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Luke 1:39-56


1. To practice and gain confidence applying all-purpose questions and Lutheran questions to any passage of Scripture.

2. To build the learner's Scriptural and doctrinal knowledge base.

3. To establish, build and bolster the learner's Christian faith.


This study format utilizes the general purpose questions that are useful for any investigator, interviewers, researcher, analyst, or student:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

In addition, particularly Lutheran questions are asked regarding the Law and Gospel for the original readers or hearers and for us; seeking Jesus Christ in the passage; seeking the lesson's connections to the cathechism  (10 Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Holy Communion) and to the Church's liturgy (Holy Communion, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Prayer at the End of the Day); and avoiding or correcting doctrinal misunderstandings.

The questions listed below are intended to fill in and stimulate discussion when the learners don't come up with their own questions.

Useful materials

For each learner or to share:


Bible maps


Worship book, such as Lutheran Book of Worship, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, or Book of Common Prayer

Also useful for each learner, for note-taking:

Printed copy of Scripture lesson

List of all-purpose and Lutheran questions

Pen or pencil

1.  Read the lesson individually or aloud.

Read all of Luke 1:1-56, to establish the immediate context of the lesson text.

Ask and answer, or seek to answer, general purpose questions, in whatever seqence makes sense, or in no sequence at all:

2.  Who?

Who is Luke? Theophilus? Herod? Zechariah? Abijah? Aaron? Elizabeth? John (the Baptist)? Gabriel (vs 19, 26)? Joseph? Mary?

Abijah is probably the Abijah who was a descendent of Aaron's son Eleazar, and who was a chief of one of the 24 orders into which the priesthood was divided by David ( 1Chr 24:10).

Theophilus was probably a Roman Christian and was probably a person of rank (judging from the form of address). Both Luke and Acts were dedicated to him. Probably a pseudonym (means "friend or beloved of God") used to protect him from the political authorities. That's all we know.

Gabriel is one of two angels (along with Michael) named in the Hebrew Bible.

Who is Jesus Christ? Who is His mother?  His Father?

The infancy narrative receives great attention among the church fathers, particularly as a source for the defense of the incarnation. The historical events bear witness that the Holy Spirit has brought about the miraculous birth of Jesus (Cyril of Jerusalem).

“God sent his Son,” Paul says, not born of a man and a woman but “born of a woman” only; that is, born of a virgin. We have already shown that a virgin is also called a woman. For he who makes virgin souls was born of a virgin. Catechetical Lectures 12.31.

Just, A. A. (2005). Vol. 3: Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 3. (5). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Who did Mary magnify in her song? (whose greatness did she proclaim?)

God's.  Not her own.

Whose mother did Mary become?

The Church confesses that it's proper call her "Mother of God." This is because the Church confesses that her Son Jesus was a person with two natures:  divine and human.  She was the mother of a person (the divine/human Jesus), and not of a nature.  So the Church names her Mother of God. 

This is difficult to fully comprehend, because it's wrapped up in the doctrine of the Trinity and of the Incarnation, both of which we accept without fully understanding. 

If time permits, read the Athanasian Creed in the front of the LBW.

3.  What?

What was engagement to be married like in that time and place?

For what does Mary praise God?

1. for selecting her (Mary) to be a participant in the mighty divine act;

2. for God’s care for the lowly, poor, and powerless (a strong Lucan theme and emphasis); and

3.for God’s bringing to fulfillment the promise made to Abraham in and through the coming of Mary’s son.

What does Mary say God does with the high and the low?

He brings down the high and lifts up the low. (Jesus said the last shall be first).

Then what hope is there for the rich and the powerful? (which we all are, in the grand scheme of things in the world)

To trust only in Jesus Christ, just as though we were poor and lowly.  It's difficult to trust only in God when things good than when they are bad, as we can believe we're the creator of our own success.

4.  When?

When did these events occur?

About 2000 years ago.

Nearly 500 years have passed from the time of the last kings of Israel and Judah, and 450 years from the return of Judah from captivity in Babylon.

