:42 par; Acts 2:34). There can be little doubt that Psalm 110 was highly influential on the early Christian use of the title “Lord” (Ku/rio$) for Jesus. The Greek text (LXX) of verse 1 reads:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w| mou
eípen ho kýrios tœ¡ kyríœ mou
“The Lord said to my lord…”

The same word (ku/rio$) is used twice, creating an obvious wordplay (as well as potential confusion). However, the original Hebrew reads:

yn]d)al^ hwhy <a%n+
N®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my lord:”

The LXX version is the result of the standard substitution, when reciting the Psalm, of °A_dœn¹y (“My Lord”) in place of YHWH. In the original context of the Psalm, the “lord” (°¹dôn) was understood as referring either to David, or to the reigning king (in the Davidic line). Eventually, in Jewish tradition, it came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense, of a future Davidic ruler who would deliver God’s people and judge the nations at the end-time. Jesus himself treats Ps 110:1 this way in the Synoptic tradition (Lk 20:41-44 par). The two main ‘Messianic’ passages from the Psalms utilized by Christians from the beginning were Ps 2:7 and 110:1—the first establishing Jesus as Son of God, the second as Lord. In this regard, believers went beyond the standard Messianic interpretation. The earliest Gospel preaching (kerygma), as recorded in the book of Acts, understands Jesus as Lord and Son of God specifically in terms of his resurrection and exaltation to heaven at the right hand of God (Acts 2:24-36; 13:33ff). Even in the Gospel of John, which otherwise has a more developed Christological sense of Jesus as God’s Son, the expression “my Lord” occurs in a setting after the resurrection (Jn 20:13, 28). Luke 1:43 is unique in the Gospels in applying the title to Jesus prior to his death—indeed, before his very birth.

In what sense should the child Jesus be understood as “my Lord” here as uttered by Elizabeth (v. 43)? In my view, we do not yet have a clear sense of Jesus’ deity in view at this point in the narrative, even though Christians reading or hearing the Gospel would naturally make the association. This will be discussed further in the note on 1:76ff. More likely, the use of ku/rio$ here is meant primarily in a Messianic sense (cf. the earlier article on Lk 1:46-55 in “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus”). This would seem to be confirmed by two parallels in the Old Testament from 2 Samuel, both involving David (cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 344-5):

  • 2 Sam 6:9—In the narrative of the transportation of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (vv. 1-4ff), in the midst of celebration, the sudden death of Uzzah (who had unintentionally touched the Ark), brought fear upon the people (vv. 5-9a), as well as with David who exclaimed: “How shall the box {Ark} of YHWH come to me?”. The Greek of v. 9b is reasonably close to Elizabeth’s wording in Lk 1:43.
  • 2 Sam 24:21—At God’s command, David visits Araunah the Jebusite to purchase his threshing-floor and erect an altar to the Lord there. Upon David’s approach, Araunah asks “(For) what reason does my Lord the king come to his servant?”. Again, there is a formal similarity in the Greek to Elizabeth’s words.

Given the parallels between 2 Sam 7 and the pronouncement by Gabriel in vv. 32-33 (cf. the previous note), the likelihood increases that there is an allusion here to the earlier episode in 2 Sam 6. The primary reference would be to Jesus as the Anointed Davidic ruler (Messiah) who would deliver God’s people. Even so, the context of the Ark of the Covenant, like the use of the title ku/rio$ (“Lord”), implies something deeper as well—the manifestation and presence of God Himself. This will be discussed in upcoming notes as we progress through the narrative.

References above marked “Brown, Birth” are to R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977 / 1993).

The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus: Luke 1:46-55

The hymns (or canticles) in the Lukan Infancy narrative are among the most beautiful parts of the Gospel, but they also present a difficulty with regard to their origin and place in the composition of the narrative. The traditional-conservative view would see them as inspired oracles spoken more or less exactly as they are recorded; critical scholars, on the other hand, tend to see them as separate existing poems placed into the mouths of the characters by the author (traditionally, Luke). From the critical viewpoint, there is the additional question as to whether Luke composed the poems, or whether he inherited them as early (Jewish-)Christian hymns. Much the same set of questions apply to the speeches in the book of Acts. It is a difficult and sensitive point of interpretation: on the one side, there is the weight of tradition and orthodox sentiment, on the other, a more natural (one may say ‘realistic’) process of composition. It rather depends on one’s understanding of the nature of the inspiration of Scripture.

