The Visitation in Luke's Gospel


On the 15th August we celebrated the Virgin Mary’s Assumption. I was

going through the New Jerome Biblical Commentary 1990 Edition.

I found a troubling exegesis states "If Luke were intent on presenting Mary as a model of charity, he would not have written v 56, which portrays Mary as departing from Elizabeth at the time of greatest need. It also strains credulity to imagine a fourteen-year-old Jewish virgin making a four-day journey by herself. Rather Luke’s intent in the “Visitation” is literary and theological!

**Was the Visitation fiction? Am I interpreting the Commentary passage **


I found this in the NAB-RE:

  • [1:5–2:52] Like the Gospel according to Matthew, this gospel opens with an infancy narrative, a collection of stories about the birth and childhood of Jesus. The narrative uses early Christian traditions about the birth of Jesus, traditions about the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, and canticles such as the Magnificat (Lk 1:46–55) and Benedictus (Lk 1:67–79), composed of phrases drawn from the Greek Old Testament. It is largely, however, the composition of Luke who writes in imitation of Old Testament birth stories, combining historical and legendary details, literary ornamentation and interpretation of scripture, to answer in advance the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” The focus of the narrative, therefore, is primarily christological. In this section Luke announces many of the themes that will become prominent in the rest of the gospel: the centrality of Jerusalem and the temple, the journey motif, the universality of salvation, joy and peace, concern for the lowly, the importance of women, the presentation of Jesus as savior, Spirit-guided revelation and prophecy, and the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. The account presents parallel scenes (diptychs) of angelic announcements of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, and of the birth, circumcision, and presentation of John and Jesus. In this parallelism, the ascendency of Jesus over John is stressed: John is prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76); Jesus is Son of the Most High (Lk 1:32). John is great in the sight of the Lord (Lk 1:15); Jesus will be Great (a LXX attribute, used absolutely, of God) (Lk 1:32). John will go before the Lord (Lk 1:16–17); Jesus will be Lord (Lk 1:43; 2:11).

Personally, although Luke does not indicate it, I feel certain that Mary would have been accompanied on the trip just because of the danger and social mores for women. I don’t believe that the lack of mention means that she was aline. It just wasn’t necessary to the points Luke wanted to make.

The Gospel does not indicate that Mary went to Elizabeth out of Elizabeth’s need. The pregnancy of Elizabeth was a sign in confirmation of what the Angel had told her. She may have wished to see for herself. I assume she was also excited to find that Elizabeth was finally pregnant. That must have been amazing to those who knew of her barrenness.

Elizabeth had others nearby to attend to her at the time of John’s birth:

Luke 1: 57-58
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.

I am not nearly as disturbed by the question of historicity as I am by the suggestion that Mary was not a complete model of charity. The idea that she would leave Elizabeth without help during the birth seems opposed to our belief in her sinkessness.

CCC 493 “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.”


I’m not sure I get the question. Firstly, we don’t know exactly how old that Mary was. Secondly, if she were 14 then you must remember that being 14 in Jesus’ time isn’t the same as being 14 today. Mary was already betrothed to Joseph–something that wouldn’t happen today, If she decided to go take care of Elizabeth, that was her perogative. The NT doesn’t say anything else except that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months–which since Elizabeth was about 6 month along when Mary arrived, to me points to the idea that she stayed and helped with the delivery of John the Baptist and then went home. There were no OB’s hospital L&D’s or such back then, Women helped other women.


From A Commentary on the New Testament, prepared in 1941 by the Catholic Biblical Association, on Luke 1:56, page 237:
56. About three months: i.e., until the birth of Elizabeth’s child. Because Mary’s departure is mentioned here before the Evangelist speaks of John’s birth, some commentators conclude that Mary was not present at the event. But if she visited her cousin in order to be of assistance to her, this was precisely the time when she was needed most of all. Moreover, Luke’s knowledge of what took place at the birth of the Baptist seems to come ultimately from Mary, who probably therefore was present at these events. Luke sometimes abandons the strictly chronological order for the sake of finishing the narrative of one episode before beginning another (cf. 1:80; 3:19 f).

Although no one else is mentioned as accompanying Mary, the text does not expressly say that she travelled alone.


The quote you cited seemed intent on refuting the Church’s teaching on Mary’s sinless state. I did a little research on the authors of this commentary. The authors, while Catholic, certainly did not hold traditional Catholic views. I also found this thread on CAF The St. Jerome Commentary seems problematic for Catholic bible study.


I think that we all should remember that regardless of Mary;s actual age and whether or not she stayed to help Elizabeth deliver or not (I personally think she did) that it was a very loving and giving act for Mary to travel on foot to the hill country–whether alone or with company, Remember Mary was pregnant too–and with what she knew was a special pregnancy. Plus for any woman who has ever been pregnant, remember how tired and nauseated and in general ****** you felt the first few months. Still Mary–knowing how old her cousin was ----and all the problems this could entail, chose to go help her.


