Zechariah Speaks at Last

"And fear came on all their neighbors." Why?

Luke 1:58-66 (ESV)

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

It seems odd that fear came on all their neighbors. Why would this make them afraid? Excited, sure, or maybe awestruck, but afraid?

Well, the Greek word used here (phobos) can mean fear or reverence or respect. But we need to be careful when reading one of these words with alternate translations. They may not be alternative meanings, but multiple meanings; it may mean all those things at once. For example, consider the word agape, which is translated as charity or love. It really means one thing – charitable love, devotion to someone’s well-being.

There are lots of words in modern languages with nuanced meanings that cannot be translated briefly – Chutzpah, Schadenfreude, Feng Shui. The solution is to not translate them at all, but to adopt the words as English words. English is a cross-breed language anyway, so adding another word is no big deal. Since many Christians use agape in speech, it may get adopted too. Future Bibles may just translate agape as agape.

But for many words translators have a tough job. They can’t translate a single word into a long explanation; they have to keep it short. Sometimes they add a footnote with the alternate translation. That footnote will usually say, “or …”

But often, it’s not really “or.” Here, the footnote could read, “Literally fear/reverence/respect.”

Zechariah’s friends and neighbors are blown away by what has happened. They know something is up – something big.

They’re in awe.


Something big is still up. God has reconciled mankind with Himself. We can come before His throne like never before. Our prayers and quiet times are not some rote ceremony, but real fellowship.

Prayer time is really worship. Ask the Holy Spirit to sharpen your focus – on His glory, to His glory.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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