For these Advent season notes, I will attempt no judgment on the matter, allowing the text to speak for itself. However, in examining the use and influence of the Old Testament on these canticles, it will be necessary at times to touch upon the critical points. There are four such canticles, or hymns, in the Lukan Infancy narratives, better known by their Latin titles:

The Song of Mary, if not as familiar as the Angels’ Song, it certainly the most often recited, having been a cherished part of the Catholic liturgy for many centuries. Virtually every famous Western composer in the late-Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and early Classical periods wrote at least one setting of the Magnificat. So familiar is it that one often does not study the verses in detail; such a study would reveal that this short hymn is actually a dense network of Old Testament quotations and allusions. Let us look briefly at each line (OT and Deutero-canonical passages cited according to the LXX):

Vv. 46-47:
Megalu/nei h( yuxh/ mou to\n ku/rion
My soul makes great [i.e. magnifies] the Lord
kai\ h)galli/asen to\ pneu=ma/ mou e)pi\ tw=| qew=| tw=| swth=ri/ mou
and my spirit leaped (for joy) upon God my Savior

This stich appears to echo at least two Old Testament passages:
(1) 1 Sam 2:1: e)sterew/qh h( kardi/a mou e)n kuri/w| u(yw/qh ke/ra$ mou e)n qew=| mou (“my heart is made firm in [the] Lord, my horn is raised high [i.e. exalted] in my God”)
(2) Hab 3:18: e)gw\ e)n tw=| kuri/w| a)gallia/somai xarh/somai e)pi\ tw=| qew=| tw=| swth=ri/ mou (“I will leap [for joy] in the Lord, I will rejoice upon God my Savior”)
In particular, Luke 1:47 is very close to Hab 3:18b. Cf. also Psalm 35:9 [LXX 34:9].

V. 48 (vv. 48-50 are often considered together as a strophe):
o%ti e)pe/beyen e)pi\ th\n tapei/nwsin th=$ dou/lh$ au)tou=
that [i.e. because] he looked upon the lowliness of his handmaid [lit. slave-girl]—
i)dou ga\r a)po\ tou= nu=n makariou=si/n me pa=sai ai( geneai/
for see! from now (on) all (the) generations (of women) will call me happy [i.e. blessed]

This particular stich is close to the words of Leah in Gen 29:32 (dio/ti ei@de/n mou ku/rio$ th\n tapei/nwsin, “because [the] Lord has seen my lowliness…”) and 30:13 (makari/a e)gw/ o%ti makari/zousi/n me ai( gunai=ke$, “happy am I, that [i.e. because] the women call me happy…”). V. 48a is also very close to the words of Hannah in 1 Sam 1:11 (translating conventionally): “Lord… if only you might look upon the lowliness of your handmaid…” [e)pible/yh|$ e)pi\ th\n tapei/nwsin th=$ dou/lh$ sou]). Cf. also the similar thought and wording in 4 Ezra [2/4 Esdras] 9:45.

V. 49:
o%ti e)poi/hse/n moi mega/la o( du/nato$
that [i.e. because] the Powerful (One) has done great (things) for me
kai\ a%gion to\ o&noma au)tou=
and Holy is His name

The first line is close to Deut 10:21: ou!to$ qeo/$ sou o%sti$ e)poi/hsen e)n soi ta\ mega/la (“this is your God who has done the great [things] in you”). The second line may reflect Psalm 111[110]:9b: a%gion kai\ fobero\n to\ o&noma au)tou= (“Holy and fearful [i.e. awesome] is His name”).

V. 50:
kai\ to\ e&leo$ au)tou= ei)$ genea\$ kai\ genea\$ toi=$ foboume/noi$ au)to/n
and His mercy (is) into generation and generation to the (ones) fearing Him

This line is quite close to Psalm 103:17 [LXX 102:17]: to\ de\ e&leo$ tou= kuri/ou a)po\ tou= ai)w=no$ kai\ e%w$ tou= ai)w=no$ e)pi\ tou\$ foboume/nou$ au)to/n (“but the mercy of the Lord [is] from the Age and until the Age upon the [ones] fearing Him”)

V. 51 (vv. 51-53 are usually considered a [second] strophe):
e)poi/hsen kra/to$ e)n braxi/oni au)tou=
He has done [i.e. shown] might in his arm
diesko/rpisen u(perhfa/nou$ dianoi/a| kardi/a$ au)tw=n
he has scattered the overly-shining [i.e. haughty/arrogant] (ones) throughout in the thoughts [lit. thinking through] of their hearts

This stich may echo Psalm 89:10 [LXX 88:11]: “you have made lowly the haughty/arrogant (ones) as a wounded (man),  and in the arm of your power [e)n tw=| braxi/oni th=$ duna/mew/$ sou] you have scattered your enemies throughout [diesko/rpisa$ tou\$ e)xqrou/$ sou]”. The original Hebrew reads quite differently, especially in the first half of the verse.

V. 52:
kaqei=len duna/sta$ a)po\ qro/nwn kai\ u%ywsen tapeinou/$
He has taken down the powerful (ones) from (their) thrones, and has lifted high the lowly (ones)

There are general similarities to a number of passages, but no precise quotations or allusions: 1 Sam 2:4, 7ff; Ezek 21:26 [LXX v. 31]; Job 12:19. The closest wording is perhaps to be found in Sirach 10:14: qro/nou$ a)rxo/ntwn kaqei=len o( ku/rio$ kai\ e)ka/qisen praei=$ a)nt’ au)tw=n (“[the] thrones of chiefs the Lord has taken down and has seated [the] meek against them [i.e. in their place]”).

