Sometimes It’s Just History
Why does Luke tell us about Elizabeth remaining in five months of seclusion after conceiving John? This is the natural question that pops up from Luke 1:24. After the priest Zechariah came home from the temple service, his previously barren wife Elizabeth “became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.” John was conceived, just as Gabriel said and Luke records.
The inevitable, unanswered question is why Luke then tells us she remained in seclusion for five months. It’s not a part of the prophecy of Gabriel, and doesn’t seem to dramatically impact any of the rest of the story. Theories abound. Maybe she spent the time in private prayer and worship, and Luke wants to note her piety. Maybe Luke was highlighting something about the less prominent nature of John’s ministry in comparison to Jesus’. Maybe Elizabeth somehow knew to wait in hiding until about the time Mary showed up after her own angelic visit, and Luke wants to subtly show a transition from Elizabeth to Mary, underscoring the transition from John to Jesus.
Here’s another option. Maybe Luke records Elizabeth’s seclusion simply because this is what happened. Luke's introduction tells of his aim to provide an orderly, accurate account about meticulously researched events. It is then entirely fitting that he would include details in his account that don’t necessarily have theological significance. Sometimes it’s just history. Sometimes Luke might tell us little details not because they carry great theological significance, but because they are historically accurate.
This is consistent with what the Gospels are. They are theological histories of Jesus Christ. They are theological- they teach us doctrinal truths about the person and work of Jesus. They are also history- they tell us what actually happened in time. This could be one of those events which is just a simple fact of history. Elizabeth laid low for five months, so Luke tells us Elizabeth laid low for five months, because he is a faithful recorder of history.
This historicity is a wonderful component of the entirety of Scripture. The Bible is not fable and fantasy, or merely a compilation of pithy sayings, or a list of rules for following God. The Bible is a true story of what happened a lot of years ago, telling us everything we need to know about our God and His ongoing plan of redemption. And it will also tell us some things we (perhaps) don’t need to know, like how long Elizabeth was holed up after conceiving John.