Recently, I began reading the Gospel of Luke again, a book which I have read at least 25 times through in the past. In spite of having read the book so many previous times, I understood something interesting this time that I have never seen before and do not remember anyone else ever talking about either.
Luke records the angel Gabriel’s being sent to Mary: “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (1:26). Following this statement, he relates Gabriel’s interaction with her about his message to her about her conceiving and bearing Jesus (1:28-38).
Next, he writes of Mary’s trip to visit Elizabeth and stay with her for about three months before returning home (1:39-56). Noteworthy in this account is Luke’s relating that upon hearing Mary’s salutation, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped, and she was filled with the Spirit (1:41).
Elizabeth then exclaimed loudly, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (1:42-43). These verses show that Elizabeth knew that Mary had already conceived Jesus before she had come to her.
Based on Luke’s informing us that Gabriel came to Mary in Nazareth before she had conceived (1:26) and the flow of thought from that scene (1:26-38) to the immediately following account of her coming as an expectant mother to the unnamed city where Elizabeth was (1:39ff.), we are to understand that Mary was in Nazareth when Jesus was conceived. When, therefore, we read of Jesus referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, we should understand that it signifies not just that He grew up there (cf. 2:39-51), as a number of sources explain,* but also that Nazareth was where He was conceived!
*For example, the New Bible Dictionary entry for Nazareth states, “A town of Galilee where Joseph and Mary lived, and the home of Jesus for about 30 years until he was rejected (Lk. 2:39; 4:16; 28-31). He was therefore called Jesus of Nazareth” (819; bold added). The article on Nazareth in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes, “Though Jesus was often identified by his boyhood city as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (see Mk 10:47; Jn 18:57; Acts 2:22), the NT records only one subsequent visit by Jesus to Nazareth” (2:1531; bold added). Other sources similarly do not mention in their entries for Nazareth that Jesus was conceived in Nazareth (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 951; The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4:240-41).