(Zacharias): Father of John the Baptist (Lu 1:5, etc.). He was a priest of the course of ABIJAH (which see), of blameless life, who in his old age was still childless. But on one occasion when it was the turn of the course of Abijah to minister in the temple (see TEMPLE), Zacharias was chosen by lot to burn incense. While engaged in this duty he was visited by Gabriel, who announced to him that he should become the father of the precursor of the Messiah. Zacharias received the promise incredulously and was punished by being stricken mute. When, however, the child was born and Zacharias had obeyed the injunction of Gabriel by insisting on the name John, his powers of speech returned to him. According to Lu 1:67-79, Zacharias was the author of the hymn Benedictus, which describes God's deliverance of Israel in language drawn entirely from the Old Testament, and which is unaffected by the later Christian realization that the Kingdom is also for Gentiles.
Elisabeth, his wife, was of the daughters of Aaron (Lu 1:5) and kinswoman of the Virgin (Lu 1:36; the relationship is altogether obscure). According to Lu 1:42-45, she was one of those who shared in the secret of the Annunciation. A few manuscripts in Lu 1:46 ascribe the Magnificat to her, but this seems certainly erroneous. See especially Zahn, Evangelium des Lucas, 98-101 and 745-751 (1913).
Burton Scott Easton