A Gospel Narrative Based on Eyewitness Testimony
(1) Many people have undertaken to compile a narrative account of the things that have been fulfilled among us—(2) just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning (from Jesus’ water baptism and the start of his public ministry) were eyewitnesses and ministers (servants) of God’s word.
(3) With this in mind, since I have also carefully investigated (researched) everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly narrative account for you, most honorable Theophilus, (4) so that you will know that what you have been taught is certain and true.
Zechariah and Elizabeth
(5) During the time of Herod the Great, king of Judea, there lived a temple priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (there were 24 divisions of priests in Israel)—his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron (of priestly lineage). (6) They both lived righteous lives before God, blamelessly obeying all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. (7) But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and they were both now very old.
(8) One day when Zechariah’s division was on temple duty and he was serving as a priest before God, (9) he was chosen by the throwing of dice (lots), according to the priestly custom, to go into the Lord’s temple and burn incense on the altar before the Most Holy Place. (10) And during the time of the burning of the incense, a large group of worshipers was praying outside.
(11) Then an angel of the Lord (Gabriel) appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. (12) When Zechariah saw the angel, he became startled and was gripped with fear. (13) But the angel said to him, “Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer request has been heard by God. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to a son, and you are to name him John. (14) He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice because of his birth, (15) because he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will never drink alcohol, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (16) He will bring back many people of Israel to the Lord their God. (17) And he will go before the Lord and fulfill what is written in Malachi 4:5-6, ‘He will minister in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ ”
(18) Zechariah asked the angel, “How do I know this will come true? For my wife and I are very old.” (19) The angel said to him, “I am the archangel Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence, and he sent me to tell you this wonderful good news. (20) And now you will not be able to speak until John’s birth, because you did not believe my message, which will be fulfilled in the right time.”
(21) Meanwhile, the people praying outside were waiting for Zechariah, wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. (22) When Zechariah finally came out, he could not talk to them. Then the people realized that he had seen a vision in the temple, because he was making hand signs to them and he could not talk.
(23) When Zechariah’s service as a priest was finished, he returned home (priests served in the temple only twice a year). (24) Soon after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and she stayed secluded in her house for five months. (25) She declared, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his grace to me and has taken away my shame from among the people.”
Joseph and Mary
(26) Now in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the archangel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee, (27) to visit a young virgin girl named Mary, who was legally engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.
(28) The angel Gabriel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who have been greatly blessed! The Lord God is with you!” (29) Mary was very troubled by Gabriel’s words and wondered what kind of greeting this was. (30) But Gabriel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid, because you have found favor with God. (31) You will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (a name that means “the Lord saves”). (32) He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God! The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever—his kingdom will have no end (will be everlasting).”
(34) Mary asked Gabriel, “How can this happen, since I am a virgin?” (35) Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you. Therefore the one to be born will be called the Son of God. (36) Believe me, because even your relative Elizabeth is going to have a son in her old age, although she was unable to give birth. She is now six months pregnant. (37) For nothing is impossible with God!” (38) Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, so let your message to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel Gabriel left her.
Mary and Elizabeth
(39) Immediately Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.
(The hill country of Judea was one of the heartland regions of ancient Israel, around 40 miles/64 km, stretching from Jerusalem in the north to Beersheba in the south).
(40) She entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. (41) When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (42) In a loud voice she declared, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the son in your womb! (43) But why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord has come to visit me? (44) As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. (45) Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
(46) And Mary declared, “My soul magnifies the Lord, (47) and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (48) because he has seen the humble heart of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, (49) for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name! (50) His mercy goes out to all who fear him—from generation to generation. (51) He has done mighty acts with his arm. He has scattered those who are proud in their inner thoughts. (52) He has brought down proud dynasties from their thrones, but has exalted the humble. (53) He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. (54) He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful (55) to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
(56) Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned to her home in Nazareth of Galilee.
The Birth of John
(57) Now when it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. (58) Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
(59) On the eighth day they came to circumcise the baby boy, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father, (60) but Elizabeth spoke up and said, “No! His name must be John.” (61) They said to her, “There is no one in your family who has the name John.” (62) And then they made hand signs to Zechariah, because they wanted to know what he wanted to name his son. (63) Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is to be John.” (64) Immediately Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
(65) All their neighbors were filled with amazement, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. (66) Everyone who heard what had happened was puzzled and asked each other, “Who is this boy going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
(67) John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
(68) “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people. (69) He has raised up the king of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. (70) As he said through the (Old Testament) prophets long ago: Salvation from our enemies and from all those who hate us—(72) to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, (73) the oath of promise he swore to our father Abraham; (74) to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear (75), in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
(76) “And you, my son John, will be called a prophet of the Most High God, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, (77) to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, (78) because of the compassionate mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, (79) to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(80) And John grew up in the strength of the Holy Spirit, and he lived in the wilderness of Judea (east of Jerusalem, in the lower Jordan River Valley) until he started his public ministry to the people of Israel.