Some notes on the how the characters in this episode are portrayed. The last group is particularly interesting.
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Elizabeth is introduced immediately, her name being set first in v57 as a way of re-focussing the attention to her (having just read Mary’s song). Despite this focus, she is not the main subject of v57. Rather, the emphasis is on the fulfilment of all that Gabriel told Zechariah. The time is fulfilled and she bears a son – as promised.
E appears again in v60, but is not named. She is simply the child’s mother (ἠ μήτηρ αὐτοῡ). Here she is shown as insisting that the name of the child be John. The οὐχι is emphatic (Morris, 95). Elizabeth is portrayed as one who understands that these events are not normal. That the naming of her child is not something that is down solely to her (and Z’s) choice. She knows there is more going on here and meets the eye and that she has responsibility to obey what God commanded Zechariah
E has no further mention in Luke after this point.
Zechariah is introduced in v62 when he is questioned regarding the name of his son. He is still deaf and mute (since 1:20) and so communication with him is done by motioning (ἐννεύω) and writing (γράφω).
Z confirms that the child’s name is John (v63). This has two effects: firstly, it amazes those present. Presumably because both he and E are adamant regarding the boy’s name even though there is no family history of that name. Secondly, his confirmation of the name John removes the muteness and deafness. God has removed the judgement that he placed on Z via Gabriel in 1:20. 1:20 specifies that those disabilities would only be temporary (ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα).
Luke makes clear that Z has changed from one who doubts and questions, to one who believes and praises God (v64).
John the Baptist
Although central to this episode, JtB is not present as a character. He is referred to by υἱον, παιδίον and pronouns.
The Neighbours and Relatives
The presence of this group of people is significant. They are present through the entire passage (when E and Z are only present in select verses). Some question whether it is legitimate to see all the 3pl verbs are referring to this group. Given their introduction in v58, their further mention in v65 and the absence of any other characters; it seems sensible to understand all the 3rd pl references as pointing to this group.
Furthermore, it is significant that this group, made up of neighbours and relatives, appear in this passage which is about the name of JtB going against their family-traditional names. There is a song familial theme running through these verses.
The episode narrates the journey that this group make. In v58 they recognise that E’s pregnancy is a display of mercy on his part and they rejoice with E on this account. At the center of the passage, it is clear that this group does not fully understand the significance of this child. Their presumption is that even though the child is given by God, that Z and E are free to name the child at their will. By the end of the passage, the group is amazed that both Z and E adamantly use the name John and that Z is miraculously and immediately healed of his disabilities. Presumably Z hadn’t revealed to everyone all that had happened to him in the temple, otherwise they would have been expecting the child’s name to be John.
At the end of the passage (v66) this group has grown to include not only neighbours and relatives, but also all those in the surrounding area who heard of what had happened. The response of all was
- recognition that JtB was a unique child
- anticipation of what God would do through him.