Roman empire extended from the British Isles into the Middle East.  Palestine was a very small province. See separate map I printed.

5.  Where?

Where did the events occur?

Consult map Palestine in the Time of Jesus in Good News Bible.

Mary lived in Nazareth (vs 26).

She visited Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea (vs 39)

6.  Why?

Why did Luke write this account?

"so that you ma know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (vs 4)

Why was Zechariah punished and Mary wasn't?  Note that they both expressed misgivings.

Zechariah questioned the veracity of Gabriel's message ("How will I know that this is so?") while Mary merely expressed inability to understand ("How can this be, since I am a virgin?")

Why was Elizabeth reach so strongly? vs 25 "This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the discrace I have endured among my people."

A childless woman was unfulfilled and even disgraced in ancient Israel and the NT world.  Other examples include Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah (Samuel's mother).

Why is Mary's song called the Magnificat?

From Latin Vulgate, the Western Church's standard Bible for many centuries:  vs 46: "et ait Maria magnificat anima mea Dominum"

7.  How?

Ask and answer, or seek to answer, specifically Lutheran questions:

How old would Mary and Joseph have been?

Based on marriage customs in first century Palestine,

Mary was almost surely 12-14 years old.

Joseph's age is less certain.  I've seen estimates as young as 16 to 20 (based on the expectation that one would not remain single) to as old as 90! (a widower, based on early church legends, and the fact that Joseph isn't heard from after Jesus' childhood).

How exactly did the incarnation and the virgin birth work?

We don't know.  But we believe it because Scripture teaches that it's true, just as we believe other things we can't explain. (Solomon, the wisest man in the world, wrote, "Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a girl."

(Pr 30:18-19).

How did Mary react to her good fortune?

By magnifying the Lord, not herself.

How did Elizabeth react when, in the midst of her own rejoicing, a relative more blessed than she was came to visit?

By calling Mary blessed, not by envying or resenting her.

8.  What was the Law in this lesson for the original hearers?

Perhaps a bit of Law for Zechariah - don't doubt God.

The Law teaches what we must do.

9.  What was the Gospel in this lesson for the original hearers?

God gave motherhood to the barren Elizabeth.

God made Mary the Mother of His Son - the Mother of God!

God brought deliverance to His people through His Son - light in darkness, sight to the blind, release to the captives, and more!

The Gospel teaches what God has done for us.

10.  What is the Law in this lesson for us?

Some 3rd use in the wonderful examples of Elizabeth and Mary:

Give glory to God, not to yourself.

Don't have contempt for those below you.

Don't envy those above you.

The Law teaches what we must do.

11.  What is the Gospel in this lesson for us?

God brings to us too light in darkness, sight to the blind, release for the captives, forgiveness of our sins, adoption as His sons and daughters, and life everlasting!

The Gospel teaches what God has done for us.

12.  Where is Jesus Christ in this lesson? 

That's easy for this lesson.  For some others (e.g., our OT lessons) it isn't so obvious.

Jesus said, "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf." Jn 5:39

13.  What connection does this lesson have to the catechism?

10 Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Holy Communion.

Nature of Christ and His incarnation?

2nd & 3rd articles of Creed.

Mary's attitude and Elizabeth's attitude?

1st Commandment, 10th Commandment too?

14.  What connection does this lesson have to the liturgy?

Holy Communion, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Prayer at the End of the Day.

15.  Magnificat?

Vespers, throughout the Western Church.

16.  What misunderstandings are cleared up by this lesson, or what in this lesson might be misunderstood?

We use plainer portions of Scripture to interpret more obscure or difficult portions of Scripture.The Creeds and Confessions of the Church might also suggest where we've gotten off-track, though all is normed by Scripture.

17.  Closing summary

Leader or learners summarize or list the key points learned from the lesson.

18.  Closing prayer:

God you bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly.  You selected the mother of your Son from among the lowly. Grant that we embrace every promise you have given us, fully expecting its accomplishment, and say as she did, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Amen.

Written or selected to be appropriate to the lesson.

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