V. 53:
peinw=nta$ e)ne/plhsen a)gaqw=n kai\ ploutou=nta$ e)cape/steilen kenou/$
The hungry (ones) he filled with good (things) and the rich (ones) he sent out from (here) empty

The first line is nearly identical with second part of Psalm 107:9 [LXX 106:9]: “because he satisfies the empty soul, and the soul of the hungry he fills with good things [yuxh\n peinw=san e)ne/plhsen a)gaqw=n]”. Cf. also a similar juxtaposition in the Lukan Beatitudes (Luke 6:21, 25).

V. 54:
a)ntela/beto  )Israh\l paido\$ au)tou= mnhsqh=nai e)le/ou$
He took (hold) of Israel his child (to help) in remembrance of [lit. to remember] mercy
kaqw\$ e)la/lhsen pro\$ tou\$ pate/ra$ h(mw=n tw=|  )Abraa\m kai\ tw=| spe/rmati au)tou= ei)$ tw=n ai)w=na
even as he spoke toward our fathers—to Abraham and to his seed—into the Age.

There are possible allusions here to a number of passages: e.g., Psalm 98:3 [LXX 97:3]; Micah 7:20; Isaiah 41:8-9; cf. also the Psalms of Solomon 10:4.

For a tabular summary of Old Testament parallels, with the Greek text compared, see J. M. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke (1957), pp. 303-4; cf. also R. E. Brown, Birth of the Messiah (1977, 1993), pp. 358-360.

Having gone through the Canticle, it is worth mentioning several Old Testament parallels in the declaration by Elizabeth in vv. 42-44, which functions as a similar sort of inspired poem.

Verse 42. The opening words by Elizabeth take the form of a poetic line, with two parallel phrases, each beginning with the passive participle eu)loghme/no$. The verb eu)loge/w literally means “give a good account (of), speak well (of)”, which, when used in a religious context, is usually translated “bless”. The perfect passive participle form, “(having been) given a good account”, “(having been) spoken well of” functions as an attribute or characteristic of the person being addressed—a formula of honor, praise or blessing.

  • “well spoken of [i.e. blessed] (are) you among women” (eu)loghme/nh su\ e)n gunaici/n). This may be an echo of Judges 5:24 (LXX): “well spoken of [i.e. blessed] (is) Ya’el {Jael} among women” (eu)loghqei/h e)n gunaici\n Iahl). A more contemporary parallel is to be found in Judith 13:18, most likely influenced by the narrative in Judges. Judith, like Mary, also utters a hymn of praise to God (chap. 16).
  • “well spoken of [i.e. blessed] (is) the fruit of your belly” (eu)loghme/no$ o( karpo\$ th=$ koili/a$ sou). The expression “fruit of (the) belly [i.e. womb]” is a common Semitic idiom for pregnancy and childbirth (Gen 30:2; Lam 2:20, etc). However, this specific phrase is likely drawn from Deut 28:4. It is part of the blessing promised to those who remain faithful and obedient to the covenant God established with Israel. Here, too, Mary is faithful and obedient to God (1:38, 45).

Verse 43: “And (from) where [why/how] (does) this (happen) to me, that the mother of my Lord should come toward me?”. The reference to the child as “my Lord” reflects a basic belief among early Christians of Jesus’ divine status and position (as Messiah and Son of God), largely influenced by the wording of Psalm 110:1. The actual question by Elizabeth resembles that of two passages in the David narratives of 2 Samuel:

  • 2 Sam 6:9: “How shall the box/chest [i.e. Ark] of the Lord come in toward me?” (LXX)
  • 2 Sam 24:21: “(For) what [i.e. why] (is it) that my Lord the king came toward his servant/slave?”

Taken together, these provide a distinctive kind of theological and Messianic significance to Elizabeth’s words.

Verse 44. The reference to the baby (John) reacting within the womb of Elizabeth as a loose parallel with the words of Rebekah in Genesis 25:22f. As here, the LXX of Gen 25:22 uses the verb skirta/w, often translated “jump/leap”, but more properly referring to the wild/restless movement of animals (esp. the galloping of horses, etc). The idea of the child “kicking” in the womb may be in view. The joyful reaction of John certainly contrasts with the violent struggle of the children (Esau and Jacob) in Gen 25:22. More significant, however, is the way that the reaction in the womb reflects the future destiny of the child(ren) (Gen 25:23).


In three Latin manuscripts (a b l*), supported by the witness of several Church Fathers, the speaker of the Magnificat is not Mary, but Elizabeth. This would certainly seem to the be more difficult reading (scribes being much more like to change the text from “Elizabeth” to “Mary” than the other way round), and might be preferred on text-critical grounds (lectio difficilior potior); on the other hand, the textual evidence for reading “Mary” in v. 46 is overwhelming (including all Greek MSS). A few scholars have posited the reading “she said”, without the subject being specified. This is an interesting solution, which might explain the rise of both readings; however, without additional textual evidence for corroboration, the majority reading is to be preferred.