The original St. Jerome Commentary actually wasn’t too bad, though it did have it’s problems. The NEW St. Jerome Commentary, however (which is the edition the OP is quoting from) has a reputation for really going off the rails.


I recall reading someplace that it was inappropriate for a virgin to be present at a birth at that time. I don’t remember where I saw it; so don’t know if there is any basis for that. Think it was in a semi-fictional account of her visit; so may just be a device the author was using to keep the story going.


I have the earlier St. Jerome Commentary and decided to see if it read the same as the New St. Jerome. It doesn’t. The original Commentary on Lk 1:56 says the following:Luke stylistically closes the scene; Mary must have remained longer in order to be of service at the birth of John the Baptist. about three months: possible allusion to the period of time in which the Ark remained in the house of Obed-edom (2 Sm 6:11); if so, the qualifying word “about” adapts the allusion to this new historical situation.


There is the issue of blood during birth. That “might” have rendered those in attendance unclean under the Levitical law. Even though Mary was sanctified by Christ in her womb, I can understand her leaving so as not to risk ritual uncleanness by Elizabeth’s blood.

Let us also remember that Luke was a Gentile, writing for Gentiles, and so was not raised under or attuned to Levitical law. Neither would his audience be able to relate to it.

Any commentary, like any bible, which has “New” in the title raises a huge caution flag. That is code for revisionist and modernist. The result is that the supernatural content of a given passage is usually expunged.


The New Jerome Bible Commentary has the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which means that the commentaries are not in error to our faith.


The bottom line is that the bible tells us very little about the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, or Mary’s either. We don’t even know when St. Joseph died—we just assume he had to have before Jesus began His ministry as St. Joseph isn’t mentioned after–but we are really not told even this. The bible doesn’t tell us that Mary was assumed into heaven and crowned queen either, just for instance. We believe these things based on tradition and the declaration of popes speaking in their role of authority and infallability. I’ve always wished that the authors of the NT had included more about Jesus’ early years–but they didn’t and this must have been God’s plan–so I accept it. But it means that we must use common sense sometimes when we don’t have absolute answers!

This does not mean that these things are fairy tales–but when you take a quote such as the one were Mary goes to visit and care for her cousin Elizabeth who was elderly and pregnant and stayed for 3 months before going home, I think it’s silly to try and draw any absolute conclusions from the quote. Personally, Mary could have gone alone. We know that Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judea–but we don’t know how far from Mary’s home she lived or how dangerous the area was. Then again, she could have joined a caravan going in that direction. One thing I personally ABSOLUTELY believe is that if Elizabeth was far enough along in her pregnancy that St. John “leapt in her womb” when Mary arrived, then she had to be at least 20+ weeks along when Mary arrived and if Mary stayed with her cousin for 3 months, I am almost positive that she stayed to help with the birth. Whether helping with the delivery made Mary temporarily"Clean" or “unclean”, to me is pointless. I think Mary went because then–just as today–if a woman in her 60’s or above got pregnant somehow–it would be a difiicult and risky deal and Elizabeth would undoubtedly have welcomed all the help she could get. They didn’t have epidurals or C-sections back then. I just personally cannot see Mary going to Elizabeth for 3 months and going home a week before the delivery–not knowing how it turned out. Because, I’m pretty sure that even back then, Mary and everyone else would have known that an old lady having a baby was a dangerous situation. I think this is another proof of Mary’s humility and obedience. I’m fairly sure as a nurse practitioner, that Elizabeth,in the last trimester of her pregnancy, needed help with even basic household chores like cooking or laundry. Then, when she went into labor, I’d bet that any woman who lived close enough to know what was going on, would have showed up to assist as women did back then–and I cannot see Mary going home just as Elizabeth’s due date approached and leaving Elizabeth to fare on her own after already choosing to go to her to help. It’s just common sense.


It means there is no doctrinal or moral error in the contents; the contents do not contradict Church doctrines or moral laws.
There is no Church doctrine defining whether or not Mary stayed until John was born. (And I doubt there ever will be; it’s just not the “stuff” of doctrines.)

The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur do not mean that the Church officially agrees with and supports all the non-doctrinal statements and opinions contained in the writing.


It seems clear that Mary went in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

[FONT=Georgia]24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, 25* “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

[/FONT] Luke 1:24-27


That’s sounds about right. I’m lucky enough to have the original SJBC as well, and I find it very helpful. The new one would probably make a good door-stopper. :wink:


Keep reading. Neither indicates that the issuer agrees in any way with the content. You will kindly note that said commentary intimates/suggests that Luke apparently fabricated parts of the Gospel.


Which basically makes my point that Mary stayed until Elizabeth had delivered and was on her feet again.


St Luke intended to use past real life events in order to articulate Mary as the new ark of the covenant, not literary devices. See link below.

I would be very careful when reading the St Jerome commentary. Many of it’s commentaries are questionable even though the authors are Catholic.


either way how can anyone possibly know? It’s all speculative. Just read Luke , enjoy Luke, and learn from Luke.That’s what is important. Don’t get lost over the details and make them important. The Message that is given should be our goal.


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